Ahhhhh Thai food….I mean, that’s why we go to Thailand right? To eat the food?
Cooking classes in Chiang Mai, Thailand are one of the most popular things to do. No one can deny that the food in Thailand is one of the countries biggest “pros”. It is so fresh, colorful and often made by little mom and pop shops vs. large chains like in the states.
Personally, Thai food is one of my favorites. Back home in Chicago, I will eat the shit out of some pad thai! I was very excited to try the real thing here in Thailand!
Even more excited to learn how to make it myself so I can get my fix anytime!
After you arrive in Chiang Mai from the sleeper train, you will be absolutely bombarded with tourist things. ATV rides, zip lining, renting a motorcycle, seeing elephants and last but not least: cooking classes.
Due to the touristic nature of Chiang Mai, there are many companies to choose from! I poured over every last brochure I could get my hands on to make sure that I was spending my silver bullet on the best class.
After doing plenty of research using trip advisor, talking to other expats, and lots of comparison shopping (the best way to get bang for your buck), I decided to attend Zabb E Lee Thai Cooking school.
Why Zabb E Lee?
When researching cooking classes in Chiang Mai, you are typically presented with a menu where you can choose which items off it you would like to make. Popular menu items typically include various curries, noodle dishes, and appetizers.
All cooking companies offer pick-up from your hotel or hostel as long as you are near the city center, and they all include tours of the local market so you can learn about ingredients.
Zabb E Lee (which, in Thai, basically means “f*cking delicious“) immediately had a leg up on my list against other cooking schools in Chiang Mai for three reasons.
- It was the only school that offered Pad Thai as a menu option. Yeah yeah maybe Pad Thai is an American-Thai dish but shut up! It’s my favorite all the same and that’s what I wanted to be able to make when I got home. Don’t be hater!
- In addition to having Pad Thai on the menu, Zabb E Lee also boasted that all students would be learning to make mango and sticky rice along with their chosen menu items. As we all know, this is like THE dessert to have while in Thailand.
- The most affordable. With a half day class rolling in at 900 Baht, this was the cheapest price I saw. Gotta make those dollars work!
I contacted the owner and teacher of the school, Ann, via email and she responded almost immediately that I would be able to attend class that evening.
After being picked up from my hostel, we arrived at Zabb E Lee cooking school. The place was beautifully decorated and set up like a fancy restaurant. My classmates and I sat at the table and enjoyed water and tea before before Ann joined us. The only single person there, I was joined by three couples from Dublin, Toronto, and New York City.
Ann joined us and introduced herself. I could immediately tell that she was genuinely excited we were there. We went over the menu and she took down our ‘orders’ and learned our names. After a few minutes learning about the school and the different menu dishes, we hopped in her songathew and headed to the local market.
The market was a fascinating experience. I’d been to markets before – in Bangkok – but this was wonderful and unique because Ann was an excellent guide. She took us to various stalls and taught us not only about the ingredients we would be using in our class, but educated us with fun facts and history of other ingredients.
I also learned that while Thai food is not only delicious and incredibly fresh, presentation is just as important as taste. Many of the items we looked at revolved around changing the color of the food. Turmeric for example can be used to change the color of tofu, and as an anti-itch agent. Soy sauce can be used to dye noodles different shades of black. Certain flowers and fruits can create shades of pink, purple and orange – amazing!
Fun Fact: When the Thais eat mango it is green. It turns yellow with age on the long journey overseas to the United States. No wonder it’s so much better in Thailand – the mango basically just got picked!
When signing up for a cooking class in Thailand, I worried I might be wasting my money. I knew that I’d be getting delicious food, but there were bound to be ingredients I either couldn’t get back home or they would cost me an arm and a leg.
Ann was wonderful at addressing these concerns without me even asking. I suspect she must have lived in the states at some point because she was able to tell us “they don’t have this in your country, but you can use this instead” for many of the Thailand-specific ingredients.
At the end of the tour, we were given 10 minutes to explore the market. During this time I walked around and took pictures of things I had questions about and returned to Ann to ask her about them. Specifically some super weird appleish looking things and this weird spiky fruit. She kindly and patiently answered all my questions and even taught me how to eat the rambutan (spiky fruit) I had purchased.
After the market tour, we returned to the school and immediately jumped into action. Ann was exceptional at explaining everything to us in an enthusiastic, funny, witty, and well spoken manner. Her English is excellent.
My chosen menu included:
- Pad Thai
- Fried Spring rolls
- Stuffed Cabbage soup
- Panang Curry with chicken
Ann first showed us how to use the tools in class – the knife, the gas stove and the little measuring spoon I normally use to eat miso soup with back home. You know what I’m talking about.
She would go through and do a demonstration and then allow us to do it on our own. Of course she made everything look super easy and I’m over there twitching like “wait, what, how much again?! *pant pant pant*” but Ann did a killer job of keeping everyone on track and breaking down the course in such an understandable way that I never messed up.
Her attitude in class made all the difference. She even dropped the F-bomb at one point in a joke which was just beyond adorable. Okay, so maybe I have a little lady crush on Ann. She built this business herself and does everything on her own – that’s admirable dude! She’s crushing it! Strong women are inspiring to me. Keep up the good work, you go girl!
At the end of the class I was feeling fat and happy. This was the biggest meal I’d had in Thailand so far. All the food I made was just absolutely scrumptious. Despite that, I wasn’t feeling confident I would be able to recreate it at home…
Ann gave us a full color, step-by-step-with-pictures recipe book. Not only was it in well-written english (again, with pictures zomg!) but she also included all the substitutions that had been mentioned at the market. WHEW! It even includes the recipes for the meals I chose not to make.
Not saying that I’m excited to get home …but when [if] I do get home, I’m going to stink up my parent’s kitchen with fish sauce and Pad Thai. Maybe I’ll even be able to trick one of my family members into trying some amazing home cooked Thai food!
What’s your favorite Thai dish that you’d like Ann to teach you?
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