Most tour companies will not explain a country's cuisine to you. They are only concerned with filling your belly. If you're lucky, they will arrange local food at meal times, but without any explanation of what you're eating. That's overlooking a prime opportunity to learn about another culture at the most basic level, through your stomach. At Adventurocity, we love food. And taking this even further, we try to arrange a cooking school session on each of our trips. This is what our Brian K. Smith experienced in Chiang Mai when he paid a visit to Smart Cook Thai Cookery School.
Smart Cook's courses start at the Moonmuang Market, a five-minute walk from the school's location in Old Chiang Mai. With classes limited to 12, you are ensured of getting more personalized instruction. Here, students begin their lesson by learning about local ingredients and how to select them for the dishes they will prepare.
If you choose to take your class at Smart Cook's organic farm in the Lamphun countryside at Baan Pasao, you'll then go to the train station for a 20-minute trip outside Chiang Mai. From Pasao Station, it's a leisurely cycle to the farm with stops along the way for anything of interest, be it to see how garlic is prepared for market or visiting a local temple.
The final stop, before you are assigned your cooking station and the action gets underway, is the school's organic gardens. There's nothing like freshly-picked herbs to enliven your dishes.
Much of the mise en place has already been taken care of by Smart Cook's staff. You only need to do the final preparation for your own portions. After cooking each dish, the class sits down together to enjoy the fruits of their labour. So, not only do you enjoy a satisfying meal together, but you have gained a greater understanding and appreciation for one of the world's great cuisines.
Here's Brian with his excellent instructor, May, showing off two of the dishes he learned. Brian is holding khao neeaw ma muang (sticky rice with mango), the Thai version of rice pudding that is a perennial favourite. May has a bowl of khao soi kai (khao soi chicken curry), a Burmese-influenced noodle dish that's a popular street food in northern Thailand.
Khao soi kai is not typically found in North American restaurants. Fortunately, each Smart Cook student gets a recipe booklet as a souvenir of Thailand that you can share with family and friends long after you return home. Tan khao ma rue yung? Yung!
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