It’s safe to say Thailand has become one of the hottest travel destinations in the last two years. I challenge you to browse through a random travel page on Instagram and not come across at least one picture of someone petting a tiger, riding on the back of a friendly pachyderm, or posing in front of a mammoth temple. There is no shortage of sightseeing opportunities and exciting activities to get into once you have touched down in this enchanting Southeast Asian country!
Luckily for me, I spent a week in Bangkok and Phuket this past November and my time there was nothing short of awesome. While planning the itinerary for the trip, my research led me to an activity that differed from the obligatory temple gazing and beach hopping.
I found numerous options for cooking schools that gave courses on how to prepare authentic Thai cuisine. The fact that my cooking repertoire hasn’t graduated much beyond chicken cutlets and rice was not enough to give me pause when making my decision. I made a reservation with the Baipai Thai Cooking School in Bangkok after reading rave reviews on TripAdvisor. Upon firing off a simple email confirmation to book, I was all set to participate.
On the day of the course, my friend London (who traveled with me) and I were picked up at our hotel by a shuttle service provided by the school. The van contained 6 other participants who had signed up for the same afternoon session. After a 30 minute ride through what seemed to be back alleys of the city, we reached the school grounds, which was located in a residential area.
The compound was beautiful! The classes took place in a two-story open-air wooden house, surrounded by lush greenery and several ponds. The tranquil ambiance gave more of a spa feel than a cooking school. We were given a warm welcome by Fone, one of our instructors for the session, and led upstairs to the waiting area where we received our aprons and information on the entrees we would be preparing. We were also treated to a welcome cup of lemongrass tea…yum!
We began our 4-hour session back downstairs in the garden with Fone (who was now joined by the second instructor, Chef Puu) giving some background on the herbs and spices that make Thai dishes so flavorful. We started with learning the difference between coconut cream and milk, afterwards getting a chance to shave the flesh out of a fresh coconut with an instrument called “The Rabbit” that produces the cream from scratch. Fone then gave us a tour of an herb garden full of freshly planted variances of basil, chili, and lemongrass, amongst others. We got to smell, feel, and taste (at our own risk) a few of the herbs in their natural glory.
Finally, it was cooking time! The expansive kitchen took up the entire first floor of the house. The space included a large island, where we’d gather for instruction and food prep, and multiple cooking stations for us to apply the techniques learned. We observed Chef Puu at the island as she demonstrated how each dish is prepared and cooked. Once done, the dish was divided in small portions for each of us to sample. Each recipe took no more than 10-15 minutes to complete. Next was our turn to replicate.
The prepping portion was pretty painless. For the sake of time, many of the ingredients were already cleaned, peeled, and washed. We simply cut, mixed, and spiced. Then, we went over to the cooking stations and individually grilled or fried (whatever the recipe called for) our ingredients. Our instructors remained by our sides and guided us through the entire process.
We prepared a total of 4 dishes: satay chicken (and dipping sauce), prawn salad, stir-fried beef with chili, and stir-fried rice noodle with pork. *Warning: Please restrain yourself from trying to lick the screen of whichever device you’re reading this on.*
After finishing each recipe, we were allowed a break to consume our final dishes. Everything was yummy! As a novice cook, I never found it hard to keep up with the pace of the instruction. The class is made for people of all cooking levels.
At the conclusion of the session, we were given a little packet containing each recipe for us to try at home. The instructors also gave each of us magnets with pictures they’d snapped of us during the course of the class as mementos. As we paid for the class, there were other souvenirs to purchase like t-shirts, cups, and additional Thai recipes to try. All in all, I give the day 5 cocktails!
Please add a cooking class to your future Thai adventure. Not only was it an enriching experience, it’s a great way to feel more in touch with the culture. My class at BaiPai was outstanding, but as previously mentioned, there are other schools to choose from throughout the country for every skill level and budget. Happy cooking!
- Andrea Williams