Getting Romantic: A Valentine’s Cooking Class in Chiang Mai

By Aussie on the Road on  6 Comments
Share the love!

After three weeks in Thailand and a week in Cambodia, I finally find myself back in China – land of (occasional) work, inhospitable cold, and reliable internet. Heather and I managed to pack a whole hell of a lot into our four weeks of travel, so the entries could be coming thick and fast over the next few weeks.

Rather than go in sequence, I thought I’d share a little about our Valentine’s Day in Chiang Mai as well as a cool little romantic infographic I found. But I’ll get to that one a little later. For now, here’s how I romanced my girl on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day in Thailand

Valentine’s Day 2013 found Heather and I on our second to last day in Thailand’s beautiful northern city of Chiang Mai. Renowned by bloggers and travelers alike for its laid back vibe, amazing food, and wealth of outdoor adventures to be had – Chiang Mai was probably the stop on our three week Thailand tour that I was most excited for.

Still, the idea of trying to romance my girl in a country I wasn’t exactly ‘at home’ in was not one I relished. I have my flower place in Nanjing. I have my bakery and my supermarket and my cheesy little gift shops. I know the nice restaurants (such as they are) and have the facilities to put together a home cooked meal and a romantic night in.

These were things I’d be a little more hard pressed to do living out of the lovely Opium Hotel, but thankfully, I had a little help. It was no Cherub who suggested our romantic cooking class in Chiang Mai – it was my girlfriend, the Nomadic American. Under normal circumstances I might have blustered about cooking being boring, but I know enough to shut up when romance is concerned.

An hour later, we were piling into the back of a tuk-tuk to head off to the Smart Cook Thai Cookery School.

A Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai

The romance behind cooking with your partner isn’t something I wasn’t already aware of. If Will Smith’s bloated face in Hitch hadn’t already made me aware of the appeal, there have been episodes of everything from Dexter to How I Met Your Mother to inform a naive country bumpkin like myself of the romantic (and sexual) appeal of getting a little hot and sweaty in the kitchen with some good food and your significant other.

The group setting at Smart Cook doesn’t exactly play to the sexual, but the choice to do a bit of cooking together was still one abundant in romance. Hell, we weren’t even the only couple in our class.

After meeting up with our teacher, Pear, we were given a brief tour around a typical Chiang Mai market while being introduced to many of the common ingredients in Thai food.

Thai vegetable market
A typical Thai market. Photo courtesy of Heather Flemion.

I’m an unabashed lover of Thai food – from the delicious sweetness of coconut cream in a Green or Red Curry, to the zest of lemongrass in Pad Thai, to the fusion of tastes that come when combining lime and peanuts and Thai ginger in a flavor-packed serving of Tom Ka Gai.

My previous cooking attempts here in China have met with disaster, so the opportunity to expand upon my limited repertoire (currently limited to chicken with mushroom and Parmesan cheese, a healthy black bean & lentil burrito filling, and pasta) with a few dishes I might actually want to eat.

The effervescent 'Pear' was a fantastic and entertaining teacher.
The effervescent ‘Pear’ was a fantastic and entertaining teacher. Photo courtesy of Heather Flemion.

Pear had a fantastic sense of humour. When she wasn’t ably steering us through the sometimes confusing world of Thai cooking, she was cracking bad jokes that would make a seasoned father wince.

“What is the difference between red curry and green curry?”

“One is spicier!” I shouted helpfully.

“No,” she corrected me, “They are a different colour”.

But bad jokes aside, Pear was a fantastic teacher as she taught us how to cook Tom Ka Gai and my personal Thai favourite, Pad Thai Kai (chicken).

Almost too comfortable with a knife in hand
Almost too comfortable with a knife in hand. Photo courtesy of Heather Flemion.

Standing over a hot stove-top on a similar hot Thai day certainly took some doing, but the delicious food we got to craft with our own hands was a fitting reward. Break #1 saw us chowing down on food I couldn’t believe I’d had any role in creating. I’m all fingers and thumbs in the kitchen, so to be able to savour something good that I’d made was a bit mind blowing and a real testament to the effortless way in which Smart Cook steered us through the process.

Green Curry, Spring Rolls, and the similarity between sex and making curry paste

We’d tackled two relatively easily Thai food staples in part one of our Thai cooking class, but Pear’s sister was on hand to kick things up a notch with a few more challenging items – a curry and spring rolls.

Step #1 would be creating our own curry paste from scratch, but while five of us opted to make the sweeter green curry – Heather dared to be different and tackled the red all on her lonesome.

“When using the mortar and pestle,” we were informed, “You can tell which women are good to their men and which are lazy”. She paused for a moment to let that sink in as she slowly made the motion that serve the dual purpose of reducing ingredients to a fine paste and reducing men to a quivering heap.

Making green curry paste
Heather’s a diligent soldier as she pounds ingredients into submission. Good form, love!

I’m ashamed to say I was worryingly proficient with mortar and pestle. Heather didn’t do too badly either, mind.

An hour (and several painful oil spit related injuries later) we were settling down for round #2 – a sweet and spicy curry and a mixture of traditional vegetarian spring rolls and sweet banana spring rolls. While my aptitude at rolling spring rolls can most definitely be questioned, I reckon I did a more than fine job on making my second favourite Thai dish. My green curry was the bomb-diggity.

Banana spring roll ingredients
Banana spring rolls in their embryonic stages. Photo courtesy of Heather Flemion.

Worth It?

Our lesson – including pick up & drop off, all ingredients, four delicious dishes, the market tour, and a cook book of twenty or so mouth-watering Thai dishes came to 700 baht (around $25) apiece. Not a bad price to pay for 3-4 fun hours, a good meal, and a few life lessons.

The class of six at work
Our class hard at ‘work’. Photo courtesy of Heather Flemion.

The team at Smart Cook made what might have otherwise overwhelmed a kitchen dunce like me into a surprisingly easy task. I now understand why so many people were recommending a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai as a must do on my visit. Who knew?

I’m sure everybody has their preferred Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai, but I can’t imagine being more satisfied than we were. Bellies full, wallets not too much lighter, and brains burdened by new knowledge – we left thoroughly pleased with our (Heather’s) decision.

Your Say

Ever taken a cooking class and lived to tell the tale?

Or, if cooking ‘ain’t your bag, what do you think of the infographic? Does it hit the mark or is it as far off as my opinions on red v green curry?

From Facebook