Anyone who reads my blog or follows my Instagram will know I have a not-so-secret love affair with food. But anyone who knows me really well will know that I also have a strong passion for cooking it. Whether it’s afternoon cakes or a full blown dinner party, I’m a self-proclaimed feeder.
The fragrant fusion of herbs and spices used in Thailand often leave your tastebuds dumbfounded and brain wondering what kind of sorcery created something so delectable. I definitely have a new found love for Thai food, however my cooking abilities go no further than a Thai green curry (admittedly using shop bought paste…). Chiang Mai is well known for both its traditional Thai fare and it’s cooking schools, so it seemed like the perfect place to extend my repertoire of cooking skills! For so many years I rejected trying Thai food for fear of spice (more fool me!) but I’ve stopped being such a wuss, and am now attempting to increase my spice tolerance as often as possible. Thailand is proving to be a good place to push my boundaries and I’m slowly but surely becoming a heat lover!
Most of the cooking schools in Chiang Mai range in price from 800 – 1800 THB depending on length and quality, amongst other factors. After some research I decided upon Thai Farm Cookery School. It isn’t the cheapest school on offer, but it was high up on my travelling bucket list so, just like surfing in Cancun, I was prepared to pay a bit more to ensure I had an unforgettable experience. A full day class at Thai Farm costs 1300 THB, though I received a 100 THB discount and free breakfast by booking through my hostel! Not that breakfast was needed considering the day I had ahead of me…
Thai Farm sets itself apart from the competition by it’s unique location on a family farm in the countryside, about 17km out of Chiang Mai. The setting is peaceful and beautiful – a welcome contrast to the restless city. The produce is all organic and with the ingredients being picked just a few metres from your work station, you can’t rival it’s freshness. The cost includes all transportation, drinks, a full day of teaching and a recipe book which you receive at the end. We cooked five courses, with two to three options per course, giving you the ability to tailor the menu to your preferences. And the best part? You get to eat everything you cook… and more! You definitely don’t have to love cooking or have a culinary talent to enjoy the day; both the amateurs and those more experienced were chuffed and stuffed by the end of the day. In my eyes it was worth every penny, and I would highly recommend it. Even if just for the eating part!
The day started early, with a minibus picking me up from my hostel. We then headed to the local market where our teacher, aptly named Yummy, talked through some of the goods being sold. On most tours, you would then buy the ingredients to later cook, but most of the produce we used is grown organically on the farm so this was more about being informative than anything else! From there it was about a 30 minute drive to the farm. As aforementioned, all vegetables and herbs are grown on site; after a few refreshments, we wandered over to the herb garden where Yummy talked us through the herbs, allowing us to smell and taste them, and humoured my lemongrass moustache skills. Me? Being silly? No…
Our first job was to turn these gorgeous fresh herbs into a paste to use in our curries later on. I’ve never been adventurous or bothered enough to make my own curry pastes. But once you’ve sourced the right ingredients, it’s so incredibly simple! The flavours and aromas are immense and so much more intense than anything pre-made. Although it’s definitely more convenient, I’ll be swapping the jar for fresh herbs as often as I can from now on. Our next course was soup, either broth or coconut based. I made Tom Yum Soup which was hard to eat in the heat but noticeably nourishing. Not quite so healthy or wholesome, next up was a definite favourite of mine: fried spring rolls! Turns out I’m pretty good at rolling spring rolls, so if all else fails I know I at least have a career in that. The alternative was a delicious pad Thai, which luckily I got to taste too.
The perfect setting probably facilitated somewhat to the fun and friendly atmosphere during the day. The other students were good company, and everyone got stuck in to the task at hand at their own pace. The staff were lovely, and even did all our washing up for us – something I could get very used to! When I asked the name of a fruit growing on the tree, they were quick to pick one and prepare if for me. Similar looking to a durian (bleurgh), it turned out to be a jackfruit, which I thought was delicious and have been keeping my eye out for ever since.
Although my belly was quite content, I was excited to get round to our next course: curry. We used our previously made pastes (green, red or yellow), and cooked the most divine smelling curry! Before the curry had time to get cold we quickly whipped up a chicken and cashew nut stir fry and served it (to ourselves…) with some fragrant jasmine rice. Needless to say, despite being adequately replete, I found space for every last morsel of food on the plate. It was literally Thai heaven for me, nothing could go to waste!
My other new foodie favourite is Thailand’s most popular pudding: mango and sticky rice. I got my first taster in Chiang Mai and then made it a personal mission to find the best in the city (someone’s gotta do it, right?). It’s a strange combo I’ll admit; an odd concept that I was very much dubious about at first. But it works. Oh, it works so well. The purple/blue colour of this rice was achieved by heating the sweet coconut milk with an iris flower. It gives no particular flavour and as far as I’m aware is used purely for aesthetic purposes. Check out my Chiang Mai blog post to see the amazing rainbow coloured pot I had on my last day! They often also serve it with crunchy mung beans, though I’m ambivalent towards their addition.
After devouring the astonishing amount of food, we were gifted a recipe book with everything we had made and more. Such a lovely keepsake, we all said our thank you’s and waddled to the minivan to head home. Full blown food-coma creeping in.
So, I wanted to share a recipe with you from my fantastic day at Thai Farm. Picking one was a bit of a no brainer… Thai green curry as it has to be one of my all time favourite meals. I was first introduced to it in my late teens when my older brother made it for me. I remember him telling me it would be an ideal dish to make whilst at University because it’s so quick and easy. And I’ve been cooking it ever since. My University friends were always very supportive in helping me finish it off too! But like I said, my pastes have always come out of a tin or a jar, so I was eager to get back to basics and see how the Thais really do it. And this is how! Enjoy 🙂
Thai Green Curry
2-3 green long chilli peppers, chopped
2 bird’s eye chilli peppers
1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
1/2 tsp kaffir lime rind, finely chopped
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemongrass, chopped
1 tbsp finger roots (Thai ginseng), finely chopped
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1 cup of eggplant (or other veg. like broccoli, cauliflower, potato, beans or pumpkin)
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 kaffir line leaves
5 leaves of sweet basil
1. Put the curry paste ingredients in a mortar and pound with a pestle until ground thoroughly. Alternatively, use a blender.
2. Pour 5 tbsp of coconut milk into a saucepan along with the curry paste. Turn on a medium heat.
3. Constantly stir whilst frying, until fragrant, then add the chicken and vegetables.
4. Add the rest of the coconut milk and water and turn up the heat. Add the sugar and fish sauce, and stir.
5. When everything is cooked, turn off the heat and add the sweet basil and kaffir lime leaves.
Love, Lottie xx