After six months sampling South East Asia’s aromatic ingredients and colourful dishes, Kimberley Davidson picks out the region’s best cooking classes.
If whipping up a Pad Thai or impressing your friends with some delectable dim sum sounds appealing, then why not embellish your travelling experience by getting hands-on with South East Asia’s wonderful cuisine at a cooking class?
Cooking classes in Vietnam
Old Hanoi, Hanoi
$30 / £18
This is a comprehensive half-day cooking class taught in a renowned Hanoi restaurant, where head chef Anh kicks off with a tour of the local market, before heading back to the restaurant for refreshments.
During the class we prepared our ingredients for delicious dishes including:
- Fresh spring rolls
- Chicken with lemon leaf skewers
- Steamed catfish in lotus leaf with tamarind sauce
- Sweet potato with ginger soup
Beginners choose between two menus, while those already competent in the basics of cooking Asian food, can opt for the customised course.
Admittedly, this was a notch more expensive than other cooking classes I found in the area, but the class size was small, meaning lots of chances to ask questions, and valuable one-on-one time with the chef.
The only negative was that our food was whisked away to be cooked in the main kitchen, rather than us actually cooking the dishes we had prepared. I certainly came away with enough knowledge to see these recipes through at home, but it would have been a richer experience had we been party to the entire process.
Cooking classes in Cambodia
Cambodia Cooking Class, Phnom Penh
$12.50 – 20 / £8-14
Khmer food isn’t as well-known in the Western world as Thai or Vietnamese, but there really are some fantastic dishes.
Starting at a location in central Phnom Penh, our class was first given a tour of the local market. On our return, we prepared ingredients from scratch, and were given detailed explanations on what herbs and spices work well together.
Our menu included the classic Amok (a steamed fish dish that is considered a national delicacy) and, at the end of our day, we each took away a book of all the recipes, including easy step-by-step guides and pictures.
Cooking classes in Laos
Tiger Trail, Luang Prabang
$30 / £18
Nestled amid the banks of the Nam Khan River, Tiger Trail cooking classes give travellers spectacular views and sumptuous food for less than £20.
Our day kicked off with a tour of the local market in the French colonial town of Luang Prabang. Back in class, we started preparing our four dishes, including local speciality Orlarm (a kind of soup/stew). If, like me, you initially found Lao food not quite as tasty as other Asian counterparts, then this class may very well change your view.
Working in the outdoor kitchen, the chefs leading this cooking class are extremely knowledgeable, with a good grasp of English, and happily share their advice on all things local. Cooking over an open fire was definitely a hightlight, as, of course, was settling down to enjoy the delicious end results.
Cooking classes in Thailand
Asia Scenic, Chang Mai
750B / £15
During this half-day cooking class in Chang Mai, we each picked a four-course menu from a selection of dishes.
I opted for:
- Pad Thai
- Chicken and cashew nuts
- Penang/red/green curry
- Sticky rice with mango
With a class of eight students, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to ask many questions, but this wasn’t the case and our chef made every effort to speak to us individually.
The functional kitchen setup meant we all had our own stations, ingredients and equipment to work with, and, after pre-preparing all ingredients earlier (including curry paste from scratch), we cooked and ate our dishes one by one – a slightly daunting but eventually satisfying experience that left no room for dinner, or even breakfast the next day. Highly recommended!
Time for Lime, Krabi
1500 – 1800B / £30 – 36
Time for Lime offers a professional environment, with each cooking class inclusive of a ‘theory and tasting’ introduction – a great chance to ask questions and find out about different flavours and ingredients. Depending on the class, participants make between 3-5 dishes (the Limey spicy soup is particularly fantastic!)
Food in southern Thailand varies quite a bit from the north, and it’s definitely worth sampling both. Classes also cater for vegetarians, and Thai food is easily adapted to suit different needs. This is an engaging and informative class, but unfortunately prices do see an inevitable rise in the south of Thailand, as it becomes an ever-popular destination.
Keep cooking at home
It’s easy to cook Asian recipes when cheap fresh ingredients are readily available in Asia, but don’t be put off when back in the UK.
Waitrose is a great supermarket for international ingredients including fresh galangal, turmeric and pickled kaffir lime skin. If you live in London, head to Chinatown for exotic ingredients, and suggestions for local produce.
Insider tip: When booking your cooking class abroad, go direct to the cookery school rather than booking through a travel agent, as you’ll save a considerable amount on the commission fees.