Thai Cooking Class with Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

This was the other activity that we had all unanimously said we wanted to do, and while Abigayle, Maddi and I were at the Doi Suthep Temple, Tony and Tiah did the research and planned our trip. I have to preface by saying they chose well 🙂

After careful research and planning Tony and Tiah decided on the Zabb-E-Lee Thai Cooking School for several reasons. Number one they had the most menu options, many of which included vegetarian or seafood for me. Number two the trip included a visit and tour to a local market and number three, something nowhere else offered, we would all get to have sticky rice and mangoes for dessert – one of Tiah’s favourite! We were booked for the afternoon class, which was perfect as it meant whatever we cooked would be dinner 🙂

As with all our outings the adventure began with being picked up from the guest house by Bow who would be our guide/master chef for the afternoon. Not only did Bow prove to be an amazing chef/teacher but she was also an expert driver. When we arrived at the market it was crazy busy and she was able to back up all the way from the street into the tightest parking spot I’ve ever seen, and all in one fluid motion I might add!

The market was our first stop and not only was it fun but it was super interesting – learnt tons about the spices and herbs used to season Thai cooking and also learnt the names of some pretty obscure vegetables that may be a little hard to track down back home but if we can find them it’ll be worth the hunt. Again, Bow proved to be extremely knowledgeable, helpful and funny, making the market experience a great one all to its own.

After we had learned about the foods and spices available each of us in the group – there were ten – and we all just happened to be Canadian! picked our own, personalized, cooking menu for the class. There were four courses plus a curry paste, which we would use to make our main course curry. We each picked the menu so Bow could buy all the ingredients fresh before we left the market and headed to Zabb-E-lee’s cooking facility.

From the moment we arrived, I was quite taken by the cooking school. It’s a fabulous set-up, in my opinion! Work stations are set up with a double gas burner and row of oils, sauces, pots and pans for each person. The place is geared to have groups of ten at a time and as well as the cooking stations there was a long table laid out ready for a feast.

We were invited to sit at the table enjoy a beer, some nuts, chat, get to know one another, while Bow prepped the first of the ingredients and everyone’s work stations. It was kind of fun that we were all Canadian – made conversation easy 🙂

We prepared two courses at a time the first two being the stir fry and the soup. I had chosen to make Hot and Sour Seafood Stir Fry and Coconut milk soup with prawns. The lesson began with a short demonstration from Bow – she recapped the ingredients and spices and then instructed each of us how to prepare ready to cook. This was fun as we were all doing it at the same time, asking questions, supporting each other, drinking beer!

As we moved from prep to cooking Bow expertly helped each of us find our way. Somehow she just knew how to tweak for each individual with a little stir here, a whisk there, a little extra fish sauce or a little extra sugar. We each did our own thing under her watchful eye and at the precise moment everything was cooked it was everyone burners off – I had this strange impulse to fling my arms in the air with my hands up like in Masterchef!

With two courses made we took a break from the kitchen and sat at the table to enjoy our efforts and I have to say they were delicious – unbelievable how simple yet incredibly flavourful the food was.

That’s what fresh ingredients, expert instruction and control over the spices can do for you! Bow had this thing every time you used chillies – “do you want mild, medium, hot or white girl spicy” At first we thought white girl spicy meant super mild but apparently it’s the other way because stinkin’ hot spice causes the runs, which means you can watch your weight – I guess that’s maybe a profile Thais have of white girls. My answer was “old lady spicy” which in my language, meant half a chilli pepper.

Of course everyone was full after the first two courses so it was just as well that we went from eating to cooking again. Our next job was to prepare our own curry paste – this would be the base ingredient for our main course curry. I chose to make a Panang Curry mainly because the girls chose green curry and Tony and Tiah chose Massamun so I wanted to do something different. Also I wasn’t 100% sure what Panang curry was and I wanted to know.

We were divided into teams depending on which paste we were making. As it turned out there was just myself and a guy from Quebec City making the Panang. Bow gave us a mortar and pestle and dropped in all our herbs, spices and chilli peppers and told us to go nuts smashing it into a pulp. My partner was a maniac and by the time I had a turn the paste was basically made and I was just doing it for show.

We put our paste aside and turned our attention to the appetizers. I was the only one that didn’t choose to make spring rolls but instead I made Spicy (old lady spicy) Papaya Salad. Hadn’t realized how easy it was to make – and taaaaasty. I am now addicted to Papaya Salad and order it every time it’s on the menu. It’s a very simple mix of shredded papaya, shredded carrot and purple cabbage and a delicious dressing with just the right spice (that part is a secret in case I make it for you!) topped with a couple of slices of red pepper and a handful of crushed peanuts.

The biggest appeal, for Tiah, was the sticky rice and mango, which we were all getting for dessert but instead of everyone making it Bow got myself and ‘The Quebec City Guy’ to make it. Of course I liked it when she called me ‘Masterchef’ and told me the directions on how to make the super sweet, sticky ‘cream’ for the rice.

Dessert made and appetizers made, all that was left was the curry. My Panang had shrimps and within minutes it was cooked to perfection – again perfectly spiced, tablespoon of fish sauce, spoon of oil, spoon of sugar, vegetables cooked to a crunch and our curry paste made from scratch.

All that was left was to enjoy the rest of our meal. I think we all felt somewhat full, but everything was so delicious that we just kept eating and eating. Super fun to chat with everyone while sharing our feast. Just a wonderful experience through and through. And to top things off Bow drove us home when we were ready.

P.s.I forgot to mention that we all left with a recipe book of our tasty creations – definite added bonus.

an evening of spice
laughter and new friends –
Thai cooking

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