I was lucky enough to get a kind offer to do a Chiang Mai Thai cooking class. How could I say ‘no’ when I saw the bold claim on the Thai cooking class website of Aroy Aroy Thai Cooking School?
‘’Give us 4 hours and we will open your world to great Thai food!’’
Well I did give them 4 hours and my world has truly been opened! The four dishes we made during the fun class were surprisingly simple and, even if I do say so myself: aroy! (Thai for delicious.)
The day started with me and 7 other budding chefs excitedly clambering aboard a long, wooden riverboat and chugging up the Ping River towards Wororot market in the company of Aroy Aroy’s Chef A and Chef O.
After watching Chiang Mai slide by for about 10 minutes we hopped off the boat and headed to the flower area of Wororot. We snaked along between stall after stall of vividly coloured blooms, around parked vehicles, occasionally dodging passing traffic on the busy road. The stall holders generally greeted us with smiles as bright as their flowers and didn’t seem to mind us taking photos even though nobody in the group was buying anything.
Before entering the market proper we removed our shoes and popped into a small, extremely garish Chinese temple. One thing I learned from Chef O, who was guiding us, what that you should step across the doorstep of the temple and not on it as the step is believed to separate the unclean outside world from the purity of the temple.
After a quick and informative temple visit, we headed into the indoor section of the market and I immediately spotted an Indian spice shop that I’ve searched for twice recently and been unable to find. Wororot market is big, buzzing and somewhat confusing and I don’t know if I’ll be able to find that spice shop again on my own!
Chef O stopped at many stalls explaining the names and uses of different vegetables before progressing to the sweets and dried foods section and introducing us to a popular souvenir buy: deep fried worms. The ideal present for somebody back home that you really don’t want to buy a present for!
Before we knew it we were back at the riverside and heading down river to Aroy Aroy. Now for the seriously fun business of cooking.
Thai Cooking Class – Som Tam
The first dish we prepared is also my favourite Thai dish: green papaya salad or som tam. We gathered around the central table while Chef O explained the procedure for pounding and mixing the ingredients before we each got to work with a mortar and pestle at our individual cooking stations. We could use as much or as little chilli as we liked according to our preference and, as a vegetarian, I was given soy sauce as an alternative to the usual fish sauce.
I was really hungry by this point so I was delighted to find out we were eating each dish as soon as it was ready. After carefully putting my salad creation into a hollowed-out half papaya and taking a couple of quick snaps I was soon getting stuck into a papaya salad as delicious as any I’ve had in a restaurant.
Thai Cooking Class – Pad Thai
I know that many tourists can live on cheap and cheerful pad Thai but I’ve never been much of a fan. I really enjoyed making it though and aside from the fact I could live without the glutinous noodles that are the main ingredient I was impressed at how tasty it was and how fast and easy to make.
Thai Cooking Class – Khao Soi
This super-popular coconut curry soup with noodles and meat (or in my case tofu) is a staple throughout Northern Thailand, Shan State in Burma, and Laos. Lots of people will tell you that it’s their favourite Northern Thai dish and most ardent fans have their own favourite spots around town to get their fix.
Chef A demonstrated how to make the soup, it was quick and easy and soon we were all at our cooking stations creating our own bowlfuls of loveliness.
Thai Cooking Class – Mango Sticky Rice
This delectable desert was our final dish. Mango sticky rice is quite time consuming to make from scratch, the rice has to be soaked overnight, then steamed for an hour before soaking in coconut milk for a further hour. Chef O talked us through the procedure and showed us how to turn the rice blue using butterfly pea flowers steeped in water. The staff had kindly gone through the time consuming preparation process and all we had to do was sit down once again at the communal table, complimentary Chang beer or water to hand, and enjoy.
Overall Impressions of Aroy Aroy Thai Cooking School
- The outdoor kitchen is in a lovely setting and is spotlessly clean and tidy with professional staff who quickly cleaned up after us as we went along and laid out ingredients and utensils as needed. Chef A and Chef O were happy to answer all our questions and are great ambassadors for Thai cooking.
- The trip up the river and around Chiang Mai’s biggest and most vibrant market was a fantastic part of the whole experience.
- The cooking school is beautifully located at the very popular River Market Restaurant in the night bazaar area of Chiang Mai so it’s within walking distance of many hotels.
- Cooking can be thirsty work and there was a plentiful supply of complimentary water, tea, coffee and Chang beer available.
- Suitable for meat eaters and vegetarians alike.
I think the best recommendation I can mention is that I went with a friend who really wasn’t too enthused about doing the class and isn’t interested in cooking. He loved it every bit as much as I did and is talking about doing it again next time he has visitors in town.