Chiang Mai – Zabb-e-Lee Cooking Class
One thing we couldn’t help noticing about Thailand: Thai food is amazing. Everywhere we went, from the roadside stalls in tiny villages to the busy markets in Bangkok, there was always something delicious and cheap to try. Probably our worst meal, (which was still pretty ok) was one of the only ones we ate at a restaurant specifically aimed at tourists.
But we both agreed that one of the best meals was one that we prepared ourselves,* at the Zabb-E-Lee cooking school in Chiang Mai. Our instructor Ann and her sister started the school just a few months ago, but they already have a polished operation. They offer half day class, preparing five courses, for 800 Baht (just under $30).
The day started with a trip to the market, where Ann explained some of the herbs and vegetables that are less common outside Thailand. Then we headed back to the school for cooking (and eating) all the fresh ingredients we’d just acquired. Ann divided us up into “teams” to make a stir-fried dish: Dmitry was team pad thai, I was team spicy seafood. It was fun to get to control the mix of flavors – soy and fish sauce to make the dish more salty, palm sugar and tamarind for sweet, lemon for sour, and many options for spicy: fresh chiles, chile jam, and chile oil.
When we moved on to the soup course (tom yum for Dmitry, tom kha for me), Ann instructed us: “1 chile for baby soup, 3 for medium, 4 for spicy, 6 for Thai spicy!” When Dmitry took 5 chiles, she raised her eyebrows and said: “Ooh, five? Good luck on toilet!” Dmitry stuck by his guns and was rewarded with Ann’s praise, that his tom yum – a spicy sour prawn soup – was “authentic taste”.
Pounding the ingredients together for curry was probably the most active (and fun) part of the course – Ann laid out three separate mortar and pestles made of heavy stone – and we separated into groups to pound out our curries, green for Dmitry, Red for me.
After we had crushed more chiles, Ann gave another warning – special for the men: “Wash your hands before you go to the toilet – you don’t want to hurt your brother!”
Somewhere in there, Dmitry also made a som tum (green papaya) salad, and I made fresh spring rolls. The whole day was well-curated and delicious from start to finish – now we just have to try some of the recipes on our own.
*”Prepared ourselves” is a bit of an overstatement. I did put all the ingredients in the pan, but much of the grunt work of the cooking was done for us ahead of time. We have since made TWO Thai meals – one five course meal (soup, curry from a packet, chicken satay, papaya salad, and pad thai) and one meal of just pad thai. We were pretty impressed with Buffalo’s Asian markets.