Akha-fellas: a review of Thai Akha Kitchen Cooking School
During my time in Chiang Mai I had wanted to do a cooking class. I had heard they were quality, fun and a good use of time. Being in Thailand another bonus was that it would be much cheaper (than what I would be used to). I ended up selecting Thai Akha Kitchen Cooking School and this is a review of my experience.
Which Thai cooking school?
The search for a day Thai cooking school started at our hostel. There were over a dozen different companies with pamphlets in front of us. It was all rather overwhelming, especially as they all seem to offer a very similar experience. Each one involved cooking about twelve or so dishes, with a market tour, in a cool kitchen. The price was all largely the same. All included pickups too, which is a nice touch.
We ended up choosing Thai Akha Kitchen Cooking School. It was a good price, with pickup, they responded quickly (when I needed a last minute booking), and you got to make 15 dishes. The other ones offered usually 12, and Thai Akha were the only ones that offered Akha cuisine. It’s also located centrally, some of the others are a bit more of a drive out.
Ours was a morning session which includes a market tour. We get a pickup from our hostel by songthaew and get straight into the market, where our guide shows us various stalls and we get our fill of samples. Rambutan, mangosteen, fried pumpkin – all things that we had seen but were too nervous to try/ try order. This is a proper, local’s market – so quite a different experience to the types of ones we had been. The market tour has a practical element – we’re also picking up our ingredients for the day.
After a short drive, we are soon into the official Thai Akha Kitchen. Our group’s small (no group is ever over ten I believe), so we get plenty of time with the instructor as well as getting to know the fellow students. The kitchen is well equipped with ingredients and gear so the whole day runs smoothly. Times goes pretty fast, the cooking is spaced out with eating and demonstrations.
What’s on the menu?
Our menu for the day consists of two appetisers: papaya salad, spring roll, two desserts: mango with sticky rice, pumpkin in coconut milk. As with other Chiang Mai cooking schools you have a choice of which stir-fry, soup and curry you make. Attend with a friend and you get to sample a few more things. And finally, there’s three Akha dishes which are shared, and make for something new and different.
I had a blast! Heaps of food, lots to learn. You also get to takeaway a recipe book so you can recreate the dishes at home. All the ingredients are measured out and it’s tough to go wrong. Our instructor does plenty of checks along the way. Because there are so many dishes, you’re pretty much eating throughout the day. The very final “lunch” guarantees you won’t need another mealtime this day.
You have full control over your cooking so you can make things as you like – vegetarian as well as managing the spice levels. Although I’m not a fan of seafood, I highly recommend sticking to the prescribed dosage of shrimp paste as it does bring out the flavour a lot! I was surprised that I did survive the spice levels okay in the curry when I went for medium.
The wrap up
Highlights: making your own curry paste is tough work but incredibly satisfying. Other Thai dishes like the Pad Thai and sticky rice feel easier and this sense of achievement helps make you want to do it all again when back home.
We had a lovely instructor (and helper) at the Thai Akha kitchen and the whole day went smoothly. For the price, it’s a bargain for the amount of food you get to eat and we enjoyed learning a lot more about Thai and Akha cuisine and culture. If you have a spare half day it’s worthwhile use of your time. Also good for rainy days as the whole thing is covered.