Before hopping on a flight up to Chiang Rai, we didn’t know a lot about the city. The last time I was here, we were on the way up from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle so we made a brief stop.
We’ve heard of a couple of things not to be missed like Wat Rong Khun or the “White Temple” and the tea plantations in the hillside but we also wanted to do something that’s a little more interactive… Something that would allow us to learn the local culture first hand.
While searching the web, I came across a cooking class with Akha Kitchen. Immediately, I thought, “What a great way to make new friends, share recipes and exchange cultures over the dinner table!”
After reaching out to Akha Kitchen via their website, I received a response confirming my pick up time, location and menu request. From the website, based on what you want to learn and taste, you can select 5 dishes from the menu.
5 courses you’ll be cooking and eating. That’s a lot of food so come with an appetite.
We were met at our hotel lobby by our chef and owner of Akha Kitchen, Jaruwan or “Jaru”. Then we were taken to the local afternoon market via a “song taew”. It’s a converted pick up truck, turned taxi/bus.
A bit about Jaru, she’s native to Chiang Rai from the Akha hill tribe who studied and trained as a chef. She’s done two internship with the Le Meridién hotel where she focused on baking and Thai cooking. We got to know Jaru quickly as she’s pleasant to converse with and shares the same passion for Thai food.
We arrived at the Chiang Rai central market ready to fill our empty handmade shopping basket with the fresh local ingredients that we will be cooking. The number one thing I love to do when I travel is to go to local markets, so this was a treat! While walking through the market with Jaru, I got to learn a bit about the local ingredients, produce, agriculture, history and a bit about the hill tribe cultures assimilating into the mainstream of Chiang Rai. Jaru’s passion for food is easily apparent as she carefully selects the ingredients we’ll be cooking with and converse about making our favorite dishes.
After we collected all items that were on our shopping list, we headed back to her home. Jaru and her two friends Wanida and Armee converted their home into a cooking studio with a prep and cooking room and dining area located on the main level for their guests.
We started with a warm welcome gesture of sweet local pineapple and a chilled rosella tea drink.
While Armee and Wanida prepared the prep room, we got to sit down with Jaru and asked her few questions: What’s her favorite dish to cook? Why does she love to cook? etc…
A few minutes later, we were invited into the prep room to make our own red curry paste or prik gaeng. This will be the main ingredient for our Pad Prik Gaeng. Only if you could smell the room….. the aroma from the herbs and spices will make your mouth water and leave your stomach growling!
We then moved to the next dish called Sapee Tung or Smashed Chili which is a local and most popular Akha dish. I was excited about making and trying this dish since it’s my first time trying an Akha recipe. It was quite delicious and I can’t wait to make it again at home. It’s very simple… shallots, garlic, tomatoes, chilis, coriander, ground peanut, salt all smashed together. This vibrant dish is served with cabbage, green beans, cucumber and sweet bitter melon.
Mitch getting in on the action! It’s about time he learns how to cook some Thai food! He’s good at eating it, but not making it! 😉
The next course was Pad Thai, which is Jaru’s favorite dish to cook! She explained to us that the colors and flavors reflects her personality and its the ultimate Thai dish. In the prep room, we put together the main ingredients: noodles, prawns, eggs, sweet radish, garlic chives, bean sprouts, tofu and ground peanut. Then over to the work station where we begin to put these ingredients together into a dish of Pad Thai.
Next on the menu is Tom Yum Goong or hot and sour prawn soup, another popular Thai dish. Back in the prep room we assemble ingredients from slicing fresh galangal root, lemongrass, shallots and chili then bringing the mushrooms and fresh giant river prawns together.
Then we went back to the cooking area and started making our soup.
There’s something to be said about having Tom Yum Goong while in Thailand. The fresh herbs, spices and ingredients truly sets this dish apart from when I make it back home in the U.S.
After the Sapee Tung, Pad Thai and Tom Yum Goong, my stomach is screaming for merci! Then I was reminded that we still have the main dish to make follow by dessert so I reluctantly move to the prep room again to prepare the ingredients for the main dish of Pad Prik Gaeng then off to the cooking station we go!
Mango and Sticky Rice came after.
I was so full that I couldn’t raise my arm to wave the white flag.
Every single course through prepping and cooking, Jaru patiently walks us through each steps. You can truly tell how much passion Jaru and her team has for making and teaching Thai cooking. At the end of the evening, the team collects emails to share the recipes you created and follow up with some pictures of your cooking experience.
Akha Kitchen provide a safe, clean and comfortable environment to cook and dine in. The price is $35 USD per person which includes transportation, trip to the local market and snacks along the way. This experience is great for anyone who wants to learn more about Thai cooking and enjoying delicious Thai food.
Food is the universal language that brings everyone from different cultures and all walks of life together. And what better way to interact with people who you share the same passion with than to cook and learn from them. We got to share our dinner table with a Father and Daughter pair who relocated from Orlando to Phrae, a small rural province south of Chiang Mai. We exchanged stories of travels and helped them practice Thai. But our common bond at the table was the love for Thai food and Jaru’s passion to teach it. By far, this has to be one of the best experiences I’ve had done in my years of travels. Would I do it again? Most definitely! Who wants to come with me on my next trip to Akha Kitchen?
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“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
― George Bernard Shaw,
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