Cooking Thai style at Da’s organic farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand

After the precious spiritual experience with Buddhist monks, my second day in Chiang Mai was devoted to learning how to cook Thai food.

Shopping at the market, delicious Chinese cabbage, bok choy

Shopping at the market, delicious Chinese cabbage, bok choy

I’ve never particularly liked cooking, I used to cook just because I lived alone so I had to eat something and I don’t like ready meals, but I’ve always prepared very simple dishes in as little time as possible. Now, since I’ve switched to a vegetarian diet, not sure what happened but I came to love cooking. Interesting, isn’t it? My way of cooking doesn’t fall into any particular nationality or type, I just mix a bunch of ingredients together and hope for the result to be edible. In most cases, it’s edible, in many it’s even good. This is why, when I saw the sign inviting me to a Thai cooking class, the first thing I thought was “Ok, let’s see if I can give some shape to this recent cooking spree of mine.”

Banana leaves, apparently an ingredient in Thai cuisine

Banana leaves, apparently an ingredient in Thai cuisine

Among the things I wanted to do in Chiang Mai, a cooking class was very high on my list as I wanted to go back home with some authentic recipe.

So here I was, in my second day in Chiang Mai, signed up for a cooking class, excited and ready to cut, chop, sprinkle and spice things up.

First things first: a stop at Chiang Mai veggie market for shopping, because the lesson started there.

I chose the different courses of my meal, appropriately replacing chicken with tofu, and finally coming up with “yellow curry paste & yellow curry with tofu”, “soup with veggies and tofu”, “stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts” and “banana in coconut milk” for dessert. That was going to be a busy afternoon.

After doing our grocery shopping, we were headed to the farm, where Da showed me around proudly and explained to me Hippocrates-style that “food is our medicine”. I was sold, that’s mainly why I’d become vegetarian, and that was going to be my cooking baptism of fire.

Entering Da's organic farm

Entering Da’s organic farm

First of all, Da advised that brown rice is much better than refined one because it retains all its nutritional properties. As if I didn’t know, and as if in Italy is as cheap and easy to find as in Thailand. So, brown rice is rich in vitamin B1, B2, phosphorus, calcium, copper, iron, proteins, niacin and fibre, while refined one has lost most of it.

Settled, we go for brown rice, which we harvested just minutes before starting cooking at Da’s rice field. Sort of. Needless to say, at the market, I bought a pack of brown rice, I just couldn’t resist.

The rice field in Da's farm, where Da showed me how rice grows and is harvested.

The rice field in Da’s farm, where Da showed me how rice grows and is harvested.

When we arrived at Da’s farm, the first part of the cooking class was to understand the ingredients, meaning a tour of the farm where Da would show me the actual plants, when is the best time to harvest, how to do it and how to recognize different fruits and plants even though they look similar or they belong to the same family. After explaining how rice grows and is harvested, the difference between ginger and galangal, and proudly telling me that he produces pretty much everything for his family’s consumption, we were off to cook my sumptuous dinner.

Proud Da checking out his farm

Proud Da checking out his farm

First thing, yellow curry paste, probably the only thing I thought it was going to be ready.

Nope, I had to make that too from scratch, meaning chopping and smashing all the ingredients with pestel and mortar for about 15 minutes, until I was starting to lose feeling in my right arm.

The ingredients for the curry paste are:

2-3 red dried chillies to be soaked in water for about 15 minutes

1 tsp of salt

1 tbsp of lemongrass to be chopped

1 tbsp of galangal to be chopped

1 tbsp of shallots to be chopped

1 tbsp of garlic to be chopped

1/2 tbsp of kaffir lime peel to be chopped

1 tsp of coriander root

1 tsp of coriander seeds

1/2 tsp of peppercorns

1 tsp of cumin seeds

2-3 tsp of turmeric powder

for non vegetarians also 1 tsp of shrimp paste

I have also added a piece of fresh turmeric and chopped and smashed it along with the other ingredients.

7- curry ingredients

Ingredients for the yellow curry paste

When the paste was ready, we started preparing the proper dish, putting a pan on the flame and stirring a bowl of coconut milk and the yellow curry paste until the oil appeared on top. I added the tofu and kept boiling for a couple of minutes then added the potatoes and kept simmering and stirring gently until they were cooked.

Ready yellow curry paste with chopped tofu and potatoes

Ready yellow curry paste with chopped tofu and potatoes

Here is Da pouring the coconut milk:

Coconut milk for the yellow curry with tofu

Coconut milk for the yellow curry with tofu

And here is the result, with two slices of red pepper on top for decoration. Delicious, of course!

Yellow curry with tofu and potatoes

Yellow curry with tofu and potatoes

After the yellow curry with tofu, I prepared the egg-tofu and veggie soup, that was easy and less tiring, with only something to roughly chop but nothing to smash. I put all the ingredients, carrots, fresh coriander, cabbage, mushrooms, onions and a piece of vegetable stock to boil, added the egg-tofu after a couple of minutes, let simmer a bit and served warm.

Ingredients for the soup

Part of the ingredients for the soup

Next stop, oh-so-delicious stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts.

Ingredients:

50 g of tofu

1 tbsp of cashew nuts (if you don’t have them, almonds will do, too)

30 g of carrots (or baby corns)

30 g of large onions, sliced diagonally

30 g of mushrooms roughly chopped

10 g of spring onion

1 large red chilli roughly chopped

1 tbsp of chopped garlic

2 tbsp of cooking oil

1 tsp of sugar

3 tbsp of mushroom sauce

2 tbsp of soy sauce

1/4 cup of water

Ingredients for the stir-fried tofu with cashew nnuts

Ingredients for the stir-fried tofu with cashew nnuts

First thing, I stir-fried the garlic until it started releasing its aroma, or smell, if you prefer. I then added the cashew nuts and kept stirring. After a couple of minutes I removed the nuts and put the tofu, the other seasoning ingredients, mushrooms and red chilli in the wok and started stirring non-stop not to make it burn. I added the water, the sugar, mushroom sauce, soy sauce and kept stirring. In the end, I added spring onion, stirred once more and turned off the cooker. Here is the result:

My stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts

My stir-fried tofu with cashew nuts

My last treat, the dessert, banana in coconut milk. If you wish, you can replace the banana with pumpkin or sweet potatoes. This was also pretty easy: I cut the banana in pieces, put a cup of coconut milk, 3 tsp of sugar and 1/4 tsp of salt to heat and when it was boiling I added the banana and left it until it was cooked. This can be served hot or cold.

Here is the dessert:

Banana in coconut milk as a dessert

Banana in coconut milk as a dessert

Et voilà, here is the final and complete meal:

My complete meal, delicious and good-looking thanks to Da's patience.

My complete meal, delicious and good-looking thanks to Da’s patience.

Apart from having fun, I acquired a higher self-confidence learning how to combine more ingredients, both preparing these dishes and cooking different ones. I now know how to use coconut milk in different situations while before I wouldn’t dare and, like before, I will keep adding curry just about everywhere.

Where to stay, best hotels in Chiang Mai

High-end. Some of the best options for luxury hotels in Chiang Mai are Chala Number6 for luxurious rooms, swimming pool, fitness center, and a great on-site restaurant, Akyra Manor Chiang Mai, a luxurious all-suite hotel that features an infinity swimming pool on the rooftop and two on-site restaurants, and Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel And Spa, set in a colonial-style building and offering a lobby bar, an outdoor pool, an on-site restaurant, and luxurious rooms and spa services.

Mid-range. Good options for mid-range hotels in Chiang Mai include Mini Boutique House with spacious and nice rooms featuring a kettle, private bathroom, a desk, flat-screen TV, and located close to the main landmarks, At Phra Sing Retro, located in Chiang Mai city center and offering simple rooms equipped with the necessary facilities, helpful staff, and on-site dining options, and Jomkitti Boutique Hotel, a little more expensive but worth the price. This boutique hotel in Chiang Mai city centre offers free WiFi and bikes, a fitness centre, a small swimming pool, and rooms with a desk, private bathroom, air conditioning, TV, kettle, some rooms with a balcony and a minibar.

Cheap stays. Among the cheap hotels in Chiang Mai, some of the best are Bruuns Guesthouse, conveniently located near important landmarks such as Wat Chiang Man and featuring simple rooms with air conditioning and flat-screen TV, Wayside Guesthouse, another guesthouse with all the necessary facilities and free WiFi for a really cheap price, and Green Sleep Hostel, a cheap hostel in Chiang Mai city center that features free WiFi, air-conditioned rooms, and free bikes.

For more reviews and prices, check Hotels Combined comparison website.

 

If you ever go to Chiang Mai and you wish to take the same cooking class, I booked it at a travel agency just past Tha Pae Gate, but if you want to be sure, here are Da’s details:

Email: dafarm_cm@hotmail.com

Mobile: +66 (0)89 8359433

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18 Comments
  1. I cook a lot, and Asian food is always so hard for me to master – even with a recipe! I hope your meal tasted as delicious as it looks!

    • It was delicious! Obviously there was Da to help me, but now I think I can make it on my own. If you like to cook try a cooking class in Thailand, they reveal less hard than they seem, guaranteed! ;)

  2. Qu’est-ce que ça a l’air bon! Quelles couleurs appétissantes!

  3. Mi sa che mi converto e divento vegetariano! I piatti sono proprio invitanti!

  4. Reply
    Maria | Acceleratedstall February 16, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Now this is unexpected! Great entrees and the recipes to make them with a dash of storytelling – brilliant. Thanks

  5. Fantastic. I remember doing a cooking class in Chiang Mai years ago and saying to myself ‘now I’m going to go home and always cook amazing Thai dishes’. But I don’t think I ever did a single one. I hope you have more success :)

  6. I did a cooking class in Chaing Mai as well, but with a different company. It was great – and Thai food is so quick and easy to cook that it is easy for lazy chefs like us to adopt.

  7. I cook most of my own meals, but my cooking style is also very simplistic. I don’t have patience or much confidence in the kitchen. The more cooking classes I take when I travel, the more I really want to become a great cook.

  8. I have a friend going to chiang mai this winter, how did you connect with Da’s Organic Farm? When I google it is only gives me your comments.
    Thanks for sharing
    Linda

    • Hi Linda, thanks for your comment! At the end of the post I wrote Da’s contact details. I found him by chance through a little travel agency in Chiang Mai, just entering Tha Phae Gate, crossing the road and it was near the traffic light and a vegetarian restaurant. They arrange many trips and one was this cooking class, otherwise I think you (or your friend) can directly call Da..

  9. Great photos and a beautiful narrative that really paints the picture of your experience. Love that you’ve included some of the recipes as well :) We also went to vegetarian cooking class in Chiang Mai and absolutely loved it. Yet to really give our new skills a test though.

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