Some people view cooking as a mundane, domestic chore and definitely something not to do while vacationing. But what if we told you that you could have your
cake curry and eat it, too, without having to go shopping beforehand or clean up afterwards? In fact, we’re happy to call our latest cooking experience at Smile Koh Mak Thai cooking school entirely entertaining. If you find yourself on Koh Mak, a small tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, this is something you shouldn’t miss!
It may come as a surprise, but one thing we like to recommend to most people who visit Thailand is to take a cooking class. Even if you don’t care much for cooking at home, these classes not only make it fun (seriously, the hard prep work and dirty cleanup isn’t part of the course), but who says “no” to eating delicious Thai food?
Although there is a plethora of cooking classes in Thailand’s major cities, our decision was made easy on a recent trip to Koh Mak as there is only one Thai cooking school on the island: Smile Koh Mak. And by all means it’s fantastic.
Ms. Leng, the owner and instructor of Smile Koh Mak, cordially hosts two four-hour cooking classes every day on this quiet little island. Equipped with organic produce harvested directly from her small garden as well as fresh ingredients purchased from the mainland, she provides the equipment and guidance needed to prepare several popular Thai dishes.
Cooking Thai Food at a Waterfront Cottage
Smile Koh Mak couldn’t have been at a prettier place. After a mere five minute motorbike drive from our Thai villa to the school, we pulled up to a charming little cottage with waterfront views. There’s a wooden swing in the front yard and we even did our entire cooking class on the cottage’s covered porch!
We were welcomed by a country-styled wooden picnic table with bench seating already prepped with our cutting boards and chef knives. There was a nice breeze coming in from the water and then we were handed our aprons and began!
|NOTE: For anyone concerned about food sanitation and the fact that we cooked outside, don’t worry. Everything was spotless and there was not a bug in sight. If you’re still worried, then this activity may not be right for you.|
We weren’t sure what we’d be cooking on the day of our class, but Leng had chosen a series of dishes for us to prepare. Of the 15+ dishes provided in her free recipe book (she gives copies of it to all of her students), she had chosen the following Thai food for us to make:
- Shrimp pad Thai: (ผัดไทยกุ้ง) pad thai goong
- Hot and sour lemongrass shrimp soup: (ต้มยำกุ้ง) tom yum goong
- Thai coconut chicken soup: (ต้มข่าไก่) tom kha gai
- Sweet green curry with fish: (แกงเขียวหวานปลา) gaeng keow wahn blah
- Panang curry with pork: (พะแนงหมู) panang moo
- Sticky rice with mango: (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง) khao neow mamuang
First we made shrimp pad Thai. We chuckled at this first choice because although this is a very popular dish among foreigners it is not that commonly eaten by Thai people. However, we still had a good time preparing this super simple dish and her particular recipe was definitely one of the better variations we’ve tried.
Next came two soups, tom kha gai and tom yum goong. We prepped the ingredients for the soups, set them aside, and then walked over to a large sitting area outside where we learned how to make curry paste from scratch using a mortar and pestle.
Talk about a work out!
For all of you Thai curry fans, curry paste is where the magic happens. Sure, you can buy a little baggie of it at a Thai market for 10 baht (around $0.30 USD), but what are you going to do when your vacation is over and you are craving those authentic Thai flavors? That’s why learning how to make your own curry paste from scratch is so important. And guess what, you don’t even have to work as hard as we did, pounding out the paste for 10 minutes. Just put the ingredients in a food processor for a few swirls and you’re golden.
After the curry paste was finished, one for sweet green curry and one for spicy panang curry, it was show time!
The cooking stations are actually only an arm’s reach from where we prepped our food. There was a shiny new wok, metal spatula, wooden stirring spoon, a pot, and a gas range. Her sous chef made sure our ingredients were portioned out in a timely manner.
Enough writing, more pictures:
Right before we started cooking, Leng began steaming white and deep purple Jasmine Thai rice in a special basket. This rice, later combined with coconut milk, some sugar and a pinch of salt, made the base of the super popular Thai dessert, coconut sticky rice and mango.
So what makes Smile Koh Mak a great Thai cooking class?
- Information: We learned some interesting cooking facts, like why you should soak pad Thai rice noodles in cold water rather than hot water and why southern Thai cuisine has more chilies than other regions.
- Pace: Leng let us go at our own speed. She neither rushed us nor dragged on. The dishes were also spaced out in order to give us time to make room for the next course. There are six dishes, after all!
- Humor: Her sense of humor was refreshing and had us smiling the entire time.
- Patience: Leng thoroughly explained the ingredients, how to cut them, in what order to add ingredients, and how long to cook. She was happy to adjust sweetness, saltiness, and spiciness level although still encouraged us to stick to the original recipe.
- Cleanliness: After each dish we prepared and while we were enjoying our food at a separate table, the sous chef efficiently cleaned the stations. Scraps were tossed and the utensils were washed and reset for the next round.
The bottom line: We had a really wonderful time at Smile Koh Mak. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Koh Mak!
Contact Information for Smile Koh Mak Thai Cooking School
A half day course runs from 10am to 2pm and again from 3pm to 7pm. The prices are 1,200 baht and 1,300 baht per person for the morning and evening classes, respectively. The maximum is four people per class.
If you need a ride to and from the cooking school, transportation can be arranged for an additional 100 baht per person.
The best way to book her class is through her site and fill out her signup form. Or you can have your hotel or guesthouse on Koh Mak book the class for you. Just make sure you mention your eating preferences (vegetarian, not spicy) or any allergies (shellfish, nuts) when you book.
During high tourist season (November through April) her classes fill up quickly and oftentimes days in advance. Be sure to book earlier rather than later to secure a spot.
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