For me, the best souvenirs are rarely the cheap trinkets from travel, but the skills acquired along the way. As these are the souvenirs that just keep on giving. And as someone who travels almost solely for food, this means the techniques and recipes I’ve picked up along the way are pretty much invaluable. Including my year’s worth of experience from ‘the rice fields’ of Thailand, where days revolved around cooking and eating, and very little else. So when I wasn’t nabbing herbs and ingredients from the gardens, or squeezing coconut milk from coconuts, I would be cooking and eating all sorts of local dishes. At the same time, Fanfan will forever be the better cook in Thai food, meaning I have to share my own skills elsewhere, through my own food obsessions; like Sichuan Mala flavours, or my favourite Japanese curry junk food. So Asian food is now part of daily routine, and while cooking at home is never quite the same as eating in Asia, it does come second best for me. And these days it is so easy to source the ‘hard to find’ items at local Asian Supermarkets (e.g. my local market here) and online where I often buy in bulk on Amazon. But cooking skills are otherwise trickier to acquire, but can always be found through various Asian cooking classes where there is a diverse range of cooking classes in Asia. And here I share the some of the experiences of fellow food-loving bloggers.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By Cerise of Enchanted Vagabond: Set in beautiful, lush gardens and forest about 30 minutes from central Kuala Lumpur is the Lazat Cooking Classes kitchen, perfect for a half or full-day of lessons. I love to cook, so when we travel to different places in Asia I always book a cooking class so that I can learn about local ingredients, experience the culture through their food, and return home with a new skill to share with others. Lazat Cooking Classes offer different choices, and I signed up for a menu focused on popular Chinese-Malay dishes like Char Koay Teow and prawn and chicken wontons. The class was so accessible and easy to follow with our own recipe booklet and trays of prepped ingredients. It was so fun and easy, that my 10-year-old daughter operated her own cooking station and created delicious dishes. The day starts with an extensive and educational visit to a local wet market where fresh coconuts were pressed for coconut milk, and curry spices were piled high for making beef rendang. I picked up some new techniques and met new friends who shared a passion for adventure and food. Next time you visit Kuala Lumpur, book yourself a class at Lazat for a truly fun and useful cooking experience.
By Thais Saito of World Trip Diaries: In Nagoya, Japan, we took a cooking class. Amongst the many, many options, we chose to learn how to make washoku, the Japanese everyday meal. We made rice, miso soup, Japanese omelette, and a Japanese style fried chicken. Then, in the end, we learned how to make some adorable rice cakes for dessert. It was great to learn how to make this carefully chosen menu, with all the things we adore and with ingredients we can find even from home. Everything was made from scratch, and it was pretty awesome to see that a miso soup, which we usually bought in a small pack at the supermarket and just added hot water to it, actually takes quite a lot of different ingredients and a long time to become a good soup. And the difference is incredible! Our instructor even served everything Japanese style, with pickled sour-plum and gave us a detailed guide with all the recipes we made that day and told us how to eat the real, Japanese way.
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
By Markus Kampl of TheRoaming Fork: Loving Vietnamese food as much as I do, I’ve made it one of my goals to attend as many cooking classes as I can all over the country. To date, my favourite cooking class in Vietnam was at the Vietnam Cookery Centre, a modern cooking space in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. The class included a tour of the food section at the famous Ben Thanh Market, as well as the preparation of 4 classic Vietnamese dishes. My favourite dish of the day, and the reason I chose this particular class, was caramelized snake-head fish cooked in a clay pot (Ca Loc Kho To in Vietnamese). Not only is this a mouth-watering dish to eat, it requires some skill to make it, and I was about to find out the preparation secrets. The first step is to marinate the fish with a combination of caramel sauce, which we made, and other classic Vietnamese ingredients including fish sauce, sugar, oil, salt, pepper, shallots, and chillies. The next step is to place the fish, marinade, and a little extra water into the clay pot and cook the fish while at the same time reducing the cooking sauce. The result was a perfectly cooked fish, surrounded by a sticky, sweet, and slightly spicy sauce. Absolutely delicious.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
By Callan Wienburg of Singapore n Beyond: What’s better than going to a cooking class in a foreign country? Going to a cooking class in a foreign country at a luxury hotel with a talented chef. Templation is a fabulous hotel in Siem Reap that has a focus on eco-tourism and social sustainability. The compound is large with a massive pool to relax in after your class. The authentic Khmer cooking class is led by head chef Toek Menghout who grew up in Siem Reap. You will not only learn how to cook great Khmer dishes like char kroeung, lok lak, and sago pudding, but you will learn recipes from Toek’s family, the way his mother used to cook it. The cooking class begins either at a local farm or market, depending on the weather. Select your ingredients and savour the vibrant atmosphere and then hop in the air-con car and drive back to the airy, leafy hotel to begin the class. While there is a set menu, you can ask to diverge and cook whatever you like, just let Toek know beforehand. You will cook using a traditional Khmer fire and the staff will replenish your ice water and cold towels. You will end your class with a feast in the open air restaurant. I particularly liked the fish amok served in a young coconut. See more info here.
Hoi An, Vietnam
By Suzanne Jones of The Travelbunny: Red Bridge Cooking School is a must do if you visit Hoi An. We met at the market where we shopped for ingredients and learned a little about Vietnamese food. After the shopping is done we take a leisurely boat journey to Red Bridge Cooking School. The cooking pavilion looks out over the river and the stations are loaded with a gas ring and all the utensils we need. Thân, the chef, is very funny and makes sure that as we cook we also have lots of laughs. ‘you listen well you have good lunch, you don’t – you go home you try again!’ An overhead mirror means everyone can see what to do. We start by making fresh Rice Paper Rolls with Shrimp which we eat on the spot with sweet chilli dipping sauce. Easy. The next dish is a bit trickier. Steamed rice flour pancakes which we make from scratch. They’re stuffed with shrimp, pork, and herbs and dipped in peanut sauce. We sit in the restaurant for our meal which starts with Seafood Salad and herbs served in half a pineapple. Vietnamese Eggplant in a Clay Pot with rice and steamed Ocean fish on a bed of fresh vegetables is the main followed by fresh fruit. One of the most fun and tastiest cooking classes I’ve done on my travels.
By Lora of Explore with Lora: India is famous for its delicious food all around the world, and the flavours taste even better when you go to the source. Out of all the meals I ate during my time in India, the food I tried at ‘Rajni’s Cooking Class‘ was truly the best. Rajni is a lovely Indian woman who runs a cooking class out of her home in Orchha, in the northern state of Madhya Pradesh. During the class Rajni will teach you how to make several Indian specialities including masala tea, three flavourful curries, and two different types of Indian breads. Rajni also provides you with a detailed recipe card so you don’t have to worry about writing it down. Rajni’s cooking class is great because it takes place right in the middle of her home. You get a glimpse into Indian family life along with a delicious home-cooked meal. Another great aspect of Rajni’s class is that she sells all the Indian spices needed to make the recipes. You can stock up on spices and impress your friends and family by cooking these incredible Indian dishes at home!
By Sarah and Justin, Travel Breathe Repeat: One of the highlights of our first trip to Bangkok was our cooking class at Silom Thai Cooking School. We had thoroughly enjoyed all the delicious Thai food we’d eaten during our trip and were super excited to learn how to make our favourite dishes. They offer different menus on different days of the week, but every menu includes a noodle dish and a curry (including a homemade paste). We most enjoyed learning how to make Pad Thai, Masaman curry, and mango with sticky rice for dessert. Our teacher was exuberant and hilarious and made the class really fun. He took us on a market tour to learn about the ingredients before going back to the school to cook. Everyone’s cooks their own individual meals instead of large portions for the group. This worked especially well for us: we went with a friend who is allergic to garlic so the teacher adapted her dishes to accommodate this.
By Jess of the Longest Bus Rides: On’s Thai vegetarian cooking class in Kanchanaburi, Thailand moves quickly and is super fun! Her enthusiasm for her food is contagious (follow her Facebook page for fun posts) and we learned so many dishes. Each person in the class selects 3 dishes and a dessert to learn hands-on. And, when you aren’t preparing your own dishes you can observe and assist classmates making theirs or take a rest. I actually learned over 10 recipes and received printouts of each one so I could take them home. It turns out that cooking Thai food is very quick since the ingredients are thinly sliced and cook fast on high heat. We made so much food that there was plenty to take home for supper, too. If you’re not vegetarian, On’s recipes include tips on including meat, too. The fresh and colourful ingredients are already cut. This maximized our time spent learning how to mix ingredients in correct quantities, cooking at correct temperatures and stirring fast enough so nothing burns in the pan! This was a great half-day activity on my stopover from Bangkok before 5 amazing weeks in Myanmar. Kanchanaburi is a wonderful city with nearby waterfalls, an elephant sanctuary and the famous bridge. Arrive from Bangkok by train or bus.
By Sylvia of Wapiti Travel: After 3 weeks in Japan we really started loving the Japanese cuisine. We didn’t long once for some familiar Belgian dishes but what struck us even more was that we had lost weight. Japanese cuisine is an example of how a healthy dish can be tasty. And this prompted us to attend a Japanese Cooking Class in Osaka. We really wanted to know how to prepare those healthy dishes with those unique flavours ourselves. We opted for a Ramen and Gyoza cooking class, two dishes that can be found on almost every Japanese menu. The ramen soup contained more than 16 different herbs and vegetables and Yucco, our excellent master chef, explained all of them. This gave us a better picture of what we had been enjoying over the course of the last weeks. While the soup was simmering we prepared the Gyozas and we learned some tricks to fold them in the traditional Japanese way. And then came the reward, when we could eat all the goodies we had made. A hearty meal!
By Nienke Krook of The Travel Tester: The Tanshikar’s Spice Farm is located in the Netravali village of South of India, in the middle of the rainforest of the Western Ghats. English-speaking Gauri lives and works at the farm and besides a tour of all the spices that they grow, you can also participate in a fun and authentic Indian cooking class. Gauri will teach you how to make vegetarian dhal and sprouted moong bean gravy from Goa and tells you all her secrets of how to bake the best chapati. It looks easier than it is, but when you have a go yourself it turns out making chapati is actually quite hard to do. After all of your hard work, you get to enjoy the chapati’s, along with some other dishes that have been prepared for you, during a nice lunch at the farm. Definitely make sure to also visit the shop to find some fresh (and very cheap) spices to take home, so you can enjoy the flavours of India a bit longer! The farm also offers stays at their ecological guest house and is located near Smriti Yoga in Netravali, Sanguem, Goa 403704. To reach the farm from Panjim, it’s a minimum of 2 hours drive.
By Jeanne Malherbe of Learning to Breathe Abroad: We had the most wonderful cooking experience at Nary’s Kitchen in Battambang in Cambodia. We started the class with a tour through the local market, which gave us an incredible insight into the daily lives of the Cambodian people. It was loud, bustling with people and caused a vivid attack on the senses. Due to a lack of refrigeration in many homes’ animals are only killed when ready to eat, so the market was full of live chickens, ducks, fish, snakes, eels and frogs awaiting their fate and surrounded by the delicious aromas of herbs, spices, and sugary desserts. We would be cooking a Fish Amok, Lok Lak Beef, Spring Rolls and Sweet Banana Coconut Milk, so were all given aprons and chefs hats to wear. Fish Amok is a classic Khmer dish and is always presented in a banana leaf with a little coconut cream on top. This slightly sweet curry is made with a paste of lemongrass and lime leaves, fish sauce, palm sugar, turmeric paste, and chillies. This is mixed with the fish, placed inside the banana leaves and steamed for 20 minutes until it has a custard-like consistency. Delicious!
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
By Kate of Rolling Along with Kids: After the morning tour of the Ubud central market in Bali, where we were shown the different fresh produce available to buy, we were transported to Laplapan Village just outside of Ubud. Here we met the gorgeous Puspa, our hilarious host for the cooking part of the Paon Cooking Class. We learnt to cook a range of authentic Balinese dishes, with the Be Siap Mesanten Kare Ayam (chicken in coconut curry) a favourite of mine. The major flavour for this delicious dish comes from the Base Gede or basic yellow sauce. This sauce full of spices, chillies and lots of garlic, is the basis of many Balinese dishes. The chicken, potato and coconut cream worked so well with the base gede. A truly entertaining day full of laughs, yummy food, beautiful views and best of all, a cookbook with all the cooking class recipes that I have since replicated many times back at home.
Seoul, S. Korea
By Corinne Vail of Roving Vails: Kimchi is the most Korean of South Korean dishes, so when we were planning our trip to Seoul, I was on a mission to find a kimchi cooking class. To make kimchi, though, there isn’t any “cooking” per se, it’s more of a type of pickling or preserving. The history of kimchi goes back when the Koreans had very little to eat, and it was difficult to make it through the winter. Cabbage is one of the most prolific agricultural products, and they soon learned that by preserving them, not only was it delicious, but it had so many health benefits as well. We learned of the ten basic ingredients used to prepare the kimchi in the southern Korean fashion. I was surprised by some of the ingredients, like kelp broth and anchovy fish sauce. I never knew that it depended on the sea as well as the land. During our lesson, our instructor, Eunice, weaved in a little history, some personal anecdotes, and lots of information about how to eat kimchi as well as the many different types. I left feeling I’d really got a glimpse of Korean culture.
Luang Prabang, Laos
By Heather of the Conversant Traveller: Spending a day at the Tamarind Cooking School was one of the highlights of our trip to Luang Prabang. We learned about local Lao food, discovered how to cook some traditional dishes, and perhaps the best part…got to eat our endeavours afterwards! But first there was a trip to the local market on the edge of town to shop for ingredients. Here we were introduced to ‘cat poo’ (tasty little rice-flour snacks) and bamboo chips, before we continued by tuk-tuk to the tranquil rural cooking pavilion next to a lily pond. Chef Joy was really funny as he demonstrated how to cook each dish and we tried our best to copy his actions at our individual workstations. My favourite part was cooking the Mok Pa, which is fish steamed in banana leaves. So much fun wrapping it all up. We also cooked Laap which is a traditional Laotian dish of minced buffalo with herbs, and a bit of bile and tripe thrown in for good measure. It was actually really tasty! A brilliant day out, and we got to take home the recipes books too!
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
By Rose of Where Goes Rose?: There are few places in Southeast Asia where the food is as fresh and healthy as Bali. One of my favourite dishes is nasi campur, a delicious mixed plate of Balinese goodies served with rice. While in Ubud, I decided I wanted to do a cooking class and found a great one across the road from my homestay. Siboghana Waroeng serves vegan versions of the classic dishes but you’d never notice the absence of meat – I’m a carnivore and I certainly didn’t. One Saturday morning I tried my hand at making a selection of veggie Balinese dishes including my favourite, nasi campur. We cooked veggies with fresh coconut, blended peanuts and chilli to make a delicious satay dip, and battered mushrooms in breadcrumbs to top the dish. Add a couple of freshly-prepared lilit sticks (made with veggie protein rather than the traditional fish or pork variety) and ta-da – a healthy, generous and moreish lunch was served!
Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka
By Penny Fernandes of Globe Trove: It took us just a short while in Sri Lanka to realize that we had fallen in love with the food. While we were on our journey in Tissamaharama, we found a lovely little restaurant with delicious food and decided that was where we wanted to eat. Since we loved the food so much we requested them to teach us out how to cook some popular Sri Lankan dishes and they agreed. The big bonus was that since it did not always conduct cooking classes, our class was up close and personal. When asked what we wanted to learn how to cook we replied that we absolutely loved the pumpkin curry. Somehow when I think about pumpkin, I always think of a sweet dish but when infused with coconut and Sri Lankan spices, pumpkin transforms into a mouth-watering delicacy. Another dish that we enjoyed making was the Sri Lankan lentil curry which was infused with coconut. It was very different when compared to the curry that we are used to in India.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
By Nisha and Vasu ofLemonicks:When we travel, we always indulge in local food. And that shows us the door to their food habits and culture. So when we visited Malaysia during Ramadan, it was just another world! In Kuala Lumpur the Ramadan bazaars are full of Malay dishes – curries, rendang, porridges, roasts, rice cakes in endless varieties together with sweets, pastries and traditional juices. Decided to attend a culinary class where I learnt to make some sweet dishes. Among all the dishes, I liked Crystal Sago the most. It’s very simple to make and is light on stomach. In fact, it helps in digestion. Made of sago, coconut milk, corn flour and sugar, it takes only 10 minutes to prepare. Just cook soaked Sago with sugar and water. Add colour and essence. Pour into small moulds till half. Separately cook coconut milk, corn flour and salt to taste. Fill the moulds with this mixture. Decorate with screwpine or mint leaf. Keep for 15 minutes to set and serve. Not very sweet or salty, the Crystal Sago gives a different taste and texture.