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.
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 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 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.
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!
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!
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.
By Nisha and Vasu of Lemonicks: 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.