Sure, we travel for experiences, but food is definitely part of the travel experience. The best meal I’ve ever had in my whole life so far was in Paris. I remember that night vividly even 7 years later. I can even tell you what I was wearing. A fantastic way to keep the memories alive, and to relive them, is by learning to cook through a cooking class while you travel. Classes are generally inexpensive and don’t require a lot of time, but as they engage all five senses, they provide you with a lifelong reward.
I love learning to cook local dishes as we travel. So far my favorite cooking classes have been in Penang where I learned how to prepare some Nyonya dishes (and loved them so much I bought a recipe book) and in Thailand. In Bangkok, I had the opportunity to learn how to prepare some of my favorite Thai dishes, which is my favorite cuisine, and fell in love with some others.
What is a class like?
Most cooking classes begin with a trip to the local market where food is the freshest. Not only do you learn about fruits and vegetables you may have never seen before, but you learn the culture and history behind the food. This is my next favorite part of culinary travel, second only to actually eating.
In Penang, as we went through the market we were treated to samples of Nyonya foods to whet our appetite. Once the tour is accomplished, it’s time for the real fun—cooking!
You will learn how to prepare, clean, and cut all the ingredients you’ll need for your dishes. Instead of simply following a recipe, you are walked through the various steps (now I know the secret to making crispy shallot rings!), including explanations as to why you’re doing a step in a certain way.
Some of these classes have also enhanced my cooking skills by teaching me new techniques and refining them.
After learning all these wonderful things, you get to do the best part which is actually eating your creations.
Finding a class
There are several ways to find a good cooking class. Obviously, personal recommendations are highly valued, which is how I found out about Pearly in Malaysia. Another solid method is to use social media to your advantage. Twitter is most likely your best friend with this type of search. Before heading to Vietnam I found a cooking school to attend by doing research on Twitter.
Of course, there are always searches through engines like Google and TripAdvisor, where you can also read reviews from people who have attended a class.
Picking a cooking class
- As far as I’m concerned, a trip to the local food market is essential. If the class isn’t doing this, I usually won’t sign up. This is where you learn more about the foods you’ll be preparing, and you get invaluable insights into the culture. They’re also where some of the best street food can be found during the daytime.
- Do they provide transportation? It can be hard to get from the meeting area to the market and from there to the location where the class will be offered. Generally, they’ll take care of this part for you, and that’s a really beneficial service.
- Will you be able to replicate the foods when you leave? It’s kind of pointless to learn how to prepare a specific dish and never be able to reproduce it at home. If the dishes they teach are too specialized, it may not be worth your time and money in the end. Most schools seem to grasp this, but if you find one that doesn’t, that’s probably a sign to look elsewhere. A class I took in Iceland was great with this. We were given a conversion sheet so we could easily change the cooking information to the system used back home. As she introduced ingredients, she would also tell us what we could use at home as a replacement. The class in Thailand was good about this well.
- When evaluating the cost, consider all the above factors, but also remember you’ll be eating all this wonderful food you’re preparing. A $50 (per person) class might seem a bit pricey, but when you factor everything in, including that you’ll probably be eating at least 3 different dishes, you’re really getting a good bargain.
- How long is the class? Most of the schools I’ve researched offer half-day classes, and some offer a longer full-day class for those who are interested. If you only have 4 days in an area, a full-day class may be too long for you. Once again, it’s important to factor in what you’ll be learning. For me spending a day learning how to create my favorite Thai and Vietnamese dishes so that I can have them everywhere I go (practically) is worth a whole day.
Learning to cook some of the foods from your travels are great ways of not only sharing the cultures you’ve experienced but also bringing those memories back to life. Nothing can evoke memories like smells and tastes. A cooking class is the souvenir that keeps on giving without taking up any valuable space in your suitcase.
Have you ever taken a cooking class while traveling? Which dish did you enjoy learning to cook the most, and what made it so special?