During our time in Luang Prabang, I did a cooking course with Tamarind Cooking School. One of the things I miss when I travel is being able to cook my own meals. I love cooking, it’s kind of my zen-meditation time of the day. There’s something about the repetitive chopping, and taking in all the aromas of the ingredients I’m cooking with, that just relaxes me. So, one of my favourite things to do on a trip is taking a cooking class. I enjoy cooking authentic food with local chefs and taking home a few tricks and recipes. It’s improved my cooking massively.
I really wanted to take a Lao cooking class because Lao cuisine isn’t as famous internationally as neighboring Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, so it’s difficult to find authentic recipes and information online. Learning on-site seemed to be my best option. I chose Tamarind Cooking School because it gets great reviews on TripAdvisor, and it offered an afternoon class which fit better into my schedule than the morning classes that most schools offer. Our group was nice and small, just three people. We met at Tamarind Restaurant and after a welcome drink, took a tuktuk to the restaurant’s cooking school outside of Luang Prabang.
The school is in an outdoor pavilion in a beautiful garden. A small stream flows behind the garden, and lots of herb beds surround the pavilion where the cooking takes place. The setting definitely added to the zen feeling of it all.
The herb gardens at Tamarind Cooking School. A great, relaxing place to be and worth the 10 minute tuk tuk ride from the center of town (the class meets in the center, and everyone takes a tuktuk together, it’s included in the price of the class)
The cooking class at Tamarind
The class itself was great. The structure of the class made it interesting both for cooking novices and people like me who cook a lot, but want to learn about local ingredients and techniques. We cooked exclusively on coal fire, with traditional Lao pots and rice baskets.
Traditional Lao cookware: Sticky rice steaming in bamboo baskets over an open fire
The chef’s cooking station with plenty of fresh ingredients. The chef explained every dish to us in detail, then we got to try our own cooking skills. The class was very hands-on. When it gets to cooking, I strongly believe in learning by doing!
At the end of the course, there was a big feast of dishes we had cooked as well as a few additional dishes the team there had prepared for us. It was a delicious dinner!
I loved learning how to make authentic Lao sticky rice, as the three weeks we spent in Laos have got me completely addicted to it. I’ve bought a rice basket and even served rice and dips at a party a couple of weeks ago – it was a hit!
Impressions from the class & the dishes we made
Lao cooking is full of fresh herbs. They feature prominently in pretty much every Lao dish I’ve ever had. Other staple ingredients, in the background: Tomato, lime, chili and lemongrass.
This is stuffed lemongrass! If you’ve ever handled fresh stalks in lemongrass, you’d probably never think you could stuff lemongrass with anything – the stalks are pretty thin. We learned a great slicing technique to make a little “basket” out of a lemongrass stalk. It’s fiddly work, but the result looks very impressive.
Our lemongrass stalks stuffed with herbed chicken, being deep fried over open fire.
Fish in banana leaves, a famous Lao dish and a very healthy way to cook fish which I will definitely be making at home.
Jaew Mak Lin: A simple Lao recipe you can try at home
The Lao people love dips. So do I, by the way. Jaew Mak Lin is a simple spicy tomato dip that gets its special flavour from grilling the ingredients directly over open flames. The ingredients for it are simple to get, and it goes great with sticky rice, steamed meat or fish, or any barbecued foods. I first learned to make this at Tamarind Cooking School, but have since altered the recipe a bit based on my own preferences.
For a small trial portion, you need:
- 4-5 cocktail tomatoes
- one small shallot/onion
- one clove of garlic
- one chili, choose the spice level depending on how brave you are
- a pinch of salt
- half a teaspoon of fish sauce
- a few stalks of fresh cilantro (coriander)
- a squeeze of lime juice, to taste
The steps are very simple:
Grill the tomatoes, shallot, garlic and chili over an open flame until they are charred and soft. If you’re making this at home, try it with the grill function of your oven. It won’t get the authentic smoky flavour, but I’ve found it to be a pretty good option for when you simply can’t start a fire in the house.
Take the peal off your grilled ingredients (they should just slide off easily once your ingredients have cooled down a little bit), add a pinch of salt and pound them with a pestle and mortar. Chop the cilantro coarsely and add it to the rest of the ingredients. Then season your dip to taste with fish sauce and a bit of lime juice.
What you need to know if you’re planning on taking a class at Tamarind Cooking School
The school will provide you with everything you need. My personal advice is to come with an empty stomach. There will be a big lunch or dinner at the end of the class. Classes seem to fill up quite quickly during high season, so best to call ahead or drop by the restaurant to reserve your spot.
I enjoyed my class as guest of Tamarind Cooking School. All opinions are my own and I will only recommend activities I truly enjoy. Check out the cooking school’s website for more info!