Cooking classes – the best way to experience a new culture

Food is amazing for so many reasons.

A perfect combination of flavours can be so deeply satisfying, while spending an evening sharing a meal with friends and family is a sure-fire route to contentment (even if that only comes from the peace and quiet after everyone’s left and you’ve finished the washing up).

But in my opinion, the best thing about food isn’t in the eating, it’s in the cooking. Experiencing a culture by eating its food is one thing, but you want a real culinary understanding? Step in to the kitchen for a cooking class. Learn about the dishes – the ingredients, the history, the flavours – and meet locals with a real passion for sharing the food that they make on a daily basis. Local experiences don’t get better than that.

So to celebrate all the best food from around the globe, we’ve put together a list of the top 3 cooking classes from around the world that give you a real taste of the local culture (and yes, the pun was absolutely, 100% intended).

Cape Town – The Melting Pot

Cape Town is great because it is a massive melting pot – you can see that in its art, its people, and of course, in its food. There is no one South African cuisine, but instead, many different cuisines from around the world that blend together and compete for attention. Which is great because…you know…more mind-blowing food for us. Notably, these cuisines include Indigenous food, Cape Dutch style, French and Cape Malay (loosely based on Indonesian food) but there are plenty more that can easily be found in the many food markets across the Mother City.

Beautiful city + Beautiful food = take me there right now please.

If you want to get in a lot of different flavours in a short period of time, then try heading down to the Hope Street Market where all types of cuisines can be found nestled in next to each other. We’d recommend Mzoli’s though for a truly authentic Capetonian experience – a favourite with locals, this place is simple, serving meat cooked on a South African ‘Braai’ (basically it’s like a BBQ on crack, and if you haven’t eaten meat cooked on a Braai before then you are really missing something in your life).

We’re not just here to eat though, we’re here to cook, so where are the best cooking classes in Cape Town? Our personal favourite has to be Jade-de-Waal’s Food Jam – this is aimed at bigger groups, but it couldn’t be more personal really. The groups are split in to teams, and each team is tasked with preparing a different part of the meal – all in a traditional South African style. It’s a very relaxed vibe, where the hosts suggest you follow the recipe, but encourage inventiveness and improvisation. The whole team is very friendly and they great an inclusive and fun atmosphere – much like Cape Town itself.

For smaller groups, try Stir Crazy Cooking School, who offer a brilliant South African cooking Safari. It’s a whole day of cooking, accompanied by specially selected wines and a brief history of South African cuisine.

Chang Mai – Cooking Classes and Market Trips

Chang Mai is an amazing city, with some of the most mind-blowing cuisine in the world. Strictly Northern Thai, it’s all about creamy curries, fresh produce and plenty of spice – basically just plenty of powerful flavours. Cuisine is intrinsically linked to the culture here, and any guide for the city will tell you that you absolutely must take a cooking class during your time there. The issue, of course, is making sure you pick the right one as there are literally hundreds to choose from. But that’s why we’re here.

Aren’t food markets just great?

Before you head off to your class though, be aware that there are lots of food markets across the city – check out the Muang Mai market to see everything from Thai spices to fresh fish, and take a look at all the ingredients on offer. Most cooking classes in Chiang Mai will include a trip to the market, but if you really want to soak it all up, we’d recommend having a little wander around first, just to get a feel for it.

There are a few options depending on what you’re looking for – if you’re in a group of say 5 or more, we’d recommend going to one of the schools (don’t worry, they’re still steeped in that local feel). The Thai Cookery School is our personal favourite – it was set up in 1993, making it one of the first in the city, and this heritage can be seen through their sheer dedication to great local food. We attended in 2016, and everyone was friendly and very knowledgeable (particularly Chef Nan, who seems to be a fan favourite).

For something more personal, Thai Cottage Home Cookery School is also great. The chef Tab takes you in to her home and shows you the ropes in a much more intimate setting – a slower process, but we’d recommend giving it a go, especially if you’re in a smaller group.

New Orleans – Creole Cuisine

Now I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this is perhaps a little left of field. But New Orleans food is famed as an eclectic mix of French, Spanish, West African and Native American cuisine. It’s intrinsically linked to their culture (‘Creole’, for those who don’t know), and celebrates the rich and diverse heritage that makes the city so unique.

Yeah, now you’re interested.

That’s some tasty lookin’ Louisiana sea food right there.

It’s funny that outside of the USA, Creole culture and cooking isn’t particularly famous, but that also means that there’s more to discover when you’re there. If you’re just looking for places to sit down and eat, we’d highly recommend checking out the Jacques-Imo Café for some truly authentic Creole cuisine and the real down-to-earth New Orleans feel. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little bit more upmarket, try Brennan’s Restaurant which also serves traditional Creole food in a more refined setting.

But, of course, we don’t just want to eat the food, we want to experience it first-hand. And as a city steeped in culinary prowess, there are plenty of cooking classes to choose from. Again, for a bigger group, try The New Orleans School of Cooking – teaching locals and visitors alike since 1980, it is an excellently equipped school with top quality chefs who really know their stuff.

For something more intimate though, we’d recommend the Casa Pelican – classes are limited to a maximum of 6 participants, but they’ll cater for couples or even lone travellers happily. Chef Karen will guide you personally through all the dishes and every single step to make sure that you emerge an absolute professional in Creole cuisine. If you’re struggling, we think the Louisiana Seafood is the best class they offer, but you do you.

So that’s it for our recommendations of the 3 best cities in the world to take a cooking class – but that’s not to say you shouldn’t look for them anywhere else. Cooking classes are a great way to experience a local culture hands on and get to know new people, so next time you’re in a new city, why not try looking for a class yourself. Usually, they’re created to include anyone, no matter their cooking ability. So whether you’re a novice or a total master-chef, they will still be a lovely way to experience the local culture. Give it a go, let us know what you think, and hit us up with any recommendations of other great cities where you’ve learned to cook something amazing!

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