Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang, Laos: what to expect from the community-minded cooking class

Long-time readers of this blog will know, ya girl is a fan of cooking classes. I think there are so many benefits to learning about the cuisine of a culture. So, when I was asked to check out Tamarind cooking school to see what they’re evening classes offer guests in Luang Prabang, I was over the moon. Tamarind as a restaurant is quite famous within the little UNESCO town of Luang Prabang, so I expected their cooking school to be of equally high standards. I’m here to report that I was correct in my assumption. Tamarind’s cooking school left me feeling capable of stepping into any kitchen and producing restaurant-quality Lao food.

PLEASE NOTE: My camera lens broke at the very start of class {which is now getting replaced, wah}, so some of these are iPhone photos. Please be kind and show Tamarind a little love despite my tech-mishap.


keep reading for my full review of tamarind’s famous cooking school in luang prabang


Tamarind Cooking School in Laos

GETTING THERE

I was instructed to with the other students at Tamarind’s Nam Khan Riverside restaurant at 4:15 PM. There, I was greeted with a cold, cinnamon tea as my “welcome to class” drink. From there, we all loaded up into a tuk-tuk and were taken to Tamarind’s cooking school. Already, this was unlike other cooking courses I’d taken. Typically, you cook right in the restaurant or in the kitchen of a local’s home. Tamarind provides an off-site cooking pavilion that’s only 15-minutes from Luang Prabang city, but makes you feel as though you are truly immersed in the lush Lao jungle.

TO HELP YOU OUT, THE PICK-UP POINT IS MARKED BELOW

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WELCOME DRINK UPON ARRIVAL AT TAMARIND PICK-UP POINT

WELCOME DRINK UPON ARRIVAL AT TAMARIND PICK-UP POINT

TAMARIND’S COMMITMENTS TO ITS COMMUNITY

A cooking school after my own heart, Tamarind is committed to its community by sourcing the freshest ingredients locally to support produce suppliers within the area. If you were to take the class twice, you might find the table with red chilis instead of green chilis. During different seasons, the lemongrass used in multiple recipes might be larger. Recipes might also rotate or vary based on availability of certain ingredients. This is the surest evidence of Tamarind buying from local suppliers— they aren’t importing from larger corporations that manage to supply the same produce no matter the season.

While some plastic wrap was used to keep ingredients like fish and chicken clean, safe to eat, and fresh, Tamarind seems to very aware of the environmental issues of plastic consumption, like many of the businesses in Luang Prabang. Everything we “threw away” was compostable food waste, some of which is used as food for chickens on local farms. Other than the aforementioned plastic wrap, there wasn’t a straw in sight and any bottles I saw were glass, making Tamarind not completely plastic-free but incredibly green and conscious.

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WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO cook

The dishes each student made during my evening course included:

  • Jeow mak keua- eggplant dip

  • Jeow mak len- Lao tomato dip {similar to a salsa}

  • Mok pa- fish steamed in banana leaves {cloud ear mushrooms were the veggie substitute}

  • Oua si khai- stuffed lemongrass

  • Khao gam- purple sticky rice with coconut sauce for dessert

On top of the dishes we made, as if that weren’t enough on its own, we sat down to the dinner table with our creations and additional food the Tamarind staff had prepared. Theses extras prepared by Tamarind included:

  • Koy- minced meat and herd salad {tofu replaced meat in the vegetarian version}

  • Gaeng nor mai- bamboo shoot soup

  • Jeow som- sour peanut dipping sauce

  • Phak nung phed- spicy steamed pumpkin

My favourite dish of the night was, unsurprisingly jeow and sticky rice starter, which I lapped up like a happy puppy. I swear I could live off of jeow and be perfectly happy as long as it’s extra spicy. While you make your own dinner dishes, you do have a cooking partner for making jeow so that you can each make one of the varieties of the dish {tomato jeow and eggplant jeow} and share. This cuts the work in half but doubles the deliciousness. My cooking partner, a retired artist and horticulturist from Michigan, was as enthusiastic about spice as I am, so we both added extras green chilis to all the recipes calling for them and the outcome was perfection. A big shoutout to my partner for her friendly attitude and fun conversation.

In a very close second place on my list of favourite dishes I made at Tamarind sits the stuffed lemongrass main. While the meat-eaters made theirs with chicken, us vegetarians got to substitute with potato, black mushrooms, and glass noodles. I added extra garlic and shallot to mine and the outcome pushed the dish up towards the very top of my list of dinner delights.

EGGPLANT OES DIRECTLY INTO THE FIRE TO SOFTEN FOR JEOW

EGGPLANT OES DIRECTLY INTO THE FIRE TO SOFTEN FOR JEOW

TRADITIONAL PESTLE AND MORTAR METHODS FOR MAKING JEOW

TRADITIONAL PESTLE AND MORTAR METHODS FOR MAKING JEOW

INSTEAD OF MOK PA {FISH STEAMED IN BANANA LEAF}, VEGETARIANS MADE MOK HET {MUSHROOMS STEAMED IN BANANA LEAF}. HERE I’M MIXING MY INGREDIENTS TOGETHER BEFORE FOLDING THEM INTO BANANA LEAF PACKETS FOR STEAMING.

INSTEAD OF MOK PA {FISH STEAMED IN BANANA LEAF}, VEGETARIANS MADE MOK HET {MUSHROOMS STEAMED IN BANANA LEAF}. HERE I’M MIXING MY INGREDIENTS TOGETHER BEFORE FOLDING THEM INTO BANANA LEAF PACKETS FOR STEAMING.

MOK PA, OR FISH IN BANAN LEAVES, IS STEAMED OVER A FIRE IN WOVEN BAMBOO BASKETS SIMILARLY TO STICKY RICE

MOK PA, OR FISH IN BANAN LEAVES, IS STEAMED OVER A FIRE IN WOVEN BAMBOO BASKETS SIMILARLY TO STICKY RICE

what’s included

The price of your cooking course with Tamarind gets you transport to and from the pick-up location, a welcome drink upon arrival at the pick-up location, another welcome drink once you arrive at the cooking school pavilion, all ingredients to create a beautiful Lao meal with full instruction and the help of trained staff, a sit-down meal with additional menu items {making the finished product a full feast}, and a recipe book to take home with you.

LEMONGRASS STUFFED WITH SPRING ONION, BLACK MUSHROOMS, POTATO, GARLIC, SHALLOT, AND OTHER HERBS

LEMONGRASS STUFFED WITH SPRING ONION, BLACK MUSHROOMS, POTATO, GARLIC, SHALLOT, AND OTHER HERBS

ONCE STUFFED, THE LEMONGRASS IS FRIED OVER A FIRE IN A SKILLET

ONCE STUFFED, THE LEMONGRASS IS FRIED OVER A FIRE IN A SKILLET

MIXING SHREDDED COCONUT WITH HOT WATER TO CREATE OUR OWN COCONUT MILK

MIXING SHREDDED COCONUT WITH HOT WATER TO CREATE OUR OWN COCONUT MILK

WHAT SETS TAMARIND’S COOKING CLASS APART

I’ve experienced a wide variety of cooking courses in different countries around the world; each one offers something unique for its students. Tamarind is no exception. There are a few things that sets Tamarind apart from other cooking schools I’ve participated in. The first is the alternatives offered for recipes so that students know they can make similar variations of each dish when they arrived at home even if they can’t get all the Lao ingredients. For instance, if you live in a place where lemongrass isn’t available but loved the stuffed lemongrass dish, fear not! Our cooking instructor, Sit, offered leek and zucchini as options. If banana leaves aren’t abundant at your local supermarket but you want to make Mok Pa to show off to all your friends back home, Sit suggested hollowing out a bell pepper.

Tamarind’s off-site cooking location was a first for me as well. From Paris to Athens to Chiang Mai, I’d only ever cooked in the kitchen of the hosting restaurant or in a host’s home kitchen. Never had I been taken to a luxe-meets-rustic cooking school set in such a scenic location. The wooden pavilion gave every guest taking the tour plenty of space to spread out ingredients while preparing their edible creations. I only wish it would have stayed lighter for even longer, but as the sunset the familiar sound of geckos and cicadas created a soundtrack to our dinner that made me feel comforted.

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BOOKING YOUR COOKING

My opinion is that Tamarind is the right option for those with a little more money to spend who want to learn how to make delicious food in a beautiful setting and who look to master traditional cooking techniques like cutting lemongrass into a basket or folding banana leaves into steaming packages. You can book your own cooking course with Tamarind by emailing them INFO@TAMARINDLAOS.COM, visiting the booking page of their website HERE, or by visiting their restaurant in Luang Prabang {location HERE or pinned in the map up at the top of this post}.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tamarind Cooking School, but all my opinions are my own and my experience is expressed authentically. 


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Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang, Laos