Ton Gluay Thai Culinary Heritage Chiang Mai Cooking School: Review
Do you love Thai food? Curry, noodles, meat and vegetables stir fried and served with rice and a fried egg. The sweet, subtle flavours of delicate Thai desserts are divine. I love learning, too - and I jumped at the chance to visit Ton Gluay Culinary Heritage cooking school to learn how to make my favourite Thai dessert.
I've been to a few cooking classes in Chiang Mai, and the standard is high. At the bigger, well established cooking schools, large groups of students have their own personal cooking station and follow the teacher's instructions to create Thai classics like green curry, tom yum soup and mango sticky rice.
But what if you want to cook something different, in a small class, something that's not the same old cooking school staples?
Then you need to go to Ton Gluay Thai Culinary Heritage cooking class, just outside the Old City.
Ice, the friendly down-to-earth owner, teacher and entrepreneur, welcomes you into her own house and teaches you how to cook any Thai dish you choose from scratch, using local produce and free range eggs. I loved that there was nothing fake or touristy about the whole day - Ice's house is like any other normal Thai house, and there's nothing gimmicky or put on just for tourists. Ice is extremely passionate about teaching her students how to create truly authentic Thai food, so you won't find any cooking cheats or preparation shortcuts here. Students have Ice's undivided attention because she teaches only up to four students a day. As any teacher knows, small class sizes are way, way better than big classes!
So Andy, my friend Jessy and I booked a Ton Gluay cooking class. A few days before class, Ice messaged us to ask what we wanted to make. I knew the answer immediately. I once ate, quite by accident, an incredible Thai dessert best described as coconut custard served on top of sweet sticky rice, and I had no idea what it was called. I described it, and Ice knew what this mysterious Thai deliciousness was right away.
"Ah! Sankaya. No problem." It was on!
Making our own fresh coconut milk the traditional way
We arrived at 1pm. It was a freaking hot day, and Ice welcomed us with pandan infused ice cold water served in little silver drinking bowls - heaven. Pandan is a Thai herb, frequently used in cakes and desserts to give an aromatic flavour and a bright green colour. The room was huge, with heavy wooden furniture, and natural daylight streamed in through the windows. Ice explained the recipe to us and gave us all an apron, towel and handmade notebook. After washing our hands (hygeine is super important to Ice) it was time to make our own, fresh coconut milk.
Have you ever made your own fresh coconut milk!? It's just, wow. Freshly made coconut milk tastes so much better than the stuff you buy in cartons from the supermarket. We rolled up our sleeves and made the milk the traditional way - using a sit-on coconut scraper and squeezing the grated coconut with our hands to get the milk out. It was hard work, but it was so cool to make it ourselves! I never knew, but there are three grades of coconut milk. The milk produced from the 'first squeeze' is the purest, tastiest grade. It smelled SO GOOD. I just wanted to drink it there and then!
Check out my boyfriend using a traditional Thai sit-on coconut-meat scraper! We're all about challenging gender stereotypes - usually this is the girls' job, & afterwards guys squeeze the meat (haha) to make coconut milk. 😁 #squeezethemeat #cookingclass #cookingschool #chiangmai #thailand #aroi #travel
After making the best grade coconut milk, we mixed a little water into the already-squeezed coconut meat and squeezed again to make second grade, and then repeated the process again to get third grade coconut milk. Ice explained everything to us, and said that traditionally, Thai cooks make dessert with the first grade stuff and curries and soups with the others.
Making sweet sticky rice & coconut custard
While we were scraping and squeezing coconuts, we prepared sticky rice in a traditional woven basket and steamed it over a pan of boiling water. When it was ready, we added sugary coconut milk and let the rice soak it all up.
We mixed the first grade coconut milk with palm sugar and egg and steamed it to make the custard. When everything was ready, we put a little bit of sticky rice on a banana leaf, put a slice of the custard on top and made little pouches with the leaf. Ice's banana leaf pouches were so cute and compact. Ours were less beautiful, but I'm still insanely proud of my effort.
After a tasty meal of fried rice with aromatic spices, we finally got to eat our masterpieces! It was SO tasty. I love this dessert. I really enjoyed eating dinner with Ice. Not only was the food super tasty, but it was a great time to chat about anything and everything we could think of! There was a lot of leftovers, and Ice packaged them up for us to take away. I feel pretty confident that I could make sankaya myself, at home, and I am incredibly proud that I've added it to my cooking repertoire!
Ice was an awesome teacher.One of the reasons I feel so confident that I could make sankaya myself is thanks to Ice's teaching style. She was a thoughtful teacher, with a great sense of humor and endearing quirks. She lived in Glasgow, Scotland for a while and so describes small things as 'wee': "Could you pass me that wee bowl, Amy?". Every stage was explained in meticulous detail, and she made sure that every student participated equally to create the food together. I loved hearing her answers and opinions about Thai food and culture, and felt comfortable asking her lots of questions.
Whenever anyone asks me about which cooking class I recommend, it's this one.My Ton Gluay cooking class was so good. For me, the small class size, the way you can choose what you want to cook and the utter lack of gimmicky tourist stuff makes Ice's classes extra special. Next time I want to make something spicy!
Ton Gluay Thai Heritage Cooking Class details
Book a classIce uses the best local ingredients and free range eggs so her classes are great value for money at around 1000 baht per person, including ingredients and tuition. The price varies depending on what you cook; our class was 1000 baht per person including dinner. Classes last for around four hours.
TIP: Right now, Ice is running a promotion - if two people go to class before October 31st, the second only pays 50%. Sweet!
Email Ice directly or use the contact form here to book a class - you choose the time, the date, the number of students and what dishes you want to cook. If you don't know what it's called - maybe something tasty you ate at a street stall - you can describe it, or send a photograph. Then fill out a form, email it to Ice and you're all set to go.
How to get thereIce can pick you up from your hotel in or around the Old City in her car, or here's a map for those that drive:
I'd love to see what you make at Ton Gluay. Email me or tag me on Instagram so I can see your creations!