You have to taste a culture to understand it – Deborah Cater
How many people remember their first taste of Thai curry on a humid day in Bangkok, a mouthful of wasabi-infused sushi in Tokyo or the bite of an aubergine pizza in Rome? The memory of a spice-laden souk in Marrakech, a vibrant vegetable market in Hoi An, the pungent aroma of dried kapenta on the side of the road in Malawi, or the scent of baking bread in Paris can take you back to your travels more sensually than a snapshot. And of course, food and culture are intertwined: learning to eat curry and naan with your hands in India, wield chopsticks in China or share a common plate with other diners in the Jordan is part of immersing yourself in a place. There’s no better way to learn about food culture than by doing a cooking course. Knowing how to cook paella, pasta or pakora like a local is the best souvenir you can take home.
Here are 10 of the best cooking experiences to inspire you to plan some foodie travel.
I just don’t want to look back and think, I could’ve eaten that – Anon
The southwestern Mexican city of Oaxaca, a beautiful place with colonial architecture, art galleries and picturesque squares, is the heartland of Mexican cuisine. Oaxacan food is some of the best in the country, and you can learn to make delicious regional dishes such as mole sauces, banana leaf-wrapped tamales and soups at La Casa de Los Sabores. Pilar Cabrera, experienced chef and owner of popular local restaurant La Olla, teaches the classes, sharing her family’s cooking secrets and generation-old recipes. Small group and private half-day classes include an explanation about local ingredients, a tour to a food market, a cooking class, mezcal tasting and the five-course meal you prepared.
Mami Camilla, a family-run cooking school on the gorgeous Amalfi Coast, an hour’s drive from Naples, has a peaceful setting among terraces, lemon trees and herb gardens, where you can learn the secrets of Italian cooking. Whether you want to learn how to make perfect Neapolitan pizza, delicious pasta, focaccia, calzone, Neapolitan pastries, or – everyone’s favourite – gelato – the school has them covered in courses that range from one day to two weeks. While you’re learning the art of Italian cuisine, stay at the school’s rambling villa, which has sea views, a swimming pool and an orange tree grove.
In between cruising on Lake Pichola and visiting grand palaces of the romantic city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, a cooking course with Shashi is a must. Shashi teaches small groups of up to four in her home how to make delicious vegetarian Indian dishes such as masala chai, potato-and-onion pakora (deep-fried snacks), chutneys, chana masala (chickpea curry), aubergine and tomato curry, malai kofta (vegetarian meatballs), paratha (flat bread), paneer (cottage cheese), naan, chapati and roti over an afternoon or evening class.
In the heart of the French capital, La Cuisine Paris offers you the chance to learn about the complexity (and deliciousness) of French cuisine. Whether you want to learn how to master the art of macaron making, how to bake a croissant, how to make a baguette, how to make the perfect sauce or how to construct a beautiful sweet tart, the school’s team of chefs will impart their expert instruction in classes that take between two and four hours. The school also runs food walks through Paris, which take you to the best markets, patisseries and bakeries in the city.
Learn to make sushi from the pros in the birthplace at one of Japan’s only schools devoted to the nation’s most internationally famous food. The Tokyo Sushi Academy trains hundreds of professional chefs from around the world each year, but also offers two-hour sushi courses, intensive day courses and private lessons to beginners. The lessons cover everything from knife skills, cutting fish to making sushi rice, and creating decorative bamboo leaves for serving. Impress your friends back home by mastering the art of making nigiri, sashimi, temari zushi (ball sushi), California roll and kazarimakizushi (rose peach flower sushi).
After exploring Hoi An’s crumbling narrow streets by bicycle and trying out its fantastic restaurants, learn the basics of Vietnamese cuisine at the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School. Classes include a tour of Hoi An’s central market, a scenic boat trip on the river and a herb garden walk. They will teach you how to make traditional Vietnamese dishes such as banana flower salad, pho (beef noodle soup) and clay pot fish. Evening classes are offered at the school’s sister restaurant, Hai Café, where small groups learn to make Hoi An specialties such as grilled fish in banana leaves and beef salad in bamboo baskets, which students then eat at dinner.
Located in the heart of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, Cook and Taste classes last half a day and start with a walking tour around the world-famous La Boqueria market, where you’ll pick local, seasonal produce and try out delicacies such as jamón ibérico (cured ham). Back at the school, learn to prepare Catalan cuisine from a changing menu that includes two tapas, such as tortilla Española (potato omelette), gazpacho and pa amb tomàquet (a Catalonian tomato bread), a paella and a dessert, such as crema Catalana (baked custard), accompanied by Spanish wine.
Caravan Turkey runs a week-long cooking retreat in the countryside just outside the coastal resort of Bodum, where you spend every day doing cooking classes, shopping at the local markets for ingredients and beach hopping in between. Learn to make around 20 traditional Turkish dishes, such as borek, baklava, Turkish coffee, manti (Turkish ravioli), menemen (mixed vegetables and eggs), karniyarik (stuffed aubergine), tavuklu sebzeli guvec (chicken and vegetable stew) and domla (Turkish pancakes). You’ll stay in the lovely Gokpinar Retreat Centre, which has rustic, cosy kilim-decorated rooms with views of the serene countryside.
Learn about Cape Malay food culture in its historical birthplace with Zainie Misbach, who is something of an authority in the Cape Malay food world. On her Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour, Zainie takes you to her local spice shop and for a short walk around the Bo-Kaap, and shares stories about Cape Malay history and culture, after which you have a hands-on cooking lesson in her home, where you’ll learn how to make traditional Cape Malay dishes: chicken curry, butter lentil curry, rotis, samoosas and dhaltjies. The class finishes with a communal feast of the fruits of your labours in Zainie’s peaceful courtyard.
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