Zabb E Lee Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand

We learned to make some of our favourite Thai dishes at the Zabb E Lee Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Massamun and green curries, spring rolls, tom yum soup…my mouth is watering just thinking about it…

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One of the best aspects of travel is experiencing a wide range of foods, often ones you wouldn’t normally eat at home. And an even better aspect is learning how to recreate those tastes at home in your own kitchen. It’s a great way to relive memories of places and times long after the event (one of my secrets to tripling your travel happiness).

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We always try to find a great cooking class wherever we travel. Some places have an abundance of cooking schools, and Thailand was one of those places. So, in this case we relied on a recommendation from the staff at our wonderful Chiang Mai hotel, (Rachamankha Hotel in the old quarter).  We were not disappointed with their choice!

Zabb E Lee Cooking School is run by the young, vivacious and high-energy, Ann. Ann founded Zabb E Lee (which comes from a North-Eastern Thai word meaning ‘very delicious’) because she has loved cooking since she was a child and her father taught her all the traditional techniques of preparing Thai food.

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The cooking school is located inside the walls of the Old City on North Gate (Chang Phuak Gate) behind the Kuan Kama temple. It’s tucked away down a laneway and is a lovely, relaxed space which is partially open-air allowing great air-flow. We were collected in a mini-van from our hotel and taken first to the cooking school where we were told our recipe options and made our choices, and then on to the markets to collect some of the supplies.

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The cooking course runs every day, twice a day (a morning school from 9.00am to 2.00pm and an evening school from 4.30pm to 9.00pm). We did a morning class. Both options allow you to learn an appetizer, a stir fry, a soup and a curry, plus one curry paste and sticky rice with mango. I expected that the group (there was about 12 of us in the class) would have to vote on our choices and do the most popular of each section. But in fact, we each had free reign to select from the list. So, for example, while I learned the stuffed cabbage soup, The Poolboy did the tom yum kung and the girls did tom yum kai. This meant that between us, we made most of the recipes on offer.

Zabb E Lee Cooking School Chiang Mai

At the markets, Ann gave us an overview of the ingredients we would be using, as she and her assistant collected and purchased those ingredients. Helpfully, she also offered suggestions about specific ingredients that may be hard to get at home and what we should (or shouldn’t) substitute.

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Then it was back to the kitchen for us to get started. We each had a station with a gas burner, and wore an apron with a pocket that included a smaller section for our tasting spoon. We were given some clear instructions about the knives and how to store the blade under the cutting board between uses to prevent any accidents.

Ann demonstrated each section of dishes, then we set to making our own individual serve of our choice. We were able to adjust the spiciness of each dish according to our personal tastes, ranging from super-mild to blow-the-top-of-your-head-off (yes, there was one of those in our class).

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My stuffed cabbage soup (known as ‘baby soup’ as it is so mild).
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Pad Thai

Ann has a great manner, explaining both the practical aspects of each dish as well as some of the background or history of them. She has a fantastic sense of humour, and was able to adjust her humour and references to the varying cultures in our class (Australian, New Zealand, Malaysian, American). The Impossible Princess (12) was the youngest in the class, but was totally able to keep up with the requirements.

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Covers kept any insects off the food we’d already prepared while we finished off.

After making the first two dishes (soup and stir fry) we had a break where we all sat at a long table and ate our first lot of creations. Then we were back into it, pounding the ingredients for our curry pastes in mortar and pestles, and then cooking our appetisers, curry and sticky rice and mango.

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The ingredients for each of the curry pastes

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Then we sat again, and consumed these dishes. It was sooooooooo much food. We didn’t need to eat again until much later that evening! It was fascinating to chat to the other class members while we ate to swap travel stories and notes about where we’d been and where we were going to.

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Ingredients for the massamun curry
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Ingredients for green papaya salad
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And the rest of the ingredients for the green papaya salad

One of the best parts of the whole class was that the ingredients, cooking dishes and utensils kept appearing and disappearing like magic as they were required. Ann’s army of assistants took care of all of that, which created a seamless cooking experience. I wish cooking was like that in my own kitchen at home!

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Yum. Lunch (part 2) is served. Sticky rice with mango is my absolute favourite Thai dish!

We walked away from the experience with a lot more knowledge about Thai cooking, and a higher degree of confidence in tackling it at home ourselves – plus, a step-by-step full colour recipe book to take home so we can work through each recipe (even the ones we didn’t do in the class) as if Ann was right there by our side instructing us.

The details

Zabb E Lee Cooking School
Address: 6 Sriphoom Soi 8 T. Sriphoom, Chiang Mai
Morning Course : 09.00 am. – 02.00 pm. (Daily)
Evening Course : 04.30 pm. – 09.00 pm. (Daily)
Price : 900 Baht/Person
Book: in advance via E-mail or call Ann for more information
E-mail :
Phone: (+66) 093 267 9572, (+66) 093 267 9573
Facebook Page:

Do you do cooking classes when you travel?

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