Cooking classes have rocketed in popularity over the years. I remember when I first started traveling internationally, it wasn’t really a mainstream activity to do. To be honest, it was sometimes difficult to find activities that were for the locals. Unless you had a private guided tour of a city, you really wouldn’t find an eatery serving local cuisine, a guide to local markets, or even an easy way to get to the less “touristy” parts of town.
I think as we millennials have started to travel, we’re changing the face of travel towards activities we appreciate and having local experiences is definitely something I’ve noticed increase in popularity, especially cooking classes. Here are 5 reasons why taking a cooking class while traveling is a great idea.
Guided tours of local markets
Ever get to a new country and see something you’ve never seen before? I’ve seen it more times than I care to admit. The first time I saw dragon fruit, I thought it was a decorative centerpiece and it didn’t occur to me to eat it. The first time I saw durian, I had no clue what it was and never would have bet money that it COULD be eaten.
Food changes all over the globe but let’s be honest, it’s intimidating to go up to a market stall and just pick out something you’ve never seen before and pretend like you know what to do or how to eat it. If you saw a durian for the first time, there’s no way you’d know how to eat it. And after smelling it, you wouldn’t think it was safe to eat either.
On top of that, local markets are hectic scenes. You’re an outsider getting in the way of normal everyday business. And let’s not even get started on the haggling skills you’ll need. You don’t know what everything is, you don’t know what anything costs, and you don’t know how or what to buy. That just makes for a very uncomfortable situation. I admit that even though I’ve been to countless local markets and love walking through them, I still get intimidated by the atmosphere.
Cooking classes will typically start with a stroll through the local market to buy groceries. There, your guide/instructor will be able to talk about the ingredients and probably get the stall owner to give you some samples to try. This way, if you decide to go back on a subsequent day, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing the lay of the land as well as how things operate and it won’t be as intimidating.
Try local ingredients
Cooking classes will expose you to the local ingredients and probably make you realize there’s a whole new world of food out there that you haven’t explored. Also, a lot of the ingredients you’ll encounter may not be available in your area of the world or the type of food they have may taste differently. Even meats taste differently because of animal’s diet.
For example, cashews aren’t just nuts but actually have a really tasty fruit that’s edible. The bad thing is that the fruit is so perishable that only the nut is harvested. I’ve only had it in a drink form but it’s actually really sweet and good. So, if you’re in an area where you can try it, that may be a rare opportunity. Also, avocados in South America are the size of butternut squash and firmer and milder in taste as opposed to the baseball size hass avocados we have in the US.
You might also be inspired to find alternatives for ingredients that you have at home. Instead of just reading about a recipe, you can try the local ingredients and then determine what is similar and available in your local store to recreate the dish back home. For example you might try to recreate tamales from Mexico where the masa was made with pork lard. If that isn’t available back home, you might figure out that you can substitute the lard for vegetable oil and add beef broth to add flavor.
All this is to say that just because you think you know what something is, the ingredient may taste differently to what you’re used to back home. But when you run into something you’ve never seen before, it’s pretty intimidating to try and figure out how to eat it let alone cook with it. A local cooking class will give you an easy intro to the local ingredients.
Try local foods
OK, so you’ve gone to the market and bought your ingredients. Now you’ll get to cook and eat the local cuisine. And it can’t possibly get more authentic than this can it? I mean would anyone ever decline a home cooked meal over a meal in a restaurant to try the local food? I think not.
This will give you a great idea of not just how to cook the food but how to eat it as well. You’ll understand how to personalize it by seeing how much chilis to add to meet your taste preferences. You might be intimidated in seeing that small container of chilis on a table in Thailand if you’ve never seen it and not know how much to add.
Another thing you’ll learn is how to eat the food. For example, anyone eating bibimbap in Seoul for the first time might be really confused on how to eat it. To be fair, it’s almost a shame to destroy a beautifully presented plate when all the different ingredients are so well placed on a bowl of rice. If you’re seeing it for the first time, your initial gut reaction would be to eat each item individually and eat it with some rice as an accompaniment. However, the correct way to eat it is to absolutely destroy the looks and just mix all the ingredients together so you have this wonderful mix of ingredients, spices, and textures as you eat. If you’ve never had it before, there’s no way you would know that there’s a correct way to eat this classic Korean dish (and yes, I failed the first few times as well).
Eating the local foods is not just about the ingredients but also about eating it the way locals do. It’s about getting all the textures, smells, and tastes into every bite so your first bite is just as good as the last. Sometimes it’s about having a communal meal so you can all share and enjoy each other’s company.
Learn something new
What better way to share your trip with the people back home than to share a meal you learned to make traditionally while traveling? This is one thing I appreciate the most. I think it’s really cool that you can share your experience in a way other than showing a hundred pictures where your friends will probably be bored after the fifth photo. By cooking a meal, you’ll be able to share the experience and your friends may not even know what “authentic” cuisine from that region is really like.
When taking these classes, you’ll often get some sort of small recipe book or card of the everything you learned so you can recreate the dishes back home. So, not only do you get the memories and the experience of cooking an authentic meal but you also have a small recipe guide to take home. It’s fantastic if you’re afraid you’ll forget it and it usually doesn’t take much space. Don’t expect anything amazing that you’ll purchase at a bookstore but they’re typically handmade little recipe books or cards that clearly have that personal touch. I think they’re great.
Meet new people
For solo travelers, meeting new people can sometimes be a challenge. Especially if you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to go out to bars or clubs, the opportunity to meet people can be scarce. Taking a cooking class can be a great way to meet people with similar tastes.
Look, solo travel can be tough especially if you enjoy being alone most of the time but still want to hang out and do social activities. When you’re in a small setting like a cooking class, you’re bound to meet people who are just as interested in cooking and interested in meeting people as well. It can be a great way to have a travel buddy to meet up for dinner, drinks, or even go on a food tasting tour. You don’t need to spend all day with these people, but it fills the gap where you might otherwise feel a bit lonely.
Taking cooking classes when traveling may not be a new concept but it’s certainly become increasingly popular especially with the millennial crowd. When we travel, it isn’t just about going to check off all the boxes of seeing the tourists sites. We prefer life experiences over just going to a destination and walking around in a massive tour group. Cooking classes are a great way to not only learn about a culture but also try some authentic food, learn some new skills, and come home with more enriched lives. On your next trip, you should really consider taking a cooking class. You might just find a new favorite activity.