Tamarind Laos: The BEST Cooking School in Laos

When visiting Asia, a cooking class is high on most people’s list of things to do, and for us it is an absolute necessity (my partner is a chef, who’s favorite cuisine is Asian – so it’s a no brainier really!) We have attended classes in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – all of which have been wonderful, but today I’d like to share our experience at Tamarind Laos – the *BEST* cooking school in Laos – and tell you why it MUST be on your itinerary when visiting Luang Prabang.

Tamarind Laos

TAMARIND LAOS: The BEST Cooking school in Laos

Tamarind Laos is a well-known restaurant in the heart of the UNESCO Heritage Town of Luang Prabang which showcases traditional Lao cuisine. Whilst stopping here for a bite to eat you will be guaranteed a wonderful meal – what is even better is that you can spend a day with local chefs at their cooking school where you will be taught the basics of Lao cuisine across 4 dishes – and you get to eat all your (very) tasty creations  at the end!

Meeting at Tamarind Laos Restaurant at 8.45am, we were driven by tuk-tuk to the Phousy Market. This is the biggest market in the Luang Prabang area and is certainly geared towards locals rather than tourists. Led by our chef-guide, we were given a comprehensive tour of the different food areas within the market, stopping to chat with stall owners who explained (where they could or translated by the guide) the different ingredients used in traditional Lao cooking.   We saw all kinds of fruits and vegetables, meat and fish (in various states of being – ranging from alive to smoked..) and were even able to taste traditional Lao snacks.

If you have never been to an Asian market, it is an assault on the senses. From the flourecent colour of the fruits, the vibrant greens of the vegetables, the rich colour of dried spices and the texture of bunches of garlic together – it’s a chefs heaven.

Tamarind Laos

Dried Chili & Fresh Garlic.. two of my favorite ingredients

Then there’s the meat/fish section where the occupants are *fresh*. Where the dismembered body parts of pigs and chicken sit atop wooden benches and the blood of the animals butchered that morning is still in puddles on the floor – or has been collected in bags alternating with bile. It’s not an area of the market for the feint hearted, hygiene conscious (the flies were horrendous and the smell – I mentioned the assault on the senses yes?!) or vegetarian – and I would recommend scrolling quickly over these next photographs if you feel like you fall into any of the above categories.

Tamarind Laos

Clockwise: Trotters, Bags of Bison Bile/Blood, Pick your (still swimming) fish or take them dried..

Our guide was extremely helpful, and recommended our taking pictures if we saw something we didn’t know/understand, however he wrangled our group of 12 very well and made sure we could all hear and see what he was talking about throughout the visit. He was also quick to point out that if we wanted to purchase anything we would be charged ‘local prices’ so that we wern’t ‘ripped off.’ Very sweet.

We felt very lucky to have been able to visit the market with our guide. His tour and explanation of things made what could have been an overwhelming and confusing experience, notwithstanding the major language barrier.

Moving on from the market we were taken agian by tuk tuk to Tamarind Gardens, a professional looking complex with a classroom area under a covered deck over the water and a dining area surrounded by lush rain forest.

The table at the front of the preparation area was laid out with lush green vegetables, garlic and shallots – bought  fresh at the market we had just left and we were given a quick run down of the day.

Tamarind Laos

We would be preparing sticky rice, jeow (a dip to be eaten with the sticky rice), steamed fish in banana leaves, lemongrass stuffed with chicken (you have to see it to believe it) and buffalo laap. For each dish a large ingredients list would be hung at the front of the class and we would be invited to collect our ingredients from the table to take back to our stations. From there were were shown and talked through the process of each step of the recipe. It was all hands on and brilliant fun – with some great opportunities for photographs.

Tamarind Laos

Cooking with Fire!

We cooked all of our dishes using traditional tools such as a motar and pestle and cooking on coal burners, and ended the afternoon by sitting down to eating them all at once!

Tamrind Laos

Sticky Rice, Laab, Jeow, Stuffed Lemongrass & Fish Steamed in Banana Leaf – YUM!

It was a lot of food and if you were last to the table you had a lot less time to eat and I may have given myself a bit of indigestion as everything was so yummy I just wanted to keep eating even after I was full!

And if that wasn’t enough food, we then went back to the classroom to make a dessert of purple rice pudding with fresh fruits which was enjoyed by all. I think at this point I was too full to even think about taking photos! (Poor effort on my part, I know!)

Before we returned to Luang Prabang we were all given a very professional recipe booklet which included information on lao cuisine and culture in addition to recipes for everything we had done that day (plus a few extra dishes). To say that Laos was at the beginning of our 8 week South East Asian odyssey, the recipe book made it all the way to Australia and I still use it to make Laap (although more often with beef or chicken mince rather than buffalo!) – so you can probably tell what a great impression Tamarind Laos left on me!

NOTE: You can book your Cooking Class via email before arriving in Luang Prabang – and it is highly recommended you do so as they can get busy!

If you haven’t been to Laos, Tamarind Laos is a must do on your visit to Luang Prabang – and if you have already been – did you love it as much as I did? Let me know in the comments below.

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Tamarind Laos

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32 thoughts on “Tamarind Laos: The BEST Cooking School in Laos

  1. Pinay Flying High says:

    I’m not much of a cook so I’ve never really thought of taking a cooking class whenever I travel. Now after getting married and realizing how important (and cheaper) it is to have cooked food, I wish I had gone to some of those cooking schools. It’s great that they give you a recipe book as well after the class. Do you easily get ingredients from where you are? It’s quite an impossible task here in the Middle East.
    Pinay Flying High recently posted…Are You The Maid?My Profile

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    • Vicki says:

      I found that most of the ingredients were/are quite basic – and the only things I can’t get are the things I wouldn’t want to add anyway (like bison bile!) – and google is always a great help in finding alternatives for other things!

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  2. Carol Colborn says:

    Asian food is always kind to my palate. Do you know why they call it the Tamarind School or Restaurant? Do they use a lot of tamarind? It is an ingredient I have not really used.

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  3. Heidi Wagoner says:

    We spent nearly a month in Laos last year and absolutely loved every minute of it. That said, we didn’t partake in a cooking school, but looks like we should have. That just means we need to return. Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng were our favorites.

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  4. Meg Jerrard says:

    Sounds like a great idea – not sure how I would have gone with the dismembered body parts, but as you said, assalt to the senses – it’s all part of fully immersing yourself in another culture!

    I love taking cooking classes when I’m overseas, really takes the food experience to another level while you’re spending time in a different country. Though I can never seem to replicate them once I’m back at home!! HOpefully you have more luck than me :D!

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  5. Anda says:

    I am always interested to find out what attractions people find irresistible when they travel. For me walking the streets and visiting the museums in a new city are a must but for others, like you, attending a cooking class is at the top of the list. My only question is: would you remember everything you learned in a day when you come back home? Because I doubt that I would. That’s one of the reasons I think it would be a waste of time for me to go to a cooking class anywhere. I would probably need weeks of practice.
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    • Vicki says:

      Hi Anda, I can’t say that I remember everything, but I do remember how to cook one dish perfectly and a few other bits and pieces that have helped in my day to day cooking. I think it helps that they provided a recipe book too!

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    • Vicki says:

      Hi Francesca – the steamed fish in banana leaf was incredible – I just struggle to find banana leaves at home to remake it! And i’ll admit I had to screw my face up a few times at the market.. there was a picture I didn’t share of a pigs head just sat on a table.. urgh!

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  6. Sarah Hoang says:

    With your experience about this destination- Tamarind Laos. I think I’ll make a trip to Laos. Travelling and taking a cooking classes is always out of my mind. But look at your photos is quit interesting. I love the way they show items on floor and sell them. It looks so fresh.

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