Having traveled abroad recently for a series of cooking classes, it became apparent to me that there are some things to "know before you go."
Here it is, stuff you should keep in mind as you book a trip of a lifetime to learn how to cook native cuisine in the country of your choice....If you want to keep your dignity and your digits.
You should probably brush up on your knife skills. American cooking tends to revolve around convenience. Cook anywhere else (China, France, Mexico) and you're likely going to need to chop, dice, fillet, mince, and slice...a lot! Some schools will prepare things ahead of time, especially for a demo class. You don't want to be the student who can't remember the difference between chopped and minced and you don't want to hold up the group because you can't go fast enough. Another problem- you likely don't want to cut your finger badly while traveling abroad. This means a little practice will go a long way.
Check into the class size before you go. Ideally, a demo and hands-on class should be between 4 and 8 people. 12 maximum. A demo only class (where the teacher cooks and explains as they go and you sit in your chair) can handle about 20. If the number seems high to you, ask how many assistants help with the class to get an idea of the kind of attention you'll be getting. Serious schools will already know their maximum number.
Do not book a class your first day...or your second day. I learned this one the hard way. My second day in Hong Kong was a full day, during which I learned that wok cooking, a strict teacher and hot oil and jet lag do not mix. Unless you're only traveling a few time zones, give yourself time to adjust or book a 2 or 3 hour class to start. Trying to concentrate all day, stand in a hot kitchen, etc., will only be exacerbated by bad jet lag. Check the schedule and the teacher. Be sure the class your taking includes at least two dishes you really want to learn to make and ingredients you can find in your home country. Fresh fish in coastal Ireland is great, but it might be hard to recreate that here in Arizona. If you're a vegetarian or don't eat red meat, be sure you're not making something you can't eat. Even pasta and noodle dishes can sometimes contain animal ingredients and in Asia, shell fish and fish sauce reign. If you are sensitive to anything or have special dietary needs, make a point to ask someone at the school who speaks English. One last thing, be sure your instructor speaks a language you speak, well enough to communicate throughly.
Visit the market. You're there to learn and take in the sights. Be sure to visit the local market or even grocery store. Regardless if it's for fish, flowers or fancy noodles -- seeing how ingredients look in their raw state helps you recognize them at home. Plus you can ask the vendors questions, learn what you like and try new things before you dine around in the country of your choice.
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