The Top 10 Places to Learn to Cook Like a Local

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The Top 10 Places to Learn to Cook Like a Local

By Mariel Kennison

Lonely Planet brings us their favorite 10 places around the world where you can learn to wine and dine yourself like a true native. Let your stomach plan your next trip and try stepping out of your culinary comfort zone!

If you want to be the first of your friends to bring Vietnamese cao lau noodles or Tuscan-style artichokes to a dinner party, this is the list for you. Immerse yourself in a new culture and learn new, unique recipes as you go. Cooking the local cuisine is about more than being a tourist; you’ll visit nearby markets and pick out the food you’ll cook with just like you would if you lived there. Go ahead, try something new!

Below is an excerpt from this new book.

Make your post-trip slideshow to friends more interesting by offering a few authentic recipes you’ve picked up while on the road.

1. Luang Prabang, Laos Tiny, landlocked Laos is often overshadowed by close neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, but Southeast Asia’s most laid-back country also has its own unique and tasty cuisine, especially in the former royal city of Luang Prabang. After rising at dawn to offer alms to saffron-robed monks, learn the secrets of local specialties like jaew bawng, a condiment made with chillies and dried buffalo skin, and khai phun, dried river algae fried with sesame seeds. Both are tastier than they sound, and with a cold Beer Lao, khai phun is one of the world’s best bar snack. The Tamarind restaurant offers full-day cooking courses in an airy, lakeside pavilion in Laos. Courses include a visit to the local market.

2. Istanbul, Turkey The geographic meeting point of Europe and Asia showcases a cuisine influences the Ottoman Empire’s historic spread far beyond the waters of the Bosphorus. Get inspired in local markets and restaurants crammed with Balkan flavours from the West, and Middle Eastern influences from the East beyond Asia Minor.

Feast on excellent street food like midye tava (stuffed mussels), or fresh fish sandwiches from the Eminönü docks. Traditional dishes include yayla corbasi (yoghurt soup with mint) and imam bayildi (stuffed eggplant); the latter translates literally to ‘the Imam fainted’, an allusion to the legendary positive response the iconic dish received when it was first cooked.

Located in an elegant heritage restaurant in Sultanahmet, Cooking Alaturka runs four-hour courses culminating in a relaxed, shared lunch.
>Travel Editor Tom Hall

3. Oaxaca, Mexico The regional cuisine of Oaxaca is proud and passionate proof there’s more to Mexican food than nachos and burritos. The city is renowned to food lovers as ‘lugar de siete moles’ (the place of seven moles), and different spins on Oaxaca’s signature sauce tinged with chilli and chocalate are available in the city’s restaurants and markets. Visit the Abastos market for the local breakfast specialty. Huevos oaxacaquenos—eggs poached in a chilli-tomato soup—and after a shot of the local mescal firewater, graduate to chowing down on chapulines (roasted grasshoppers). Oaxaca chocolate is also pretty good if insects aren’t to your taste.
Cooking classes at Oaxaca’s Casa Crespo Bed & Breakfast, are held in the attached El Teatro Culinario restaurant (

4. Banks Peninsula, New Zealand With hiking, swimming with dolphins, and kayaking all on offer, you could visit New Zealand’s picturesque Banks Peninsula and easily overlook the region’s growing foodie credentials. Visit raffish Lyttelton on a Saturday morning for one of New Zealand’s best farmers’ markets, or ask about cooking classes and buy Kiwi craft beers at the Ground Culinary Centre ( Come back on a Sunday to attend the She Chocolate School ( at neighbouring Governor’s Bay. Around nearby Akaroa Harbour, the emphasis is on self-exploration, with excellent boutique cheese and wine waiting to be discovered.
Located in the former French colony of Akaroa, the Akaroa Cooking School focuses on local, organic ingredients including lots of fresh New Zealand seafood.

5. Hoi An, Vietnam Most travelers visit Hoi An to explore the town’s colonial history—including Portuguese, French and Japanese influences—or to get a new wardrobe whizzed up by skilled tailors. The sleepy settlement is also a good place to learn to cook Vietnamese food, and local specialties include cao lau, a noodle dish influenced Japanese soba noodles. A recommended spin is to scatter crumbled banh da rice crackers on top like Asian-style croutons. Hoi An’s riverside night market is one of Vietnam’s best, but try to get to bed relatively early so you can explore the town’s fish market come daybreak.

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Courses at the Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School include visits to local farms and markets.

6. Chiang Mai, Thailand Thailand’s second city—the ‘Rose of the North’—may be gradually enshrouding its ancient walled bones under a cloak of Asian modernity, but it’s still very easy to escape the bustle at relaxed cookery schools. Before you sign up, pay a visit to the city’s famed night markets for a crash course in Sampling Thai Cuisine 101.

The city’s renowned night bazaar operates every night of the week, and every Sunday night Chiang Mai’s Ratchadamnoen Rd is transformed into ‘Walking St’. The gates of the wats (temples) lining Ratchadamnoen Rd are thrown open to become giant alfresco food centres. First opened in 1993, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School includes market visits and courses from one to five days.

7. Tuscany, Italy ‘Tuscany’ is pretty definitive shorthand for a sunkissed holiday surrounded by good food and wine. Italy is also the birthplace of the ‘Slow Food’ movement, and in Tuscan towns and villages, easygoing trattoria serve traditional dishes packed with olive oil, pecorino cheese, and fresh sage, rosemary and thyme. Many dishes are based on vegetables including artichokes, asparagus and wild mushrooms, and the cuisine is simple and robust.

Cooking schools dot the Tuscan landscape, and the best incorporate rustic farmhouses set in relaxed country locations. Look forward to (slowly) discovering local markets and specialty food producers. Tutti a Tavola offers one- to four-day classes with accommodation provided in Tuscan stone villas set on local vineyards.

Thai noodle.Thai noodle.

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8. Fez, Morocco Moroccan cuisine combines Berber, Moorish, Mediterranean and Arab influences to produce dishes including couscous, tajines, and spicy merguez sausages. Highlights of Fez include North Africa’s most impressive medina (walled city), a riot of colour, sights and sounds from several centuries.

For authentic local food without the tourist markup, head to the food stalls near the Jardin Public or the markets near the Bab Bou Jeloud, the main entrance to the medina. Good luck getting that terracotta tajine back home in one piece, and don’t leave town without trying a few refreshing mint teas.

Lahcen’s Moroccan Cooking combines a morning visit to the local souq (market) with classes in a restored riad (traditional Moroccan courtyard home).

9. San Sebastián, Spain The humble Spanish tapas has taken on the world in recent years, but the planet’s best approach to snacking and drinking is still best appreciated in its homeland. In the northern city of San Sebastián, the snacks are dubbed pintxos (literally ‘spikes’), and traditionally include octopus, mushroom, mushroom, morcilla (blood sausage) and anchovies. Wander from bar to bar sampling each location’s specialty, and you’ll appreciate the gradual evolution of tapas to offer more innovative and modern flavours. Anyone for foie gras in a parsley sauce?

In San Sebastián, El Txoko del Gourmet offers courses from two to five days specializing in tapas and cazuelitas (individual dishes baked in clay pots).

10. Goa, India Good luck in getting a handle on the different cuisines of a country as large and diverse as India, but a good place to start is in the southwestern state of Goa. Shaped by the era of Portuguese colonial rule, Goan food includes chourico sausages tinged with a zesty masala paste, creamy bebinca rice pudding and the region’s signature dish, spicy vindalho curry (exported in a far inferior form as vindaloo across the world). Try them all on the compact balcony at the Hotel Venite looking out on old Panjim’s streets, and the next day try crafting your own versions.

Based in a heritage Portuguese house, Branca’s Cooking Classes offer courses specializing in both Goan cuisine and food from other parts of India.

Read more about food and wine on GoNOMAD

Mariel Kennison

Mariel Kennison

is a student at the University of Massachusetts and a former travel intern with


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