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Asia's best cookery schools - Learning Holidays

The ultimate take-home trip from a trip to eastern parts of the globe has to be a new-found competence in regional cooking. Jo Davey picks top locations to finesse your culinary skills


Shaped over centuries by indigenous local dishes and colonial cuisines from both Japan and Fujian, the gastronomic heritage of Taiwan is a steaming mix of soy, sesame, rice wine and seafood, often showcased in soups and stews. The jewel in its culinary crown, however, is the locally grown produce: nuts, herbs, fruits and vegetables brighten dishes and bring sweet, sour and herbal notes.

On the corner of a broad boulevard in Taipei’s Datong, below the district’s Ningxia night food market, is the brilliant CookInn Taiwan school. Its six classes (two-three hours from £63pp) have been curated to capture the best aspects of Taiwanese cuisine, with traditional breakfast scallion pancakes and egg crêpes, beef noodle bowls, soup dumplings, pastries, street food and gourmet courses. Drinks aren’t forgotten, with social media favourite bubble milk tea starring alongside traditional oolong tea tastings.

Five-minutes’ walk from one of the largest night markets, Ivy Chen opens up her home to students, where they can learn authentic Taiwanese cuisine and culture. The author and chef begins lessons with a welcoming tea ceremony, before allowing guests to choose from three menu options, featuring Taiwanese gua bao hamburgers, pineapple cake and salty-sweet Three Cups Chicken. Four-hour solo class, £113pp, with discounts for groups of two of more.

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Singaporean cuisine fits several countries into a single bowl, so finding a teacher to cover them all is no simple feat. At Cookery Magic school, chef Ruqxana draws from 500 dishes charting Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, modern Singaporean and Peranakan classics. At her daily courses, covering four dishes over three hours (£94pp), you can learn to whip up Nyonya fare or take a curry tour. The classes take place in Ruqxana’s beautiful outdoor home kitchen, sunk into a sea of green under the shade of pink frangipani and palm trees. Ruqxana also offers the remarkable Pulau Ubin Kampong cooking ‘escapade’, where students head to a northern island to forage in the jungle for herbs and vegetables before cooking it all up in the comfort of a century-old stilt house.

Elsewhere, between the simmering streets of Chinatown and the glass shimmer of Marina Bay, D’Open Kitchen’s team of chefs teach the techniques, tricks and flavourings that make Singaporean cuisine so special. Classes (from £73pp) cover a vast range, including market visits, hawker stall recipes and juicy dim sum sessions. Autumn brings the much awaited mooncake class, where you can sink your teeth into a sticky sweet bean paste and pastry concoction of your own making.

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At the edge of George Town, where fingers of jungle reach into the city, Cooking with Chef Samuel takes visitors on a journey through Malaysia’s rich cuisine. Known for its hawker carts and hole-in-the-wall bars, Pulau Penang is a wonderland for food travellers, with influences from Tamil, Malay, British and a variety of Chinese communities. Chef Samuel’s fine dining and clean white kitchen is a far cry from street food, but the Penang influence is kept alive with fresh ingredients, local dishes and market tours. Private classes, from £63pp, are bespoke, teaching a starter, two mains and a dessert selected from an extensive menu in five hours. Choose between classics like sour spicy laksa soup and sumptuous rendang, as well as local Penang plates like hokkien mee – not the usual black sauce noodles found in Malaysia but a bright red bowl of broth and noodles laden with aromatic flavour.

In Langkawi, The Datai hotel has brought culinary excellence into the tropical forest. Three days a week, a resident team of Thai, Malay and Indian chefs start three-hour classes in the garden, where a small group collect the aromatic herbs and spices that are the pillars of Malaysian cuisine. Students tackle the cuisine of the day in the open jungle kitchen, before tucking into a self-made lunch with wine pairings. From £73pp.

The Datai Langkawi Chef Somkeat Thai cuisine Chef Ari Indian cuisine Chef Adee Malay cuisine

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Tongue-tingling chilli, bright floral lemongrass, sour, jammy tamarind, velvety coconut milk and the inimitable zing of kaffir lime: there’s a good reason Thai food has found an appreciative global audience. Its distinctive blend of flavours is instantly recognisable, soaking its way into slabs of sticky rice and coating soft, slippery rice noodles.

At Mama Noi Cookery School, a four-hour class (from £19pp) will see you starting from scratch, picking and preparing raw ingredients straight from the organic farm. At the local marketplace, you’ll learn to recognise ripeness and judge quality, while at the school, set in lovely Chiang Mai countryside, you’ll set about expanding your knowledge of Thailand’s regional specialities. You’ll be travelling through north-eastern Isaan’s clear curries and thick fish sauce, central Thailand’s well-known repertoire of world favourites, and the south’s seriously spicy dishes made with fish and tropical fruits.

Far from Mama Noi’s abundant greenery lies Klong Toey: Bangkok’s biggest slum but home to one of Thailand’s most unexpected and successful cookery schools. Cooking with Poo – a nickname from the Thai for rose apple – is run by a long-term slum resident, who started the school in order to make ends meet. Now Poo’s grassroots school has put Klong Toey on the tourist trail, bringing the vibrant colours of Thai dishes into its darker corners. Half-day class with local market tour from £42pp.

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Outside a sleek, state-of-the-art classroom, stalls spill over with splayed fillets of dried horse mackerel, boxes of glistening squid and mounds of wispy bonito flakes, or katsuobushi, that flutter in the breeze. Tokyo’s Tsukiji district, a warren of commerce and coordinated clutter, is a far cry from the calm quiet of Suzuki-sensei’s cooking class. Under his masterful Michelin-starred watch, students at Tsukiji Cooking School learn to create a four-course feast using the freshest, silkiest fish from the nearby market. The 2.5-hour lesson doesn’t come cheap (£215pp), but Suzuki-sensei, a specialist in sushi and sashimi, teaches knife skills, filleting, presentation and more in a class focused on finer Japanese dining.

Heading north across Tokyo, a very different kitchen sanctuary sits in an old Japanese house in Sendagaya. At Mayuko’s Little Kitchen, Japanese home food comes alive in classes clouded with the sweet umami of mirin and dashi stocks. Although sushi has a place on Mayuko-sensei’s menu, it sits alongside family and local favourites like richly-flavoured ramen, mouthwatering okonomiyaki pancakes and even panda bento boxes. As well as the basics, seasonings and multiple dishes, students learn about the all-important table customs that place mood at the heart of a great Japanese meal in a three-hour class in the course of your choice (from £80pp).

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Surrounded by the glassy green threads of the thriving Thu Bon river, Bay Mau’s eco cooking school in Hoi An celebrates the Quang Nam community and Vietnam’s fresh, fragrant and occasionally French-influenced cuisine. Local residents are the backbone of Bay Mau classes, meeting students at the market, on basket boat rides along the river to the coconut groves, and while fishing in the Thu Bon. In the school’s vast outdoor kitchen, students will learn to cook four regional dishes from across Vietnam: crispy bánh xèo pancakes with tart and tangy nuoc cham sauce, mì xào hai san fried noodles, rice paper rolls with plump prawns and salty peanut dip, and the superbly savoury beef pho seasoned with cinnamon, ginger and star anise. No corners are cut in this immersive class – participants even make the rice milk and delicate rice paper wraps by hand. A 4.5-hour tour, including cooking class, costs from £28pp.

Up the coast to the north, Four Seasons The Nam Hai’s Cooking Academy serves up a selection of daily and weekly courses (from £75pp), including children’s lessons, under the tutelage of chef Hien. The classes change daily, giving guests a wide choice of cuisines. Top of the list are regional specialities from Hanoi, Hue and Hoi An. The seafront resort’s extensive herb and vegetable garden forms an integral part of these classes, where participants pick their own ingredients to use in the kitchen.

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The search for spices in Indonesia shaped the world, yet its rich, varied cuisine is relatively unknown compared with those of its northerly neighbours. With locally-grown herbs and spices such as turmeric, galangal, candlenut and coriander featuring heavily, dishes range from Yogyakarta’s spicy firecracker beef, through oil-rich kare kameng goat curry from Aceh, to Java’s sweet gudeg jackfruit and creamy opor ayam chicken stews.

Tresna Bali Cooking School sits above a sacred river on the southern outskirts of Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital, where its green and glorious gardens are the ideal setting for creating farm-to-table feasts. Participants use unusual ingredients from the organic riverside garden to prepare 15 authentic Balinese recipes including salads, mains, a dessert and several ceremonial spice pastes. The 5.5-hour class (from £65pp) culminates in a shared meal, with cultural lessons aplenty.

Seminyak’s Sunset Road swiftly turns high-end with The Amala hotel, a sanctuary of stone and water that offers Balinese cooking classes. The Amala’s chefs show guests the deep yet delicate flavours of the area with fresh ingredients of chicken, papaya, banana, coconut, fish and nuts. Twice-daily, two-hour classes, starting at £42pp, take place in the hotel’s beautiful open-air kitchen.


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Hong Kong

Away from the traffic and taxis, Hong Kong’s busy brick pavements are alive with the smells of cooking: charcoal and smoke, oyster sauce and dried fish, and the occasional waft of sweet egg tarts. The city’s dining tables are a tapestry of Cantonese, Shanghainese and European influences that have evolved into a unique gastronomy, and the highlight is undoubtedly dim sum, with restaurants dedicated to the dumplings earning Michelin stars. Their picture-perfect folds look fiddly, but chef Feliz Yau can teach you the trick. She learned to make dumplings from her mum, and her kitchen in the island’s east keeps a family feel. At half-day dumpling classes (from £44pp) you can master the scalding soft chew of xiao long bao soup dumplings, bright yolk-yellow siu mai filled with pork, or puffy, crisp-bottomed sheng jian bao buns.

To the west, tucked between glass towers, baking is in full swing. The Mixing Bowl’s hugely popular Traditional Hong Kong class teaches you to make enriched dough and buttery pastry for pineapple buns, sausage rolls and egg tarts in a three-hour session, from £76pp.


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Flanked by the culinary big hitters of Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodian cuisine has been somewhat overshadowed, but its healthy food brings together some of the best-loved aspects of both, while maintaining its subtler Khmer character. Flavours are balanced across several separate dishes, using a mix of umami-rich prahok, fermented fish paste, lemongrass spice paste, fingerroots (Chinese ginger), shallots, tamarind and plentiful herbs.

Chef Nak is Cambodia’s first female celebrity chef, and she has a clear ambition to put Khmer food on the world map and preserve the artistry and culture behind the cuisine. In her family’s authentic Khmer wooden home by the Mekong river, Nak introduces students to the country’s complex palate and unique ingredients. Full-day courses, from £300pp, with discounts for groups, include a local market tour, shared meal and a post-prandial swim in the pool beside her chef’s garden.

Lying on the outskirts of tourist hotspot Siem Reap, Lum Orng is the country’s first farm-to-table restaurant. Run by chef Sothea Seng, it’s a bastion of Cambodian gastronomy, focusing on seasonal, sustainable produce that supports the local community. After a welcome drink and garden tour, students get to cook up four dishes from the farm’s superb finedining menu, made up of Sothea’s New Mekong cuisine and contemporary Khmer dishes. Three-hour classes from £47pp.


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