Why a Cooking Class?
I have to admit that in the past, a cooking class never made it to my list of must-do activities while traveling. It’s not that I don’t like to cook, but the time commitment, my picky palate and my travel partners’ preferences were all reasons to bypass a cooking class as a viable option while on the road.
BUT a great opportunity arose when I decided to travel solo through Asia. I started looking for group activities that let me interact with locals, as well as, other travelers- so a cooking class seemed like a great way to do that.
In addition, I wanted to know what the Japanese ate everyday. My own perception was extremely biased based on foods served on family gatherings I had tried and disliked as a child (think slimy beans). In only a few days in Japan, I knew a lot of my biases were wrong and I wanted to challenge this one as well.
Wa Experience KAFU
I wish I could tell you I did extensive research on cooking schools, but the reality was I didn’t. It was a spur of the moment thing, but let me tell you I hit the jackpot with Wa Experience Kafu in Kyoto. There are many places that give cooking classes for foreigners in Japan, but if are considering the different options, let me tell your search is over. Go ahead and book with them, you will not regret it. They have great reviews, the classes are done in small groups and it is hosted in a traditional Japanese house setting- a perfect combination for a good cultural immersion. Oh, and did I mention the instructor Kimi is awesome?
Also most of the prep is done for you ahead of time, so it only takes about 2.5 hrs out of your day, leaving you plenty of time for other sightseeing activities.
The Experience of a Cooking Class
If you are a newbie to cooking classes as a travel activity, let me give you the low-down of what happens:
Welcome and Materials
This is when you also get to know your fellow travelers.
Prep and Cook
How much prep and cooking you do varies greatly from place to place. In some places you get help with prep and take turns cooking a dish. Some places you do everything from beginning to finish and in some places you only watch the chef and get recipes to take home and try – avoid those, TV or YouTube can give you the same thing. Get your hands dirty and you will have a lot of fun!
I come from a mixed background of nationalities, but I was brought up in a predominantly Italian household where everything happens around the dinner table and the kitchen. This concept is also true for cooking classes. The instant connection that is created when people cook together is pure gold. and a great environment for sharing the culture you come from and learning the one you are visiting. Each country has their own “base” for cooking, made with a few recurring ingredients that make up the culinary fingerprint of that culture. In Japan, for example, that fingerprint is “Dashi”, a fish stock base used in a lot of dishes.
Ok, this is my favorite part. You get to try the fruits of your labor. There is intense joy in knowing you created a dish worthy of a restaurant menu. And better yet, you get to eat foods you would not normally have access to or would not normally order at a restaurant. As an example, the menu at Wa Experience Kafu is based on home cooking dishes typical of Kyoto. There are a few restaurants in Kyoto that serve this kind of food, but mostly the dishes are passed on through generations and unless you stay with locals, you may never encounter these dishes anywhere else.
Finally, in places like Japan where etiquette is highly valued and sometimes very different from western countries, a cooking class is the perfect place to ask those questions and avoid embarrassing faux-pas.
If you visit Kyoto, take one of the many classes offered at Wa Experience Kafu. They offer Ikebana, Tea Ceremony, Sake Tasting and more.