Hey everyone! Long time no write. So I’m in Chiang Mai just now, doing a wee six month trip around Southeast Asia. It’s pretty exciting, I know. When James and I started planning our trip, food was high on the agenda: as I’m sure you can imagine. As well as having a wish-list of restaurants to visit, we also decided to do a cooking course in every country.
After a bit of research I stumbled upon the excellently named Cooking With Poo, in Bangkok. After seeing a photo of Jamie Oliver wearing an apron saying “I Cooked With Poo and I Liked it!” it was settled. Come hell or high water, we’d be cooking with Poo too.
The day before we were booked in to cook with Poo I came down with the worst cold I can remember having. I was floored. My sinuses were stuffed, I could barely think. I looked (and felt) so ill that James took me by the shoulders, led me away from the laptop, and told me to go to bed. He even went to the 7-11 and bought me snacks and medicine. He’s usually very much in the “man up, it’s not that bad” school of thought, so I guess I must have looked pretty bad. I took the day off work, which I never do because I’m freelancer and sick-pay doesn’t exist for me.
The next day I still felt very rough, but I managed to drag myself out of bed at 8am. Luckily the meeting point was just two stops away from us on the SkyTrain. We hung around outside the hotel with the other intrepid cooks until our coach arrived: driven by Poo’s hubby. We got on board and were given a safety leaflet telling us how to behave in the Wet Market. The bus came to a halt and we were greeted by Poo herself. We got split into three groups, and James were lucky enough to be in Poo’s group. She led us round the market and talked us through some of the weirder delicacies. As soon as we walked in there were cages of live chickens and ducks: James remarked to me on the smell (“it stinks!”) but luckily my cold meant I couldn’t smell anything.
I was a bit too mesmerised to take pictures, but oh the things I’ve seen. There were live frogs with legs bound, piles of crunchy water-beetles (thankfully dead) and a guy burning hair off a pig leg with a flame-thrower. There was a woman making wrappers for spring rolls, another stirring up big pots of sticky rice. We even saw big vats of Thai “whiskey”: sadly we didn’t get to sample any, although we did see a guy stopping for a dram which was ladled out of a big plastic barrel into a shot glass. Every so often we’d have to jump to the side as a motorbike rattled through the thin lanes of the market.
As we waited for the bus to come back around, Poo said her goodbyes and told us she’d see us at the school. With creaking bags of mangoes and Thai basil in hand, she hailed down a passing motorbike and jumped on the back. For us it was the coach, and onwards to the Klong Toey Slum. This area of town was so colourful and full of character, it reminded me a bit of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto. Poo told us a bit about the slum’s history, and how she used to cook for her neighbours. One day a friend suggested she should start teaching foreigners how to cook Thai food, and the rest is history. Instead of letting fame go to her head, Poo still lives in the slum and remains a pillar of the community. She invests a lot of her money back into the area and helps those in need, creating jobs within the area. While we were waiting outside people were bringing their babies over to say hello to her. She often runs cooking classes for the local kids on weekends.
There’s a set menu for every day of the week. We visited on a Thursday, so the first thing we made was a beef salad. This was wonderfully zingy and spicy. I put slightly less lemongrass in mine than I was supposed to because I’m not a fan. Thankfully no-one noticed/cared. Now here’s where it becomes obvious that my brain no-worky when I have a cold. Poo told us to chop the tiny birds eye chilies into big chunks if we like our food mild, and to slice it thin if we like it spicy. For some inexplicable reason I thought this was some kind of revelation and that larger chunks of chilli wouldn’t be as hot. Yep. As I was fanning my mouth after munching a 1cm lump of chilli, James explained to me that big pieces are milder as they’re easier to move to the side and eat around. Duhr.
After munching our salad we threw together a pad Thai, which was absolutely delicious and probably the best pad Thai that we’ve had in Thailand so far. It does help that we cooked it ourselves, natch. The secret is soaking your rice noodles before chucking them in the frying pan. It only took a few minutes to make, perfect for lunch time if you work from home like us. My only criticism was that the prawns were a bit overcooked for my taste (Poo’s assistants were telling us when to take our food off the heat) but I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry in such a mixed group.
Finally, we made a green curry soup. We all took turns at the mortar and pestle pounding the ingredients for the paste. Poo put a small teaspoon of paste in each frying pan (“I’d have five times this much!” she explained “but I learned that foreigners don’t like it so spicy!”) I couldn’t smell anything so sadly missed out on the aroma of the spice paste frying, but I did get the full coughing and sneezing effect from the chilli. I took a bit of extra coconut milk in mine but it was still pretty powerful. Sadly, because I had the cold, I couldn’t taste the nuanced flavours of the dishes. James said the green curry was amazing and hasn’t stopped banging on about it since, so I’m glad we were given recipe cards to take home as I’ll need to make it again.
Afterwards we sampled a selection of Thai fruits and the country’s favourite dessert,mango with sticky rice. We browsed the gift shop (I obviously bought an ‘I Cooked With Poo and I Liked it’ apron) and then went to a handicraft shop across the way which is run by Poo’s friend. The shop sells jewellery, greeting cards, and accessories made by girls from the area. I bought a gorgeous laptop bag made from old clothing. Normally I’m not an impulse buyer but it was for a good cause, I needed a laptop bag, and it was a one-off piece. Plus it was 350 baht (about £6.80) so I’d be mad not to!
Once we got back to our condo I collapsed into bed. Despite my illness I had a fantastic time, and I’m just a bit upset that I missed out on a lot of the experience by being a bit out-of-it and not being able to smell/taste anything. It’s something I would love to do again if I’m ever back in Bangkok, and something I’d recommend if you’re going there on your holidays.
This is NOT a sponsored post, and neither Poo nor anyone else on the tour were aware that I’m a blogger.