Kung Poo started her cooking business in the Klong Toey slums of Bangkok, eventually turning it into the amazing class it is now. She started with having two people in the class in one small kitchen, to a few more, to 10, and now, I think there were 12 or 14 of us total that day. When I found out that there was 1 slot left on a Friday morning, I went for it. Her class is often booked up weeks in advance, especially weekends. I was fortunate to have scored the final spot.
|Using a blowtorch to remove skin
and hair from pigs’ trotters.
We met at a hotel not far from where I was staying, and the morning started with a pick-up from the cooking school and then a tour through a local wet market. I’m pretty used to wet markets now, having lived in China for two years, and nothing about them, including the intense smell of fresh seafood and overripe fruit, blood in the gutters, and large butcher knives hacking at carcasses, fazes me any more. It’s life, it’s a market. I don’t think about what the FDA would say about it, especially as the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.” However, not everyone who’s taking the class has been to a wet market before, and a few of them are overwhelmed by the sights and smells. I understand that completely, as I remember my first visit to a real Chinese wet market, but they’re amazed that I’m not even one bit worried by it. I suppose it’s an adaptive thing. You become immune to things that thrill or shock others.
|The hot stuff, baby|
The market is lively, colorful, and full of interesting items. I love the deep reds of the chillies next to vibrantly green Kaffir limes and purple-centered amaranth leaves. I love the star anise in heaping piles, looking like lost sea starfish dried up from too much sun, the sharp glint of pearly garlic in stinking bulk, and the wrinkled sunset color of dried orange peels. Dried chilies, measured out and sorted by color, sting eyes with their invisible capsaicin tentacles.
Fresh crabs are sealed up from wrecking havoc by brightly colored bows. Squid, with its translucent white and pink skins, are still and slimy in their Styrofoam containers. Sliced wax apples drip juice into puddles, and a fresh watermelon is split open to reveal pinky flesh. Snakefruit shed their scaly skins as calloused fingers peel back to reveal the succulent yellow fruit inside. Blood pools like faceted rubies, drying up in the hot morning sun. Unhappy fish eyes populate bins where their discarded bones lie, pawed at by ravenous alley cats. Items are hawked and traded at every turn.
|Wearing their holiday best|
As someone who loves to cook and loves spices and flavors, this market is amazing. Our guide tells me about everything we see, from the exotic fruits and veg, to the seafood, to the spice bins and fried skins. I’m soaking it up, trying to make sense of flavors in local dishes and pairing it with the items before they’re cooked and woven in to the food. The air is thick with Thailand.
We picked up chicken and coriander and spinach leaves, among other things like galangal, garlic, and ginger roots. We traveled back to the kitchen, down a row of painted homes, and got ready to cook. Our three dishes are made with relative ease, and then we have a nice dessert of tropical fruit. It is here that I discover a love for the ubiquitous but sinister-looking snakefruit. Snakefruit is prickly, scaly, and usually dirty in the matter of a small sweet potato. Inside, however, is a sweet and sour yellow fruit that is simply delicious, minus the dark black pit in the centre. I bought a bag of snakefruit that afternoon, just to have some to myself.
|Kaffir limes, galangal|
Our cooking class was informative, fun, and relaxing. I learned a great deal about Thai cooking, the process, and the individual flavors that go into traditional dishes. Besides, the class supports a fantastic cause, and you get to eat what you make. Poo has worked with Jamie Oliver, and she’s a great cook and hostess. I had to get the “I Cooked with Poo” apron to wear for my Master Chef class, and the cookbook has been amazing.
Overall, I highly recommend it!