Cooking with Poo

Today was my last day in Thailand. Victoria and I had booked a cooking class at the Helping Hands Thai Cooking school. The lessons are run by a lady called Poo (Poo is actually her nick name, derived from her full name Champoo – Thai for rose apple). Poo lives in the Klong Toey area of Bangkok, where she used to run a small food stall. She was only making just enough money to feed her family, when the Helping Hands organisation approached her and helped to set up a cooking school. With some help from her catchy nickname, her Cooking With Poo classes are now very popular! Other residents of Klong Toey also benefit from the business, supplying aprons, cloth bags and raw materials used in the classes. If you’re interested in the class, I’d highly recommend it! Check out the Cooking with Poo website or Facebook page.

We gathered outside the Emporium Suites apartments at 8am where we were met by our guides and picked up in a minibus to go to the Klong Toey market. We then spent the next hour browsing the market, as our guide told us about the various fruits and critters on sale.

A man chopping frogs beside a bag of live frogs
A man chopping frogs beside a bag of live frogs

It was certainly an experience! We saw chickens (dead and alive), frogs (alive, dead and diced, all sitting on the same chopping block), crickets, grubs, snails. There were lots of different herbs, spices, and fresh fruit and vegetables. A separate section of the market specialised in seafood where there were crabs, fish, octopus and more on sale. The concrete floor in this area was particularly slippery and slimey. Along the way, our guides purchased a couple of ingredients to include in our cooking, although when we arrived at the kitchen we found that most ingredients had been prepurchased.

After our tour of the market, we jumped back on the minibus to head to Poo’s kitchen. There were enough burners for five people to cook at a time. There were nine of us in the group, so we took turns at cooking, each of us having the chance to prepare each dish. We started with morning glory, stir friend with garlic and soy sauce. Poo gave a demo of preparing each ingredient, then we chopped our own ingredients and cooked them. The staff were on hand to assist with the stove and sauces, and providing tips on how best to prepare the vegetables and cook the food. As the garlic and chilli cooked in the pan, the air filled with spice causing us all to cough and sneeze. Our next dish was spicy beef salad. I think I cut my chilli too fine because it was particularly spicy!

A lady skilfully makes spring roll wrappers
A lady skilfully makes spring roll wrappers

Our final dish was green curry, starting with us crushing the raw ingredients with a mortar and pestle to make the curry paste. It was quite a bit of effort making the small amount of paste required for our cooking, and I can’t imagine how long it would take to make a mound of curry paste as large as the photo above! And if the chilli from the stir fried morning glory made us cough and sneeze, the curry paste was a lot worse! My favourite part about making my own curry was that I could control the spiciness and only add us much curry paste as I wanted – it was delicious!

To round out the meal, Poo had prepared mango sticky rice and had a selection of local fruits for us to try. We were given the recipes for all the dishes we prepared, including the sticky rice, in a small bag made by one of the local residents. I also bought an apron with the slogan, “I cooked with Poo and I liked it!”.

Poo's kitchen
Poo’s kitchen

The minibus then dropped us back at the Emporium Suites apartments, where Victoria and I stopped off at a supermarket to get some supplies for my flight home. From there we went back to the apartment where I finished packing then lounged by the pool. We’d worked out I should leave about 6pm for the airport, so at 5pm we went downstairs to try out one of the food carts near the apartments. We had a yummy BBQ pork and steamed rice.

At 6pm, it was time to head off. Being the main night of Loi Krathong, the roads were very busy so we’d decided on the airport train. The hotel also recommended that because the taxis aren’t reliable enough and no-one really knew what the traffic would be like. It’s a 10-15 minute walk to the train, so Victoria suggested getting a cab to the station. We ended up waiting for 15 minutes without any success, so tackled the bumpy footpath and walked to the station. Victoria came with me for company.

I had to catch two trains – the MRT to Phetchaburi then change for the Airport Link. The first train was easy, but when I changed for the airport train there was a massive queue just to get through the ticket barriers! It was at this point I panicked a bit because it was almost 7pm, and check-in was going to close at 8pm. I weighed up my options – wait out the queue or take my chances with a cab and Bangkok traffic. While I was deciding, the queue suddenly started moving then was gone! I hurried to the ticket machine and bought a ticket, then made my way through the barriers.

People queueing to get through the ticket barrier
People queueing to get through the ticket barrier

I rode the escalator up to the platform, and it was at the top that it became clear why there had been a queue downstairs only a few minutes ago. They made an announcement that due to overcrowding on the platform, the barriers would temporarily be closed. Not a bad idea, given the people on the platform were packed like sardines. The barriers would then be opened once the train had left and the platform had cleared.

After an anxious 5 minute wait the train arrived, and we all crowded on. It was packed. So full, that I didn’t need to hold on because there was no where to fall. There are normally two trains to the airport – an express and a non-express. Unfortunately the express train was recently closed for upgrade works, so the train I was on stopped along the way. Surprisingly, by the time it reached the airport the carriage wasn’t even a quarter full! I guess this was a good thing, because it meant less people to deal with at the airport.

At the airport I jumped off the train and hurried to the check-in counter. I had about 10-15 minutes spare so it worked out well. I spent some time browsing the duty free shops, and bought two bottles of water for the flight home. I was very disappointed at the gate when they searched my hand luggage and confiscated the water! I’d bought it on the aeroplane side of security, so it shouldn’t have been an issue. Something to be aware of if you’re ever flying from Bangkok to Melbourne! Also something I would have expected Jetstar to inform us of during check-in.

Fortunately the flight itself was uneventful. I had an aisle seat in the middle of the plane, but the two guys next to me didn’t get up once during the flight so I was hardly disturbed. I watched a few TV shows and ate my packed lunch/dinner, then settled down to doze on and off all they way home. I was glad I hadn’t purchased a meal for the flight, otherwise they would have woken me up for food.

Back in Melbourne, we had to catch a bus from the aeroplane to the boarding gate. I’m not sure if we had landed at a domestic terminal and they needed to drive us to international, but it was a bit strange. That added about 15 minutes to the trip, because each bus was only licensed to carry 40-50 passengers meaning we had to wait for the buses to shuttle back and forth.  Once in the terminal, there was a massive line to get through customs. There were two queues, lining each side of the arrivals lounge, which then merged back into one to go through the exit. There were customs officers wandering the queue to review our customs declaration forms and ask questions, so that by the time I actually came to the counter there was nothing to do except pass through the exit.

I was very excited to see Ron waiting for me on the other side of the door! We had a delicious brunch in North Melbourne, then spent the afternoon at the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Gallery of Victoria – a fascinating exhibit! Ron then drove me home, officially marking the end of my visit to Thailand.

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