Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cooking with Poo

No, we're not preparing food with feces here in Bangkok. Cooking with Poo is the funny name of a cooking school owned and run by a woman nicknamed Chompoo (meaning "rose apple"), Poo for short. I heard about this place when we first arrived, and my husband and I both have been interested in taking a cooking class there since. But as our time here is coming to a close, with neither one of us having had a chance to check this activity off our list yet, I decided to book a class for my husband as an early birthday present (his actual birthday is late next month) since he enjoys cooking.

The story of Poo is an interesting one. She lives in the largest slum of Bangkok, in a section of Klong Toey, and used to making a living making and selling food from the shanty where she lived with her family. However, the price of rice increased to the point where she could no longer afford to do so. An Australian woman who also lived in the area helped Poo start her cooking school, initially in Poo's house. Five years later, the school has grown to include a nice-sized kitchen that can accommodate up to 12 people, and Poo has mastered the English language so that she is able to communicate well with foreigners. She holds cooking classes six days a week for 11 months of the year, taking July off to train her staff. There are six different menus, one for each day of the week. Her school has become quite popular among Bangkok's visitors.

Because of the success of her school, Poo has been able to move her family to better living quarters on the second floor of her cooking school. She also helps her community by making small loans to help others in the neighborhood better their lives, raising funds to pay for higher education for the young adults in the community, and training and employing those in her community at her school.

The cooking classes for laypeople in Thailand are unlike those in the U.S. The classes here include the students in the entire process of food preparation -- from learning about and purchasing the ingredients to cooking and consuming the dishes. To begin, my husband and his group were given an hour-long tour of the local market. The market was huge and covered many, many streets and blocks. It was such a maze that my husband said he could never figure out how to get out on his own. The food there was extremely inexpensive and everything imaginable is sold there; it's where the locals from the area shop. Many of the markets around us, while still inexpensive, are a bit pricier because they cater to the middle-class and foreigners, but the locals in the poorer sections always know where to buy the same goods for much less money.

Once at the school's kitchen, the group prepared the ingredients, cooked, and ate. Each person made so much food that some were able to bring some home. The process took quite a few hours. According to Poo, one of the dishes, massaman curry -- one of my husband's favorite dishes -- requires such a lengthy amount of time to make that many Thai people make it only once a year! For the cooking class, Poo prepared ahead of time so there would be enough time to make the dish. Following the main courses, the students tasted an array of Thai fruits, with some that my husband had not tasted before. The students were all given recipe cards of all the dishes they made.

After the meal, some people purchased Poo's cookbook of the same name as her school. Poo then took the group around the neighborhood. My husband thought the neighborhood was quaint, with narrow streets and homes nestled close to each other. He quite enjoyed the day, meeting new people and learning new and interesting things.

At the market:

 Some of the things sold at the market, some more appetizing than others:

In the 'hood and at Poo's school. The mosaic was created by an Australian artist for Poo's school. The paper sign was formerly used by Poo for her school when she first got started, cooking for two at a time.

Having a blast cooking with Poo. I wish the participants could've kept the aprons.

Some of the most delicious Thai food I've ever tasted. The massaman curry in the third picture was amazing. Glad we have the recipes!

And...this is Poo!

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