I promise this isn’t clickbait!
This is Poo, and we cooked with her.
Yes, Poo is a Thai lady. Poo is a nickname given to her as a child, short for Chompoo or Rose Apple. Her real name is Saiyuud Diwong and she lives in the slums of Khlong Toey, the largest in Bangkok. Poo was struggling to make ends meet by selling food to other slum residents (many of whom were unable to cook for themselves due to lack of facilities) when members of the charity Urban Neighbours of Hope helped her to set up a cooking school.
At first, Poo ran the school from this small bench in front of her house. Soon, as word spread, her classes grew too big for the bench.
She moved premises twice more, and is now installed just a few doors down in a room with space for up to 12 students – and air conditioning, a feature she is very proud of.
We first heard about Poo back in our church in Birmingham, where one of the members had connections with Urban Neighbours of Hope. Going to one of her classes was top of the list for us in Bangkok.
The day of class dawned rather early, as a market tour was first on the agenda. The vendors had been set up since about 4am, so by the time we turned up at 8.30 things were well underway.
The sights of the market were not for the faint hearted – we even had a note passed around beforehand warning us of this, in case anyone wanted to skip it. We were all game, although at that time in the morning I saw some things that turned my stomach.
There were bags of live frogs, trying to escape their mesh prison. Next to them were bags of dead frogs. There were also frogs that had been skinned, their bodies still twitching. There were live animals, chickens, ducks, fish, crabs. There were even insects.
Behind this appetising looking pile of fresh greenery is a pile of ants. And next to it, ant eggs.
Don’t believe me? Let Noi, our market guide, give you a close up. Thanks, Noi.
And whilst these might look like giant cockroaches, apparently they’re water beetles. I still think I’ll pass, thanks.
Thankfully we soon moved on to the vegetable section. Noi educated us on all different types of fruits and veggies we’d never seen before – these are aubergines, believe it or not.
My favourites were these plums. They looked so appetising – and later I found out they tasted just as good as they looked.
She also holds up a bundle of galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime – the essentials of a green curry. This bundle costs 10 Baht, she says. That’s about 20p/30c.
She relates how, on a trip to the UK, she was amazed that one stick of lemongrass was over £1. We sympathise. We daren’t tell her that in the UK almost everyone buys their curry paste ready made…
After a quick walk through the meat market, which was something of an ordeal and made the live crabs look positively tame, we got back in the minibus and headed over to Poo’s place to do some cooking.
The course itself was excellent – with space for 6 people to cook at once, we were split into two groups. We all watched Poo cook the dish in question once, then one group cooked it themselves (with one handler to every three people, giving reminders of instructions and adding meat or sauces at the right time), then the other group cooked while they ate.
All the ingredients were laid out for us every time, so we barely had to lift a finger. If only all cooking were this easy!
Overall we cooked three dishes; the menu changes daily, so ours was Pad See Ew (rice noodles with black bean sauce), Nuea Pad Met Ma-muang (beef with cashew nuts), and Gaeng Khiaw Waan (green curry). When I told them I was coeliac, they made all the necessary changes for me, which was basically just omitting soy sauce and replacing it with fish sauce. Everything else I could eat… and I did.
Aftewards, there was a tasting board set up with all the interesting fruits we had seen in the market. I had never had any of them before, and it was a journey of discovery let me tell you. I discovered I really like snakefruit (right hand side, bottom row) and I really don’t like whatever was in the left on the bottom row. The amazing plums are second from the top, on the left.
Then we had mango and sticky rice to finish off, which I barely managed to fit in.
At the end of the lesson, Poo thanks us for coming. She tells us that thanks to the success of the cooking school, Urban Neighbours of Hope has helped over 20 businesses in the local area. And Poo now gets Sundays off.
Have you ever been to a cooking class? Would you like to cook with Poo?