Blog post written by Niamh Shields following a recent trip looking at community-based tourism in southern Thailand. First published on her blog Eatlikeagirl.com on 7 April 2013.
Niamh is one of the UK’s best known food bloggers. Her blog eatlikeagirl.com is a foodie’s delight, featuring original recipes inspired by her travels and some of her favourites from cook books.
On our first morning in Bangkok we hopped on a bus and drove to the outskirts of Bangkok. It didn’t take long, maybe 45 minutes, before we arrived at a farm that grows herbs, fruit and some vegetables. We were to collect some ingredients that we would be using in our Thai cooking class not long after.
Everything grew on extended narrow beds, lined with little irrigation canals. The heat was scorching. 40 degrees centigrade plus and as we all know, the melting temperature of an Irish person is 14 deg C. I persevered with my fan, driving some air towards my face and soaking up all of the smells, tastes and colours.
It is very hot and the crops are watered using a hose deployed from a little boat which was a joy to see. I grew up in a farming area in Ireland and watering the crops was not something our local farmers had to worry about, at any time of year.
We tried lots as we went, first some papaya, which was as fresh, rich and unctuous as you would expect. Then some lemongrass which grows in tufts, like spiked fragrant doll hair. The part we use is at the bottom, but the grass itself is beautifully aromatic too. Some okra was cut and I was offered some raw, I couldn’t believe how good it was. Also a green crumpled pod that is called pea here, but is unlike and pea I have ever known.
Once the herbs were gathered we hopped on a boat to head to the cooking school. The cooking school is open air with a thatched roof to protect from the intense sun, on the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. To one side is the canal and the other a farm, it is a beautiful setting. The market itself is only open at weekends, but still boats chug along occasionally mostly selling food. The postman passed in his boat at one point.
The cooking school is divided into three cooking stations, and a different cook teaches one of three dishes. We started with a green seafood curry. Siri taught us, a cook for 30 years, this was his personal green curry recipe. In the UK people mistakenly think that green curry is mild but in Thailand it is served hot. We had medium heat, which for us is pretty firey and perfect for my palate.
Once the green curry was made we progressed to the next station to make Tom Yum with prawns, taught by Pichit, Siri’s grandson. We made two versions, I was keen to try the milky one with an extra chilli kick too. The results were great and the recipe very accessible.
The last recipe was Bua Loy, bean sized sticky rice flour dumplings in coconut cream with taro, sweetcorn and other bits and bobs. I had already tried these and loved them. Nee makes and sells these at the floating market at weekends.
All that was left to do was eat, the food we made was served with rice and some other dishes including a cripsy crab omelette, rice, and some beans and sugar snaps served with prawns with a mild kick.
When we were finished we hopped back on our boat and headed back in to central Bangkok, stopping off at the Artist’s House on the way. I loved this experience and will work on some of the recipes soon, making them a bit more accessible to those living in the UK.
If you want to do this, and I recommend you do, you will need a guide / translator as the class is in Thai. I highly recommend Ann, who guided us through it and who could organise a whole day for you, as she did for us.