Oh yum yum YUM and sigh of happiness! Want to spend an absolutely lovely day in Bangkok, Thailand? Do a cooking class! But COME HUNGRY… or you will pop.
My Lub-d hostel friends, Conrad, Adie, and I had checked out a few cooking schools in Bangkok, but the cheerful colors and soothing Thai music of Sompong Cooking School beckoned us in. Koy and her family served us iced Panda Leaf tea and breaded, fried bananas as we waited in the sunny kitchen classroom. (Note the classy photo of me with the tea leaves and cerulean drink, above.)
Then off to the market we went! It feels amazing to be educated by a skillful teacher. Professional and passionate, Koy held up item after item in the colorful store, explaining the English and Thai name of the food, how it is eaten, and how it tastes. We sniffed some and nibbled others. Baskets laden and money exchanged, we trotted back down the street to the school.
Let the cooking begin! Koy and and her family whirled around, washing the foodstuffs and arraying them so artfully upon three plates for us that I was reminded of a Jewish Seder.
Chicken green curry, here we come! Koy held each ingredients aloft, explaining its purpose and taste, and then guiding us to chop it up to specific dimensions.
“Oh!” Koy suddenly gasped, gaping at Adie’s blazing fingers, “You are so, so good!”
Adie blushed. “Yeah, in England I’m a professional chef. I didn’t want to tell you ’cause I’m here to learn.” Koy nodded enthusiastically, and dumped all our choppings into a mortar and pestle. Green chilies! Shallots! Garlic! Ginger! Lemon grass! Kaffir lime rind! Shrimp paste! Coriander, cumin, peppercorn, salt! Mango! Oh mmm.
Conrad McNutt proved excellent at pounding that pestle. Seeds flew out and we shielded the mortar with our hands. And… the green curry paste was created.
To the row of stoves we went, oil sizzling in the woks. Koy barked out each step and we followed like eager, hungry robots. “Cook green curry paste in oil until you smell the aroma! Coconut cream, in! Chicken, in! Kaffir lime leaf, in! Fish sauce, in! Sugar, in! Thai eggplants, in! Basil, in!”
Koy snapped off our stoves and the swirls of lemongrass steam danced in our expectant noses. We poured the green curry into ornate bowls and garnished it in glory with the “beautiful basil leaf” Koy had told us to set aside.
“And now you try it!” We practically waltzed to the shiny air-conditioned one-table room in the back, hands trembling and cameras snapping. We were so proud! We were even more proud when we slurped up the first green sip and realized it was the most fantastic meal we had eaten in our month so far of Thailand food. YUM! “You are a good teacher!” grinned Adie to Koy.
“I like your octopus tattoo,” she replied.
For the next three hours and four dishes, Koy proved herself the best kind of teacher: professional, kind, funny, knowledgeable, smart, and sweet. By seven pm, we had cooked (and eaten): Stir-fried Chicken with Basil, Tom Yum soup with prawns, Spicy Prawn Salad, and (WOW) warm, sweet Pumpkin in Coconut Milk.
While the pumpkin bubbled on the stove (smelling like heaven, incarnate), Koy showed us how to scrape coconut flesh on a special knifed seat, and squeeze it through a basket to make coconut cream (squeeze one) and coconut milk (squeezes two and three).
I’m going to be honest: this month I have gotten used to eating two meals a day. By course four at the Sompong Thai Cooking School, the room reeled around me from dinner overload, and I collapsed upon the handy couch. And yet — by course five when Adie tried to take my desert away (“You’re full, right?”) I hurled myself, clawing viciously, at his hands and gnawed the dish into my corner. As my brother says, “The dinner stomach may be full, but you still have the dessert stomach!”
Koy wrapped up my second course in a take-away box, and my hostel roommate, Kathy, is eating it blissfully as we speak. “Oooh, this is niiice,” she says. The rain poured down outside as we paid Koy her 1000 Baht ($30) each (what an excellent deal!) and wrote her letters of thanks with the provided pens. A beep was heard outside, and Koy’s cousin opened her car door to give us a lift back to Lub-d Hostel. What more could you want?
We shook Koy’s hand with gratitude as we rolled our rounded bellies to the door. Adie suddenly turned back. “I’m coming back Friday!” he hollered! “Nothing can stop me!”
“It’ll look good on your chef resume,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Adie replied with a grin.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!