Friday, February 1, 2013

Cooking With Poo

Pinned against the Chao Phraya River to the south of Bangkok’s reaches, Klong Toey has the dubious honor of being the city’s largest slum. Inhabited by a mix of Bangkok locals, Thais from the poorer north, as well as people with no official status from Lao, Myanmar and further afield, Klong Toey provides a refuge to many who are unable to make a successful life for themselves in Bangkok’s ‘mainstream’ world.

Khun Poo is a long-time resident of Klong Toey who represents a remarkable model of success and positivity in an often stark and complex landscape of poverty and hardship. For the past couple of years she has been running her own cooking school for the tourist market as well as local residents. 
Khun Poo worked for seven years selling home-cooked food to her neighbours. Prior to this she had been involved in a patchwork of different odd-jobs, including working in a garment factory. In late 2007, as the price of rice in Thailand doubled in the wake of a rippling global food crisis, Khun Poo found herself fighting to break even. As one of only two breadwinners in a household of ten, including her two children, she had to reconsider her options. Fellow resident and Australian national, Anji Barker, has been working with the community centre in Klong Toey for more than ten years on a number of community development initiatives. Using their contacts, Anji and some friends supported Khun Poo to start up her business. From fairly modest beginnings in the front room of Khun Poo’s house, the initiative has grown rapidly. The school has since generated enough profit for Khun Poo to rent a dedicated room that can accommodate up to 10 students and she is running her class six times a week.

Cooking with Poo is a Helping Hands initiative. Helping Hands supports Klong Toey residents to develop micro-businesses based on their skills and talents by linking them with markets and credit support. Other projects that have been supported by Helping Hands include catering services, , a sushi delivery business, handicraft production , a fresh food delivery service, two Thai dessert business, a coffee stand and a soon to be opened café/restaurant.

I had heard about "Cooking With Poo" from several of my Nichada friends and thought it would be a great activity for us to do while Jim and Jan were visiting. We had to meet the Helping Hands van at 8 am on Thursday at a location downtown so I planned for us (Jim, Jan, Christopher and I - Caitlynne was babysitting) to leave Nichada at 6:15 am to avoid rush hour traffic. The trip downtown was very quick - in fact, we were so early that we had time to park, eat breakfast and take the BTS to the meeting place - and we still had about 30 minutes to spare. 

What an amazing experience we all had! First, two employees from the Helping Hands Cooking School guided our group through the Klong Toey market, the largest "wet" market in Bangkok. A "dry" market sells clothes, accessories, furniture and crafts while a "wet" market sells produce, meats, fish, seafood, etc. I did not bring my camera so all of the photos (352 total - definitely photo overload) from the day were taken by Jan (or Jim). 

The products on offer in the Klong Toey market were not at all unusual or any different from what I have seen in other Thai markets - there were just a lot more vendors and a lot more of a selection. I will warn you that some of the photos are graphic and a bit gruesome. The visit to this market was one of those times when I have to remind myself that I live in a foreign culture that it is very different than mine in a lot of ways, some good, some not so good and some just plain different. There are certain characteristics of the culture that are offensive/inhumane/cruel to me (based on my cultural beliefs and values) and, while I may not agree with, support or condone them, I do need to respect the difference between my culture and the Thai culture. 

In the market (these are the worst of the photos)...
The fish monger. 
This was Noi, our escort from the Helping Hands Cooking School. She spoke excellent English and was very familiar with the market and the vendors and their products.

There were lots of different insects for sale. These were some kind of "spiced" beetles. 

At first, I thought the two plates on the right side in the photo below were full of some kind of minced meat. 

After having a closer look... ant eggs and larvae.
A butcher.

Another butcher. Apparently, wearing a shirt is not a requirement for fish mongers and butchers. 
It was over 90 degrees and sunny when we were walking through the market. Almost all of the perishable goods are just laid out or hung for display in the vendor's stall. No ice. No refrigeration. No plastic wrap. I never really think about where PeePorn buys our food until I visit one of these markets. And then, it is all I can do NOT to think about it.
Poultry. Again, no ice and no refrigeration. 
A de-boned chicken foot.
On to prettier things...the flower section.
The fruit and veg section.


The colors in the two photos below are gorgeous!
Grape tomatoes.
Thai eggplants.
Kaffir limes.


Long beans. 
Cilantro (or flat leaf parsley?).
 Rose apples.

 Rambutan. Another beautiful photo.

 Marian plum (I think).
  Boniato or Taro Root?
Noi showing us how to select and prepare a dragonfruit.
Noi selecting mangoes for our mango and sticky rice dessert.
Ripe mango.
 Green mango. 

Durian (aka stinky fruit). 
 Sugar cane.

 I had no idea there were so many different varieties of rice.

A Thai snack - usually sticky rice with warm custard or a bit of fruit jelly wrapped in a banana leaf.
Different types of sauces/spice rubs.
Close up of one of the rubs.
Poor Christopher. He still did not feel well and the smells, sights and sounds of the market were a bit too much for him. I didn't think he would make it through but I bought him some water and he perked up by the time we finished the market tour.
This was truly a wet market. One of my friends told me that she bought her maid a pair of rubber boots to wear when she goes to this market. Noi wore flip flops.
 Two men in our group.
The vendor in the photo below was cooking and selling Chinese broccoli.
The man in the photo below was selling bags of purple sticky rice with custard.
Close up of the purple sticky rice.
  A vendor selling an assortment of Thai snacks.
Steamed corn. 
The series of photos below show crepes being made in one of the stalls. The woman on the left held a large clump of dough in her right hand. 
She would lightly touch the dough to the griddle and quickly pull her hand back, leaving just a very light layer of dough to cook.

 The woman on the right collected and packaged the crepes.

There were several "couples"in the stall making crepes in this manner - one crepe after the other - and, outside the stall, there were piles of the packaged crepes for sale. In the 1 1/2 years that we have lived here, I have never once seen a crepe (other than roti crepes and those are made differently and are made to order) so I was not quite sure what all of those crepes were going to be used for. Something to look into.
This stall sold quite a selection of "gourmet" foods. 
After the tour finished and while we were waiting for the driver to pick us up at the back entrance to the market, we were able to watch deliveries of produce being made .
 On to the Helping Hands Cooking School and Cooking With Poo!
This was the Menu for Thursday, January 10th.
Menu 4

Yum Nuea
(Spicy Beef Salad)
Pad Culi Goong
(Sweet Prawn Curry)
Fried Morning Glory with
Soya Sauce

Thai Dessert Tasting
All of the ingredients  for each dish were washed, trimmed and ready to be used. For each of the dishes we made, Khun Poo did a short demonstration of how to make the dish and then she turned us loose in the kitchen. 

The first dish we made was the Fried Morning Glory with Soya Sauce and the ingredients were very simple - morning glory (the leafy green in the photo below), garlic and a chili. Sesame oil, soya sauce and oyster sauce were added during the cooking.
Christopher and Jan cooked their dishes first and then Jim and I had our turn.
The second dish we made was Pad Culi Goong (Sweet Prawn Curry). I thought it was very similar to Pad Thai.

Then Jim and I went to work.
The last dish we made was a spicy beef salad. Pee has made this dish for us before and I learned how to make it in the Thai cooking classes I took last year. 
Jan was probably wondering when Christopher was going to slice his finger open...
In order to avoid any drama (which is drawn to Christopher like a moth to a flame), Jan gives him some helpful hints... 
 And goes back to her own cooking.

The best part of the meal (in my opinion) - fresh tropical fruits and mango & sticky rice!
 Clockwise from the top - jackfruit, mangosteen, rose apple and rambutan.

Poo cutting the mango for mango & sticky rice.
Noi adding the rice.
And the coconut milk sauce.
 Our entire group.
Walking back through the Klong Toey slums to meet the driver. 
"Cooking With Poo" was a great activity and definitely something that I would recommend for visitors as well as locals. Visiting the Klong Toey market and having a guide available to explain what the products are and to answer questions is an opportunity not easily had. The cooking class was easy and fun - Poo and her helpers are very warm and helpful - and the food was very good. If you do want to try this activity, make sure you sign up well in advance (8 - 10 weeks) as the classes fill up quickly. I registered us during the last week in November and the dates available were very limited at that time. 

We had to stop at the tailor's for Jim's final fitting and then it was a quick trip home to Nichada. Jim and Jan were leaving the next day so they began to pack for their trip back to the U.S. (via Copenhagen and then Frankfurt).

Have a great Friday!

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