Our chef brandished his wicker basket high in the air. “This is Thai Prada,” he said, turning around and winking at me with a triumphant smile.
We were following Jay – a little chef with a big personality – around the Bangkok market, each clutching our own ‘Thai Prada’ bags in our hands. At different stalls, Jay would stop, hands waving flamboyantly as he described the produce.
“This curry paste is pre-made. Kind of like you and Dave,” he pointed at me. “When you were first together you were bang, bang, banging like a mortar and pestle, making your own paste.” He paused and I smiled, his humour was infectious. “Now you are married so no more bang, bang. Now you are pre-made.”
We burst out in to fits of giggles, Dave and I perhaps laughing the loudest in the group. But before we could contain our chortles, Jay was off again, trotting up the aisle of the market stalls in his high top sneakers and tight jeans.
Exploring the Thai market
He stopped at a store selling chillies. Picking up a large, plump red chilli, he said, “This chilli is not so spicy. But it has flavour.” He dropped it and picked up another, slightly smaller. “This chilli is more spicy and makes stomach little rumble.” He let the chilli fall from his hand and rubbed his tiny tummy. Then he pointed to the smallest chillies. “In Thailand we don’t have volcano so we eat this chilli for an explosion. You swallow this chilli and one hour later – KABOOM!” He stuck his bottom out and pointed to his rear end.
On cue, we exploded in to fits of laughter.
Jay strutted further into the market maze, with us on his heels. The cracks in the tin roof cast beams of light on to the brightly coloured fruit and vegetables spread out around us, neatly stacked in piles.
We passed by bunches of herbs scattered over tables and snakefish writhing in buckets along the floor. The strong fishy scent enveloped my nostrils and Jay grabbed a flat fish, holding it high and striking a pose as we furiously snapped photos. With a slap the fish hit the bench and we were off again, trailing Jay as he led us outside to a stall covered by a tarp.
Here, bunches of bananas were placed perfectly in rows. An old lady sat amongst her prized yellow wares, half-heartedly looking at us as Jay began to speak. “Your bananas are very big in the West, so they expensive,” he said, raising a suggestive eyebrow. “Here in Asia we are small so we cheap!”
Picking up a bunch, he placed the bananas quickly in my Thai Prada bag and we were off again, leaving the market to walk down a busy main road towards the cooking school. Dave leaned over to me and half-whispered, “I was going to tell Jay that the bananas were tastier in Asia – but I didn’t think that’d sound right!” We giggled softly at our own private joke.
Inside the Silom Thai Cooking School
Our group turned down an alleyway. We passed shacks built from timber, doors left ajar, allowing us to peer in and get a glimpse of local life. A man walked out of his modest home, staring at us with a half smile as we clambered past.
Fluorescent light gleamed in another home, where a woman squatted on the floor, preparing a meal and cooking over a camp stove with tin utensils. Her bed was perfectly made behind her and the TV blared from the corner, antennae haphazardly askew above the box.
Jay asked us to remove our shoes and we were ushered inside. We settled in, plonking our belongings on the long wooden table and were led upstairs where the cooking began. The next two hours went by in a blur.
Cooking up a storm
We chopped and neatly displayed our fresh produce, Jay explaining the ingredients and how they worked well together. “Thai’s like their food spicy and salty. And sometimes sweet,” Jay winked. “This is why we add fish sauce, chillies and sometimes a dash of sugar.”
We pound-pound-pounded the ingredients for the Massaman curry, using a giant pestle and mortar. “Look in your husband’s eyes while you pound!” Jay yelled as I manoeuvred the large stone pestle in my hands. I looked at Dave and blushed, the rest of the group laughing at us.
Then we would cook our food over a high stove, swishing it around and breathing in the heaty aromas as Jay would coo at us, telling us when we were doing well and when to shut off the burner.
Our lovely hosts from Thailand Tourism were on hand to snap photos of us as we cooked. “Pose with your salad!” Jay demanded. “Smile right now, the paparazzi is here,” he added, for extra affect. It was hard not to have a big grin on our face as we sweated over our hot stoves.
Eating our tasty masterpieces
The morning raced by and after every dish we sat down and enjoyed the food. We “ahhhed” over the deliciousness of it, impressed by our own handiwork. Of course, without Jay at the helm, I’m sure the food wouldn’t have tasted so scrumptious. But with our super chef guiding us, each dish – tom yum soup, papaya salad, massaman curry, pad thai and mango with sticky rice – turned out resembling something you’d order in a top-quality restaurant.
At the end of the morning, we gathered around Jay, shaking his hand and getting one last photo with him before we left, bellies full and smiles on our faces. Part of me wanted to bottle the essence of Jay and take it with me. Yes, the food we created was outstanding, but it was Jay who really made the cooking class a standout travel memory to remember.
What you need to know
Cost: The four hour class is 1,000 baht, about US$28, per person.
How to get there: The school can be found at 68 Silom Soi 13, in between the Narai Hotel and Triple Two Hotel, down a small lane. There is a sign pointing the way.
When to go: There are three class times each day. 9am-1pm and 1:40pm – 5:30pm with the market tour, and 6pm – 9pm without the market. You can book online here.
Thank you to Tourism Thailand for making this class possible. As always, our opinions are our own.