Bangkok Babymoon: Cooking with Poo (The Helping Hands Thai Cooking School) - Alvinology

Bangkok Babymoon: Cooking with Poo (The Helping Hands Thai Cooking School)

Rachel and I at The Helping Hands Cooking School in Bangkok
Rachel and I at The Helping Hands Cooking School in Bangkok

During our Bangkok Babymoon earlier this year, Rachel and I decided to attend a one day Thai cooking class with The Helping Hands Thai Cooking School.

The school and cooking classes are run by an energetic and friendly lady nicknamed Khun Poo, hence the name “Cooking With Poo”.

More about the class via the official website:

The Helping Hands Thai Cooking School is an initiative designed to assist in the support of men, women, children and families from within the Klong Toey Slum Community in Bangkok, Thailand.

Khun Poo is one 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 two years she has been running her own cooking school for the tourist market as well as local Thais under a community self-help program that she built with four other slum residents. The Helping Hands initiative 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 the initiative include catering services, a mini-van service, a sushi delivery business, a small bakery and handicraft production.

Our cooking classes are an experience of a lifetime, as you witness the hardship and hope experienced by the people living in Bangkok’s largest slum. After picking you up from our central pick-up point we take you to the market to learn how to select and purchase fresh vegetables and ingredients for the selected dishes of the day.

You will then make your way into Khun Poo’s community where she will teach you how to blend the different herbs and spices and you will learn how to create authentic Thai food for yourself.

Exciting isn’t it?

Rachel and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly as we learned to whip a few quick, simple Thai dishes wih Poo and five other classmates.

Boarding a Helping Hands van which will be taking us to the Klong Toey Market and the cooking school
Boarding a Helping Hands van which will be taking us to the Klong Toey Market and the cooking school

The visit to the Klong Toey Market was an eye-opener for us. This is a market for locals, not usually visited by tourists. Unless the rest of our Caucasian classmates, we were familiar with wet markets and “exotic” food stuff like pig’s innards, durians and fish maws. Nonetheless, we were still intrigued by the Isan (northeastern region of Thailand) food section which offers “fear factor” stuff like baby frogs salad, crickets and many kinds of insects and critters. Thankfully, Isan cuisine was not on our cooking menu!

The Isan food section in Klong Toey Market
The Isan food section in Klong Toey Market
Poo guiding us around the market
Poo guiding us around the market
Insect feast
Insect feast
Insect mountain
Insect mountain
Delicious beetles
Delicious beetles
Assorted insect
Assorted insect
Cricket galore
Cricket galore
Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers
Plump, juicy worms
Plump, juicy worms
Water boatmen
Water boatmen
Assorted gluey cooking pastes
Assorted gluey cooking pastes
Live eels
Live eels
Catfish
Catfish stall
Freshwater gourami fish and shrimps
Freshwater gourami fish and shrimps
Frogs - you can purchase them live or skinned
Frogs – you can purchase them live or skinned
Close-up of the bloodied, skinned frogs
Close-up of the bloodied, skinned frogs
More yummy green frogs
More yummy green frogs
These baby frogs are eaten raw with salad
These baby frogs are eaten raw with salad
Grilled catfish
Grilled catfish
Ant cocoons - these do not come cheap and is considered a exquisite delicacy in Isan cuisine
Ant cocoons – these do not come cheap and is considered a exquisite delicacy in Isan cuisine
Freshwater fish, not a favouite among Singaporeans due to the stronger "fishy" taste
Freshwater fish, not a favouite among Singaporeans due to the stronger “fishy” taste
Fresh poultry
Fresh poultry
Whole chicken
Whole chicken
Chili paste
Chili paste
Isan veggies
Isan veggies
More Isan veggies
More Isan veggies
Young boy vendor
Young boy vendor
Lotus and other stuff
Lotus and other stuff
A happy little girl in the market
A happy little girl in the market
Another vegetable stall
Another vegetable stall
All the stuff you need to make Tom Yam soup
All the stuff you need to make Tom Yam soup
Tin biscuits, these were very common in Singapore in the 80s but are a rare sight now
Tin biscuits, these were very common in Singapore in the 80s but are a rare sight now
Rice of varying grades
Rice of varying grades
A black cat we spotted at the market
A black cat we spotted at the market
Fresh flowers
Fresh flowers
Fresh seafood stall
Fresh seafood stall
Mud crabs
Mud crabs
Blue prawns
Blue prawns
Prawns of varying grades (and prices)
Prawns of varying grades (and prices)
Fishmonger
Fishmonger
Pig's heads for Ah Long
Pig’s heads for Ah Long
Buying some ready-made Thai sticky rice
Buying some ready-made Thai sticky rice
A child resting at a vegetable stall
A child resting at a vegetable stall
Chilli vendor
Chilli vendor
Chopped coconuts
Chopped coconuts
Fruits stall
Fruits stall
Green limes
Green limes
Mangosteens! Rachel and I bought lots of these
Mangosteens! Rachel and I bought lots of these
Poo buying some mushrooms for our cooking lesson
Poo buying some mushrooms for our cooking lesson
Thai popiah skins, freshly made
Thai popiah skins, freshly made
Thai sticky rice, smoked in bamboo
Thai sticky rice, smoked in bamboo

After getting all the ingredients we need at Klong Toey Market, we boarded the van and headed to the Helping Hands Cooking School. The school is located within the residential area of the Klong Toey community and resides in a cosy little double-storey home. It can comfortably host a class of around 6 to 10 pax.

Interesting contrast on the wall
Interesting contrast on the wall
Children playing
Children playing
Rachel in the alley
Rachel in the alley
Sleepy black cat
Sleepy black cat
The black cat has a kitten
The black cat has a kitten
School entrance
School entrance

Clean and well-equipped, Poo is assisted by another three apprentice girls while conducting her class.

Many photos of past cooking classes adorned the walls
Many photos of past cooking classes adorned the walls
More pictures
More pictures

We learned to cook a total of 4 traditional Thai dishes – Tom Yum Gai  (Hot & Spicy Soup with Chicken),  Phad Thai  (Thai Noodles with Vegetables),  Larb Pet  (Minced Duck with lemongrass) and Khao Niow Ma-muang  (Mango and Sticky Rice).

Rachel is really excited about the cooking class
Rachel is really excited about the cooking class
Getting down to business
Getting down to business
Rachel was very serious and took notes throughout
Rachel was very serious and took notes throughout
Poo's cook book
Poo’s cook book
The first dish we learn to cook was Tom Yam soup
The first dish we learn to cook was Tom Yam soup

Interestingly, we found out the red colouring on the noodles in Phad Thai came from the natural colouring inside the head of the prawns used in the dish and not from chili paste or artificial food colouring.

The ingredient for Phad Thai
The ingredient for Phad Thai
Dumping all the Phad Thai ingredient into the pan
Dumping all the Phad Thai ingredient into the pan
The frying process
The frying process
The prawns are cooked
The prawns are cooked
Mixing in an egg
Mixing in an egg
Stir and fry like a pro
Stir and fry like a proStir and fry like a pro
The red colour from the prawns seeping in
The red colour from the prawns seeping in
Rachel's Phad Thai is ready
Rachel’s Phad Thai is ready

The delicious Thai dishes were also much easier to cook than we had thought. Our confidence was so boasted after the lesson that we immediately whipped up a Thai dinner for our family when we were back in Singapore, to positive reviews.

Ingredient for the duck dish
Ingredient for the duck dish (Larb Pet)
Dicing everything into small bits
Dicing everything into small bits
Me showing off my nifty knife skill
Me showing off my nifty knife skill
Poo's demo
Poo’s demo
Minced duck in the pan
Minced duck in the pan
Rachel with her completed plate of Larb Pet
Rachel with her completed plate of Larb Pet
Poo preparing the last dish, Mango with Sticky Rice
Poo preparing the last dish, Mango with Sticky Rice
This is always one of Rachel's all time favourite Thai dish
This is always one of Rachel’s all time favourite Thai dish

By coincidence, Nirmal Ghosh, the Thailand correspondent for The Straits Time popped by in the middle of our cooking lesson to conduct an interview with Poo. As a fellow journalist in the same media company, Rachel is a big fan of Ghosh’s news stories and she was really delighted to meet him in person.

Nirmal Ghosh and his assistant, sharing a plate of Poo's Phad Thai
Nirmal Ghosh and his assistant, sharing a plate of Poo’s Phad Thai

At the end of the day, Rachel and I bought a copy of Poo’s cookbook to support The Helping Hands initiative. We had a really good time. It was a day well spent and we would highly recommend it to other Bangkok tourists who want to try something different beyond the usual sight-seeing and shopping.

We were each given copies of the recipes at the end of the day
We were each given copies of the recipes at the end of the day
We can now cook Thai food!
We can now cook Thai food!
A picture of Rachel with Poo
A picture of Rachel with Poo
Group photo with Poo and our five classmates
Group photo with Poo and our five classmates

If you are interested in attending this cooking class, please visit the Cooking With Poo official website to find out more on the cooking menus, lesson prices, dates and schedules available. 🙂

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