Saturday, November 6, 2010

Silom Cooking School, Bangkok, Thailand

A love of the flavours and colours of Thai cuisine was the incentive to do a cooking class during this two day stopover in Bangkok.

Food is a visible part of everyday Thai life. The hawkers start setting up their food stalls from an early hour along the streets of the city.   Little carts with burners line the sidewalks producing a variety of food from fried chicken, take-away bags of green curry to more exotic morsels - all emitting those pungent and enticing aromas of Thai cooking.   Some hawkers set up tables and chairs next to their carts along the sides of busy roads - the Thai version of alfresco dining.  Bowls filled with water become make-shift sinks to cater to the constant stream customers.

After researching on the net I decided to join a class at the Silom Cooking School in the infamous red light district in Silom Road, Bangrak with it's colourful bars and equally colourful characters of the night.   Early in the morning, however, life along Silom road is all about people going about their everyday lives in the markets and shops.

The cooking school website states that  'pick-up' from hotels is included in the cost of the class however I received an email saying that the Vie Hotel is in a 'high traffic area' so it is faster to get the sky train - apparently most areas are 'high traffic areas' so don't let 'pick-up' entice you.    I did receive detailed instructions how to get to the meeting point - quite easy - and Nusi, the chef and owner of the school, was waiting there as planned.
Busy local markets. Watch out for the tuk tuk! 
With 8 other 'students' we started our day at the local markets - an amazing blend of sights and sounds not to mention trying to decipher the various fragrances of herbs and spices.    The visit to the markets was the reason I chose this particular cooking school.   I wanted a 'hands-on' experience including sourcing the raw ingredients as opposed to sitting in the sterile kitchen of a big hotel.
The variety of beautiful, fresh herbs and produce available at this market was a dream - I was like a kid in a candy shop. 
Our first stop was to buy chicken (note:  ignore the flies and lack of refrigeration).   The produce looked very fresh - one good reason to do the morning class before temperatures begin to soar.   With deft hand the poultry merchant wielded his cleaver, jointing a chicken in record time.  I watched between the fingers covering my face - so sharp - so quick!
Jointing a chicken
Next was a visit to the fishmonger - an amazing variety of seafood on show with a small poodle (the owners pet) sitting amongst the fish and prawns!  (I didn't notice it until it moved).

Poodle fish
At the coconut stall we purchased older fruit which was put through a machine and grated - from this we would later make fresh coconut cream and milk.

Our final stop was the greengrocer stall where Nusi explained the different varieties of chillis, herbs and vegetables used in Thai cooking.   Our chef was quite a flamboyant and somewhat eccentric character - not only informative but amusing!
"This is ginger..."
...and more ginger
...and even more ginger (this one is called 'finger ginger' - I wonder why?)
With laden baskets students followed Nusi through the streets and laneways of Bangrak until we came to the cooking school - a  3 room establishment located above his apartment.
Silom Thai Cooking School
Before entering the school we removed our shoes and then washed our hands "thoroughly".   Some students were given the job of washing the produce (not rinsing, WASHING - every individual leaf), others peeled prawns or prepared meat.

Once the washing was over we started preparing the first of five courses - Tom Yum Kung.  The school teaches basic Thai cooking and techniques.    If you're after something a bit more challenging then this is not the class for you.  Having said that, we produced a very respectable tom yum - as good if not better than those I've eaten back home.

Each student had their own wok and cooked their own dishes - this allowed the student to tailor the dish to his/her liking.   Nusi explained... "In Thai cooking meat, seafood or vegetables can be changed because the meat and vegetables are just your choice - they just add texture, colour and decoration.   But what is very important is the seasoning and the key ingredient because these bring flavour and aroma to the dishes...these CANNOT be changed."   So for TBG's tom yum kung (hot and sour prawn soup) he added a lot of the nam prik pow (roasted Thai chili paste).
My delicious Tom Yum Kung
We sit in the preparation room, cross legged, on the edge of a large red mat with the ingredients in the centre and begin our cooking experience - making coconut cream and milk.  (TBG finds sitting on the floor a bit of a challenge! - pillows are provided which gave him a little more comfort).    Water is added to the grated fresh coconut and 15 seconds of 'squeezing' ensues resulting in a rich coconut cream.   To the strained coconut, more water is added and the process repeated.    The second squeezing produces a lighter liquid - coconut milk.
Nusi pours the rich liquid from the first 'squeezing' - coconut cream
Cooking is carried out on an open verandah - considering the number of burning woks, this is a good thing - I can only imagine the smoke and heat that's generated wouldn't be pleasant if done inside.
Ready, set....cook!    Rows of woks ready to, well, cook.
Tom Yum Kung - a hot and sour prawn soup - tasted as good as I've had in any restaurant at home!
There is a different menu of 5 dishes for each day of the week.   The menu for Thursday consisted of:

Tum Yum Kung (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
Gai Phad Med Ma Muang (Chicken with Cashew Nut)
Pad Thai Sai Kai (Fried Noodles Thai Style)
Nam Phrik Kang Phanaeng (Green Curry Paste)
Kang Khiao Wan Gai (Green Curry with Chicken)
Kow Neuw Mamuang (Mango on Sticky Rice)
Ingredients for my Chicken With Cashew Nut laid out on individual platters in front of each student - each ingredient is explained - the raw ingredients laid out on the red mat were a feast for the eye!
Once we'd eaten our first course it was back into the preparation room - TBG cooked the Pad Thai and I cooked the Chicken with Cashew Nut - wasn't fussed on the Pad Thai although it could be 'tweaked' to taste - the chicken was delicious.   Preparation takes the longest time - cooking is done on a very high heat and only takes a few minutes.  Flavours are fresh and strong - vegetables are crisp and colourful.
Into the wok they go - high heat and stirring constantly - cooked in a matter of minutes - I nearly burnt this trying to take photos as I cooked!
One of the joys of doing a class like this is meeting other travellers from all over the world and hearing their stories.   Nationalities today included Canadians, Japanese, Americans and, of course, Australians.  Classes are limited to 14.

Back in the preparation room, this time to make green curry paste - from scratch using a gigantic mortar and pestle (where's a food processor when you need one?)    It was fun and we all had a turn pounding the ingredients until we had a beautiful green paste to make our curry.
Taking turns...
making green curry paste.

Into the wok goes the paste and the other ingredients - the result was a delicious, fragrant curry full of flavour.
Our green chicken curry using home-made green curry paste and home-made coconut milk - we were very proud!
The last course on our menu was Mango on Sticky Rice.   Now I have to confess that by this time I had eaten far more than I should have and there was still dessert??!!!

Nusi explained the different types of rice used in Thai cooking - for this dish 'glutinous' rice is used (it's actually gluten free).  In any other context, 'sticky' rice would be a disaster!     
For the sticky rice, Nusi employs a traditional method using a bamboo basket to steam it.  The basket keeps the rice from drying out as the moisture is held within the bamboo.   This dessert could only be described as heaven on a plate.   So good!!
Fellow students enjoying their 'work'.
 Our 5 courses cooked and devoured, we relaxed and chatted in one of the rooms.
Relaxing in the preparation room - we'd worked hard cooking all morning!
So friends, if you're ever in Bangkok and want to enjoy a taste of Thai culture then I'd recommend the Silom Thai Cooking School.   For $30 AUD/USD you get:

Market Tour and Lecture on Thai food and ingredients
  Instruction on Thai food preparation techniques
  Learn how to make homemade curry paste
and coconut milk from scratch!
  Hands-on cooking and assembling 5 courses
EATING your dishes
  A comprehensive recipe booklet with instructions and information about Thai ingredients.

The course is good value.  The cuisine is basic Thai cooking but the results are delicious.
TBG will definitely be doing another class on one of his frequent visits to Bangkok.

To learn more, visit the school's website: 

To see more photos of our foray into Thai cuisine, see my flickr site:  

Come for dinner and I'll cook you a genuine Thai meal.

Till next time...   keep smiling :)

Love Annie xxx

Annie McLeod Photography:

Heaven on a plate - Mango on Sticky Rice


  1. That looks like a really fun class! I recall seeing the flies etc at the markets. It's quite startling! :)

  2. Thanks Lorraine - yes, the markets are very interesting!

  3. I am so jealous, that looks like so much fun!