Blue Elephant Cooking School, Bangkok – Part I: Morning market tour

by Revati Victor on January 18, 2013

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If you know anything about us yet, you know we love food. All kinds of food. And while the Gourmet Course at the Cordon Bleu Paris wasn’t Charles’ cup of tea and I ended up attending it alone, it was a given that he’d be jumping way more than me at a Thai cooking class. What can I say, the man loves his chillies!

We’d eaten a fair bit of Thai food back home, but nothing prepared us for the real deal. Thai food in Thailand was far removed from any notion of Thai food we already had in our heads (or on our tastebuds). So after researching a fair bit on the internet, we zeroed in on the Blue Elephant Cooking School Bangkok primarily because we’d used the brand’s products back home, and well, it was a professional cooking school. As close as we can get to being professional chefs.

We turned in early the previous night, so that we would be well rested and alert at our class. And chirpy and alert we were. With a quick breakfast of croissant, toast, banana, orange juice and coffee at Lub d – the hostel where we were staying, we got out and tried to flag down a taxi.

Fifteen minutes of frustrated flailing later, we decided to climb the stairs and take the long winded train journey. We were at National Stadium and we had to get to Surasak.

We hopped off the train, only to find out the cooking school was literally outside the station! How did we not know that yet? We rushed in, quickly trying to take in the magnificently antique building, with high ceilings and quaint furniture, as we scaled the large wooden staircase two steps at a time.

“Oh! We thought you weren’t coming, we’d given up hope!” said the lady at the reception upstairs. I’m not sure if we were red in the face from the running around or the fact that an entire class of people was staring right at us, realising we were the reason their class had been delayed. We were given a lemongrass cooler, which, while I welcomed, I tried to gulp down at supersonic speed given the eyes that were still boring into my back. We filled out the forms faster than we knew we could write, and jumped up trying to look like we’d been waiting here all along.

While Chef Noroor (more on her in the next post) had promised she would personally be taking our class, she introduced us to one of the sous chefs at the Blue Elephant would be taking us on a market tour first. She was young, pretty, energetic and while she spoke with a heavy Thai accent, was very easy to comprehend. Keeping up with her as she walked though, was entirely different.

She handed us BTS tickets, and we took a quick short ride all ten of us got off at Saphan Taksin, and walked a couple of blocks to the market. What we entered was an area that would at times be covered and within a building, and suddenly we’d find ourselves out in the open. The market was sprawling. It reminded us of Crawford Market back in Mumbai. Our tour guide stopped at a Thai tea stall, and invited us to sample the trademark iced coffee or tea. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected after seeing a fair bit of condensed milk go in. It was served to us on ice, in a plastic bag with handles, and a straw driven through it. We walked around, slurping our iced coffees like teenagers at a fair. As we walked through the market she pointed out items of interest. “See that yellowish block? It doesn’t taste any different from the longer lasting white tofu you find in regular stores, except that this one has turmeric to make the colour of your stir fry really pop.”

Iced coffee in a plastic bag at a traditional tea stall

Iced coffee in a plastic bag at a traditional tea stall

First view of the market

First view of the market

Cured pink eggs

Thailand’s mysterious preserved eggs

Turmeric tofu

Turmeric tofu

She pointed out two different kinds of glass noodles. The wet and the dry. The dry lasts longer, but requires to be soaked in cold water for 10- 15 minutes before cooking it. We then stopped at a grocers, a small shop not unlike the ones we have in India, with displays spilling out onto the street. She picked up a bottle of Tom Yum Roast Chilli Paste that’s a staple, used in Tom Yum soup and the Pomelo Salad we were to cook later that day. She passed it around along with a very smelly tub of Shrimp paste (something I’d been meaning to pick up for a while). While she also passed around tamarind and ginger, that most of the westerners inspected in wonder, it wasn’t very exotic to us. Next door on a mobile stand was a peanut seller, and we tasted the gigantic shelled peanuts. As we walked on trying to keep up with her, I lagged behind, gawking at the incredibly fresh stalls of neatly piled seafood especially shrimp.

The Tom Yum roast chilli paste brand professionals swear by

The Tom Yum roast chilli paste brand professionals swear by

Our guide pointing out packets of palm sugar

Our guide pointing out packets of palm sugar

Our class surrounding a peanut seller

Our class surrounding a peanut seller

Piles of fresh fish

Piles of fresh fish

Cured, dried and pickled seafood

Cured, dried and pickled seafood

By this time, most of us had finished slurping on our ice-coffee bags and it was while we were hunting for some place to throw it that one Australian girl noted, “even the trash baskets look so pretty and exotic, I really would think they’ve got some ingredients stashed in them”.

We then entered an enclosed vegetable market where I first bought some Tom Yum Roast Chilli Paste and some Shrimp Paste, smelt a lungful of authentic, hand ground Thai Red chilli and Green chilli paste.

The indoor vegetable market

The indoor vegetable market

We were surprised to be surprised by quite a few exotic vegetables that we’d never seen before. (And here we thought we got everything from everywhere at Pali market in Bandra, Mumbai) We discovered about 5 different types of Thai Brinjal (all of which could be substituted one for another) a strange looking thing that was a Banana flower, the difference between Sweet Basil and Holy Basil, between Galangal and Long Ginger, and a local flower that’s available in two flowers to pretty up the dishes. As we stepped out of the market and passed a few more meat and seafood stalls, I couldn’t help observing how just looking at fresh raw meat got my mouth watering. Is that normal? Before I could contemplate my sanity, we found ourselves outside the Shangri-La hotel, right next to the station.

5 types of brinjal

5 types of brinjal

 

Our veggie discoveries

Our veggie discoveries

Flowers to pretty up the dishes

Flowers to pretty up the dishes

Overwhelmed and all the more excited to get cooking, we took the BTS back to Surasak and entered the Blue Elephant Cooking School for a Half Day Cooking Class.

Blue Elephant has cooking schools in Bangkok & Phuket. Only the morning session includes a market tour. A half day’s class costs 2800 Baht (exclusive of taxes) per person. They have two sessions in a day, but the menu changes daily. Book at least 2 months in advance to get the slot you want. They also offer private classes.

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