Perched above the motion and energy of Bangkok’s biggest and oldest market, and teaching recipes passed down from generations, Market Experience gives you a keen insight into Thailand, its culture and most importantly its food.
Above the hubbub from the marketplace bustling below us, the sizzle and crackle of toasting spices prickled our ears. Sweet, spicy, savoury smells sailed about us, making us hungry, making us cook faster.
Trying to distract us from our labours, the broad busy market sent sounds and smells of its own up to our mezzanine kitchen. Its stacked stalls and barrelling barrow boys steering teetering loads through the throngs was a maze of fascination for us.
Moments before, it was us down there, amidst the chaos of Pak Khlong Talat – Bangkok’s biggest and oldest market for fresh produce. Led by our guide and cooking instructor, we foraged for ingredients, bringing back all manner of things – the makings of a Thai feast.
Pak Khlong Talat market, Bangkok
Pak Khlong Talat – “market at the mouth of the canal” – can trace its history back to the late 1700s, and has become a popular spot for tourists in recent years. Running 24 hours a day, this packed market, full of noise, commotion, colours and culture, the attraction is understandable. It’s distinctly Bangkok.
Some stalls are piled high with fresh flowers and bright garlands – sold for celebrations and godly offerings. Others sell great baskets of chillies as red as rubies and pointed like devils’ teeth.
Glints of bright orange turmeric root glimmer from others; swathes of green herbs, coconuts stacked like cannonballs, jack fruit like spiky balloons, the splayed hands and pink fingers of fresh galangal, and the bundles of lemongrass like kindling for the kitchen – it’s a delight to the senses.
Often known simply as the Flower Market, this is the heart of Bangkok Oldtown. The biggest flower market in Thailand and one of the largest in the world, Pak Khlong Talat sits a street back from the banks of the mighty Chao Phraya River, whose waters course through the Thai capital.
Indeed, it’s this river that has brought much of what’s for sale here for over 300 years.
Barges arrive just before dawn and the already heaving walkways and passages become a fervent flurry of hucksters, mopeds, trolleys and giant woven baskets fit to burst with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. And of course flowers.
By early lunchtime, the market calms to a steady in-and-out flow of people and goods, and you can peruse the stalls without fear of getting in the way – or worse. The now sleepy stallholders smile, understanding the interest this place garners.
Visitors and locals alike treasure Pak Khlong Talat – its history, its energy and its nature embody this city’s vibrant personality.
Market Experience foraging and cooking class
Market Experience takes advantage of several unique factors literally on its doorstep to create a travel experience that we will certainly hold dear forever.
Learning to cook traditional (and delicious) Thai recipes with food we’ve bought from the very stalls below us is an amazing experience. But to be taught by skilled chefs who were brought up in and alongside the markets here adds that extra element of beauty to what the Market Experience team offer.
Private Thai cooking class – forage, cook and eat
Our private cooking class starts with miang khum – literally ‘single bite’. This snack is a combination of fresh, spicy, sweet and salty flavours you wrap up in a betel leaf and pop in your mouth. It’s a typical snack and a fun way to put the tastebuds in gear!
From there, we delve into the depths of Pak Khlong Talat, guided by our excellent chef/teacher Mr Tum. Could there be a better name for a food master?
We shop from one stall to the next, Tum explaining many of the things we find and talking to the vendors – people he’s grown up with. Generally, the market-holders don’t have much English, so this is a rare opportunity to communicate with them freely.
We meet a lady who de-stems chillies all day. Chillies with no stems are worth twice as much as the ones with their green stalks still attached. She earns 4 Baht per kilo. Not much money, but she’s fast – she can get through about a kilo an hour. When we ask her if her hands burn from the chillies, Tum tells us she’s been doing this for years and doesn’t really feel it anymore.
Tum introduces us to the lady who’s been running the same stall for 40 years. She makes and sells knom thom – a heavenly ‘boiled snack’ of sticky rice made into balls, filled with palm sugar and covered in shredded coconut.
Finally, we find the coconut man. He has the special equipment that will give us the freshest coconut cream we’ve ever had. First he shreds big chunks of coconut flesh in a special machine, then passes the shreds through a press. The thick white liquid collects in a bag underneath the machine. This is going to make the curries we’re cooking something truly special.
Back upstairs, we learn the art of balancing flavours the way only Thais can.
The pad thai is surprisingly light and fragrant, the papaya salad, fresh, vibrant and spicy, and the curries – we opt for a green and a red – are rich, complex and packed with flavour.
As we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labours, we realise that the tricks we’ve learnt today make a huge difference to flavour. Things like the rule-of-thumb 1:2 ratio for galangal and lemongrass and that the balance of sweet, sour, salt and spice are essential come naturally to Thais. It’s a revelation for us.
Sweetness often comes in the form of palm sugar (a different source to the environmental horror of palm oil by the way). Sour is from a variety of ingredients: galangal, lime and tamarind are common. Salt is more often than not from fish sauce, though shrimp paste or soy sauce is also up there.
We leave the Market Experience kitchen feeling full and a step closer to understanding Thailand’s culture and its food. Two things so inherently fused that one can’t exist without the other.
Market Experience, the Flower Market, Bangkok
Market Experience offer a range of different classes and tours.
From our four-hour private foraging and cooking class to a one-hour cook-and-eat option. They also run tours of the markets and flower arranging classes here.
Whichever experience you choose, you’ll be left with knowledge and memories that will last a lifetime.