Now all eight waitresses are using their peripherals on me. Clumsily, I pick up a bit of the flan with that mammoth spoon and experience the nirvanic bliss of its vivid, creamy sweetness.
Let 'em stare.
Another memorable meal was at the historic Oriental Hotel (part of the Mandarin Oriental group), where a small ferry carries dinner guests across the wide Chao Phraya River to its dinner/show complex, Sala Rim Naam, an ornate, Oriental-style building with a courtyard aglow with tiny, sparkling lights.
The slightly Westernized, $60 meal includes grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, spiced banana blossom salad with shrimps, spicy prawn soup, sliced pork filet with water spinach curry, fried fish with plack pepper sauce, stir-fried vegetables with oyster sauce, and carved fresh tropical fruits and Thai sweets.
It also features elaborately costumed performers doing Thai folk dances such as Ram Koam Bua, the dance of the lotus lanterns honoring the moon and water goddesses.
But the most memorable day of my culinary week in Bangkok is the four-hour, $70 cooking class at The Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant.
Six other students and I are welcomed with a cool glass of lemon-grass tea. We include Tara Higgins of Belfast, returning home tomorrow after a 19-month stay, taking a last-minute chance to prove she learned something here; Haruyo Ishii, who runs a cooking school in Tokyo, widening her repertoire; Dorian Moss, a globe-trotting Corning Corp. engineer from New York who never knows what country he might wake up in, and wants to be able to cook himself a meal wherever.
Our teacher, Nooror Somany, a veteran of 24 years here, pops us onto Bangkok's swift, cool rapid transit system and takes us to the Or Tor Kor Cjatujak open-air market to choose ingredients.
It's vital, teeming, raucous, a little bit clean but still fragrant, a cornucopia of all things Thai. We meet jackfruit, pale yellow, pear flavored; dragonfruit, with wild, red leaves and white pulp with hundreds of black seeds; pomelo, a soccer-ball-size green fruit that tastes like a mild grapefruit. There are footlong green beans, zingy young Siamese ginger, fresh herbs we don't recognize.
There are big slabs of raw meat hanging everywhere. Giant bubbling vats of don't-ask. Catfish gutted, threaded on skewers, still bloody. "Haut quease-ine," Dorian jokes.
A RETURN TO CLASS
Back at the school, our teacher shows us how to prepare dishes. First is Som Tam -- Green Papaya Salad. She peels the papaya and hands it to an assistant who uses a machete to whack it into thin, vertical slices -- warning us not to try this at home.
She turns us loose in a big cooking lab to try the recipe: green papaya, garlic, bird's-eye chiles, those long green beans, roasted peanuts, dried shrimps, cherry tomatoes; the sauce is palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice.
We cook Keang Kaw Wan Kai: Green Curry Chicken. The curry sauce is coriander seeds, green Thai chiles, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime, garlic, shallots, shrimp paste, cumin seeds, pulverized in mortar and pestle. Add it to chicken, coconut milk, eggplant, fish sauce, lime leaves and more chili.
We go on to make Tom Kha Kai Mapaow Paow, or Chicken Soup; the famous Pad Thai, or Stir-Fried Rice Noodles; Tom Yam Koong, or Sour & Spicy Prawn Soup.
Then we're taken into an elegant dining room where we have our creations for lunch, along with a red wine from Monsoon Valley winery, part of Thailand's fledgling wine industry: it's a blend of syrah, black muscat and a Thai grape called Pok Dum. Lightly bitter, it goes well.
Oh, and the vintage listed on the bottle is Buddhist Era 2544. I ask. It translates as 2001.