The trend of my blog thus far is to do a post per city. However I did a cooking class in Hoi An today and just had to share! There are so many cooking classes to choose from in Hoi An, with every restaurant and hotel seeming to offer one. However I decided to go with Van from Green Bamboo Cooking School, because she is highly rated on trip advisor and you cook in her own home with a small group (maximum 8 people). She has only been in business for about 1 1/2 years, but has had really positive reviews and because it is her business, she is very passionate about it. She also had a huge menu that you got to choose a dish from – which was great if there was one thing in particular you really wanted to learn to cook. I thought this was the most genuine of the classes and would be the most hands on. And boy it was.
We chose one dish each, I opted for fish in clay pot and el shrimp with lemon grass and chilli – both things we can make at home. However upon being picked up by the lovely Van, we were told that no one else was joining us – El and I were the only attendees. Private cooking class! And even better, we got to choose two more dishes. The final four ended up being:
- Fish in clay pot (with garlic, chilli, ginger, tamarind and lemon grass);
- Shrimps with chilli and lemon grass;
- Cau lau, a Hoi An speciality, which involves noodles, herbs, bean sprouts, pork, fried noodle chips and an amazing marinade sauce that the pork is cooked in; and
- A mixed salad of green mango, green papaya, banana blossom and lotus stem, with this beautiful yet simple dressing (lime, fish sauce, chili and garlic!)
Our day began with a trip to the central market, to buy all our ingredients. We wore the Vietnamese hats and followed Van as she navigated the small paths. We tasted all these fruits that we hadn’t tried, the most surprising was this fruit that looked like small potatoes but was actually really sweet inside. She showed us all the herbs and told us their names, and all the weird local fruits. We learnt about different types of chilli and garlic and bought fresh tamarind, which looks just like ginger!
We also tasted and bought banana blossom, one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. Before bananas grow, they cut down the big bunch (where the bananas would blossom), take out the leaves between the blossoms and then slice them super thin. For my salad, we also bought green mango and green papaya. Last foreign salad ingredient was lotus stem, which is a clear short stick, but if you look down the stem of it, it is hollowed out like a flower. Amazing. The market itself was so bustling, and everything was so fresh. The Vietnamese go shopping everyday for ingredients, and the meat is there only in the morning. Killed fresh that day. We bought all our meat there as well as our fruit and vegetables. Van knew where to go for the meat, and how to tell whether it was fresh or had been sitting there a while. She was really great, and answered all our questions. We even tried ‘che’, this sweet soup served on ice. The woman had about 6 different pots of different things, including sweet corn, lentils and beans, and poured a spoonful of each on ice. I was very skeptical, but it was actually delicious and I basically finished my glass!! Will be going back for some more tomorrow!
After our market visit, we drove to Van’s house and got to work. The great thing about her class was that we actually did all the work – we prepared everything and cooked it all. Luckily, we didn’t have to clean up, but we did all the chopping and cutting, and I even cut all the fish out of the bones – got quite good at it by the end. Had nice little shaped pieces of fish, without any bones in it whatsoever!! We split the dishes so El and I had two each, and carried each out from beginning until end. She was there the whole time telling us what to do and helping us along the way. We got to cook with huge chopsticks, and I even got to use two pairs to toss the salad. One of my other favorite things was this little grater device, which you use to get the long thin strands of carrot, cucumber, papaya, mango, whatever! I always wondered how they got the strands like that, and now I know. And Van gave us one each to take home – brilliant!
Soon it was all done, and we had four HUGE plates of food to share between the three of us. We really shouldn’t have eaten breakfast…
After all the amazing food, Van packed some up for us to take back to the hotel for dinner – although it is currently 7:45pm as I write this and I am still not hungry! It was a great meal, the food was absolutely sublime and full of fresh flavors. And I can’t believe we cooked it! I love to cook and I consider myself quite good, but this tasted and looked like restaurant quality. It made me want to stay in Vietnam even more, to never leave, and to just eat Vietnamese food every day. Van herself was wonderful company, and she had a beautiful home. It was a really special experience to cook in someone’s house and really get to know them, rather than simply learn to cook a few dishes in a sterile environment It really was such an amazing experience, and I am so glad I found her class online. We learnt so much, and even got a cookbook to take home so we can replicate some of the dishes. Some of them I won’t be able to make again – like the salad, due to lack of ingredients in New Zealand – but the pork in the cau lau, the prawns and the fish claypot I am sure I can make at home. Or at least try to – we can’t get fresh lemon grass in New Zealand, so lemon grass in a jar will have to do.
After eating we even found room for the jelly green thing – the ginseng leaf. It was very weird, but I decided it wasn’t too bad. It needed sugar though, and as I ate my way through it, I ran out of sugar. I was determined though to eat it all – so the last few bites were not overly enjoyable as the sugar had disappeared! It was just like jelly but oddly the taste made you want to chew it. It tasted just like tea – not green tea, not ginseng tea, just normal (Dilmah, in my case) tea. Just cold and in jelly form. I am glad I tried it, but I won’t be rushing out to eat it again!