Tag Archives: cooking class

Last supper(s) in Saigon

Our time in Vietnam ended as it began: dashing around a mad, chaotic city filled with history, traffic and tempting food, wishing we had more time.

With less than 48 hours until our flight home after six long months away, we tried to strike the balance between seeing as much as possible in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon and HCMC) and simply enjoying our last days travelling.

While it was tempting to indulge in nothing but eating and drinking, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to go to the War Remnants museum. The images and stories of the Vietnam War, its victims and continuing impact were humbling. I was moved before we even entered at the sight of the vast helicopters, tanks and other killing machines parked outside. Each room of the museum increased the weeping. The photo below is just one of hundreds of harrowing images (mostly taken by Western photojournalists) in the museum. Note the baby in the centre of the image.

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Elsewhere we were able to see evidence of modern Vietnam; an optimistic, dynamic city moving forwards.

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Luxury brands are everywhere; Vietnam is very much an emerging market.

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I love this picture of a typical super chilled xe om moto taxi driver passing the time between jobs while the city whizzes past.

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This kid is practising to be just like that when he grows up.

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Of course we left plenty of time for our favourite pastime: harebrained forays into the depths of a city to find obscure eateries. On a scuba dive in Nha Trang we met a lovely chick who was a HCMC native and fellow food lover who was happy to share her insider knowledge.

I’m convinced our new friend Phuong was our foodie fairy godmother; every place she sent us was exactly what we were after – breathtakingly good food, unpretentious settings and honest prices.

In southern Vietnam and HCMC, pho is served with far more herbs and accompaniments than its northern counterpart. The noodle soup is still the star of the show but in HCMC the supporting cast is just as important.

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Sure enough at Pho Hoa on Pasteur St the tables were laden with abundant thickets of greenery, plus all sorts of other goodies to supplement your meal.

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The cubic banana leaf packages are called “wedding cakes”. The long doughy sticks are Chinese bread, great for dunking in your soup. Home made condiments like pickled garlic and chilli sauce let you personalise your bowl as you eat.

In the middle of one of these life changing meals, I was reminded of a friendly Geordie we met in our Sydney hostel. When he learnt we were heading to Vietnam next, he wrinkled his nose and said that out of everywhere he had been in Asia, Vietnam was his least favourite. Apparently he wasn’t a fan of the cuisine which he described it as “weird meatballs in water”. This comment caused a loud CHANGE THE SUBJECT QUICK klaxon to go off in my head.

The world is a wonderfully diverse place with all kinds of people and points of view, but there is no way I can talk about food with someone who can’t appreciate a heady, fragrant broth of meaty bones, vegetables and spices simmered for hours (and perfected over generations) until the flavours became harmoniously balanced. I stuck to general weather chitchat from then on.

Phuong actually got a little giddy when she told us about Banh mi Huynh Hoa, 26 Le Thi Rieng street.

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Fresh, crunchy, featherlight rice flour baguettes are crammed with pâté, ham, pork floss and innumerable other slices of meat (I was reminded of New York style deep filled deli sandwiches), and finished with a couple of devilishly hot slices of chilli and some token cooling cucumber.

We had such a good time on the cooking course in Hoi An, we decided to sign up for another recommended lesson in HCMC.

Cyclo Resto was much smaller and more personalised than Morning Glory, so we were able to request specific recipes and learn how to make new dishes.

The “cyclo” part of the name refers to their preferred mode of transport between the market and the school…

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We had a go at winter melon and prawn soup…

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spring rolls…

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lemongrass chicken…

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snake head fish cooked in a clay pot with laksa leaves…

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green papaya salad with dried spicy beef…

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There was a ridiculous amount of food between four of us!

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Part of the lesson was fancy garnishes. I doubt I will ever feel the urge to make a kitsch swan out of a tomato but it’s impossible not to admire the chef’s knife skills.

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I may attempt the tomato rosebud however…

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Although seeing my efforts next to a professional’s, I’ll stick to the simple and cheesy cucumber heart.

Thanks Vu for helping us create a wonderful last supper to toast our travels!

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Learning to cook Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

In the hope of being able to recreate some of the extraordinary food we’ve eaten in Vietnam when we’re back in Blighty (very soon! – sob!), Mark and I signed up for a cookery class in Hoi An.

The lesson at the Morning Glory Cookery School began early at the market – we were given the traditional conical hats to protect us from the fierce sun, and to help our teacher find us more easily in the hustle and bustle.

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This lady wears hers with far more attitude.

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Morning glory (no tittering at the back please; morning glory is a leafy green vegetable also known as water spinach, delicious stir fried with garlic and popular all over Vietnam) has hollow stems which can be split into fine strands for salads etc with this nifty tool.

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It was great having a local guide to answer all my questions in the market and point out details like the many types of noodle available.

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Bean sprout ladies

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Vegetables & fruit

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Different kinds of rice flour pancakes

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It was all too much for some…

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After an hour or so, before we too felt the need for a nap, it was back to the classroom to watch a master demonstration and then try our hand at some recipes. It felt a little like The Generation Game at times but we managed to keep up (modesty aside, we were star pupils…)

First, canh su (cabbage leaf parcels with shrimp mousse in broth)

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Then banh xeo (crispy pancake with pork, prawns and beansprouts rolled up with rice paper, green banana and herbs)

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And goi xoai (spicy green mango salad)

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I hear that the UK has had a bit of a heatwave so I’ll share the recipe for this refreshing mango salad at the end of the post.

We enjoyed the food at Morning Glory so much that we returned to their restaurant that night for their famous pork “roll it” dish.

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This region is known for its good food. Our teacher joked that men who want beautiful wives look in the North or South of Vietnam; those who want to marry a good cook come to central Vietnam to look in Hoi An. I know which I’d choose – looks fade but hunger persists!

Sure enough, outside of Morning Glory’s doors we continued to eat exceptionally well. Even the little shacks on the nearby An Bang beach served gourmet seafood treats like steamed lemongrass clams and tamarind crab. Cheaper than chips too!

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A Hoi An speciality is cau lao, a noodle dish with slices of roast pork, croutons made from deep fried squares of noodle dough, beansprouts and herbs.

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The components of the dish are assembled in little separate piles, which locals are able to mix together deftly with their chopsticks. Our attemps were a bit messier!

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The distinctive cau lao noodles make the dish special: chewy and rough in texture, a bit like a chunky Japanese soba noodle. Unlike the soupy depths of broth in pho, with cau lao you get just a dribble of cooking juices to wet the noodles.

Apparently, the dish is traditionally made using water from specific Cham-era wells in Hoi An which impart a particular flavour – I doubt all of the street stalls selling it abide by that rule these days! Even so, the ancient wells around town are guarded under lock and key for only a few lucky people to access.

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Hoi An lights up at night. The beautiful lanterns and fairy lights hanging from the trees next to the river give the place a dreamy, festival-like feel.

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Children sell candles which you can float down the river in colourful paper boats for good luck.

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As well as food, the other thing Hoi An is known for is good tailoring. I hope our expanding waistlines didn’t cause too much trouble for the tailor we chose!

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Goi Xoai (Vietnamese spicy green mango salad) from Morning Glory Cookery Class
Serves 4 as a starter

200g green mango, sliced finely
1 onion, sliced finely
1.5 cups Vietnamese mint and mint
2tsp sesame seeds, roasted
1tbsp vegetable oil
2tbsp crispy fried shallots
1tbsp lime juice
1tbsp white sugar
1tsp fish sauce
1tsp red chilli and garlic, pounded

4 rice crackers, to serve

In a bowl put mango and onion slices, 1 cup of mint, 1 tsp sesame seeds, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chilli & garlic mix and vegetable oil.
Mix well.
Serve on 4 small plates and garnish with the remaining mint, sesame seeds and fried shallots. Season to taste and serve with rice crackers.