I was fortunate enough to spend 10 days in Vietnam during my last holidays – what a buzz!! Of course one of the many attractions was the food, Vietnamese being one of my favourite cuisines.
Eating out seems to be so much a part of life,( as shown in the picture of the “nightlife in Hanoi”) that I found myself asking – “does anyone eat at home?”.
The answer, of course, is “yes”, as, passing by on busy streets, people have their doors open to the pavement, where you can see people gathered around tables full of delicious looking foods.
Cooking class – a must!!
My friend and I did a cooking class in Hoi An, which was an amazing experience. We were picked up from our hotel and taken straight to the markets to buy foods for the dishes we had chosen to make.
We had a terrific Vietnamese lady, who spoke good English, and certainly knew her stuff. She took us to the rice section of the market, where she explained that every household has an old condensed milk tin, which measures the amount of rice for one person (that’s a lot of rice!!).
Then to the all important herbs and spices section. Here, as shown in the picture “the five essentials”, she gathered all the delicious flavourings needed for most dishes in the Vietnamese cuisine: (see photo)
The meat market
On to the meat section, which was a bit different from our super clean, chilled meat markets in Australia.
Here a lady worked with an enormous, very sharp looking knife, to provide us with pieces of meat selected off a wooden surface full of chunks of room temperature meat. (I have to say, with a smile, that I thought of our local health inspector having a bit of a meltdown…!)
I guess the difference is that the meat is most likely bought fresh into the market that morning, taken home and cooked straight away – no packaging, chilling, transporting and put into fridges at home.
After collecting a few other items, we were taken to a local streetside café, where we we given a “Vietnamese coffee” – a very strong brew, dripped in individual cups with a tiny splash of condensed milk (fresh milk not seen very often).
Then on to the kitchen where we proceeded to cook and eat for the following 6 hours!!
We had 12 people, so 12 traditional dishes to sample – each one fresh, colourful and simply delicious (my friend and I concluded that this was amongst the best food we ate in Vietnam - modest, I know!)
I chose to make a traditional Vietnamese Pho, beef noodle soup – well known here in Australia, as we have many Vietnamese eating places. I often make Pho at home, but it is never quite the same as what you experience eating out! I think it is all in the broth.
I was shown how all the herbs and aromatics (shallots, ginger, turmeric, garlic) are first of all charred over a gas flame and then peeled. This provides a sweetness and fullness of flavour that comes through in the finished broth.
Then the beef bones are firstly blanched in a pot of boiling water to remove any blood and impurities, before being put in the stock- pot. Of course you also add the star anise and cinnamon sticks and then it simmers for hours (mine was the final dish eaten – if you had any room!).
The very thinly sliced meat is thrown in at the last minute.
A plug for green bamboo cooking school
If you are ever lucky enough to go to Hoi An, make sure you do one of the cooking classes – this is the best way to become acquainted with the basics of Vietnamese cooking. I would thoroughly recommend the Green Bamboo cooking school http://www.greenbamboo-hoian.com/ . Happy cooking!