Hoi An – A Vietnamese Cooking Class

It is no secret that Sharleen loves Vietnamese food.  Most of the trip throughout Vietnam has been either a critique of various foods or a comparisons to the cooking of her friends.  “This isn’t as good as Kieu’s…..Trang’s Mom’s is better than this….”.  Sharleen finally got a great bowl of pho, but now it was time to elevate our cooking game.  There were many cooking class options that ranged from cheap and simple to expensive and professional.

We opted for Tran Long Eco Papa’s cooking class.  It was more than just cooking.  They offered a tour of the central market, a basket boat ride, a fishing experience, and cooking for an economical price.

The market was alive with activity.  Unlike markets at home where people buy for a week or even a month of supplies at a time, people here buy what they need to cook for the day.  As Long showed us various vegetables, meats, and fish he purchased 8 tiger prawns, a half head of lettuce, one small bag of noodle, a few sprigs of mint, and some lancet fruit.  This was supplies for a cooking class for six.  He wasn’t alone.  People wove in and out buying a few small supplies here or there.  From this perspective it appeared people consumed less and only bought what they needed on the day they needed it.  There were no stacks of chips, walls of candy, or other impulse buys.  The vegetables came from different enclaves surrounding Hoi An.  Buyers knew where they came from and were selective about the region they wanted to buy from.  As I walked through I couldn’t help but to think what happens to the food that isn’t purchased?  Is it put on ice and brought out the next days?

There isn’t one local butcher but many at the central market.
A mix of local fresh seafood.  It’s not evident from the picture but the red fish by her left food were still flopping about and twitching.
Fresh vegetables and herbs were plentiful

After we arrived at the fishing village we were escorted into a basket boat where we toured the water coconut groves and tried our hand at local fishing techniques.  Basket boats are formed with bamboo, then coated with buffalo dung and then resin.  Our guide told us that the fishermen like the basket boats because they were light and mobile.  They could be pickup up and put on a larger boat, then deployed in a fishing area farther out at sea.  National Geographic wrote a nice piece about their history here (Click here).  Alyssa tried net-fishing.  Kylie’s favorite was crab fishing.  She caught 8 crabs and released them at the end.

A ride up and down the water coconut isles in a basket boat
With the help of our captain, Kylie fished for crabs.

After fishing it was time to cook.  They set up 6 stations in the restaurant.  Each station had chopsticks, a strainer, and a mini propane stove.  We did not get the full day cooking course so we didn’t do any of the prep.  The prepped food was brought out to us, and we put it together, and sauteed it. In all we made:

  • crispy and fresh spring rolls (Tofu for me, chicken and shrimp for carnivores)
  • rice pancake with spices (Bun Xeo)
  • Stir fried noodle with vegetables (the meat eaters added squid and shrimp)
  • A banana flower salad.
Kylie prepares and rolls her first crispy spring roll
Presentation is in the eye of the beholder
Kylie gets some advice on determining when and how to flip her Bun Xeo (rice flour pancake with herbs)
Alyssa shows of her crispy and fresh spring rolls

We then settled down to eat our four course meal.  The kitchen had also cooked the Tiger Prawns we bought in the market along with eggplants for me.  It was a lot of food and we were all very full.  The food wasn’t super great, but we can only blame the cooks.  It was a lot of fun and our girls look forward to cooking some of this food when we get back to the states.

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