On a hot and sweaty day in May, our tour group took a break from relaxing in Hoi An to attend a cooking lesson. We were incredibly lucky as our class was hosted by Ms Vy (pronounced Vee) – Hoi An local, restaurateur and cookbook author – who had just returned from a business trip to London.
The new cooking school at Morning Glory is decked out really well with a popular food court style restaurant downstairs and a number of classrooms upstairs. Our room had paintings of the herbs used in Vietnamese cooking on the wall, a large demonstrator station with an overhead mirror and generous student benches with cook tops. Ms Vy (who, like most beautiful Asian women, looks MUCH younger than she actually is) spent a few hours teaching us some traditional Hoi An dishes.
Ms Vy tells us that when Vietnamese locals are shopping for food, they first shop for herbs as these are thought of as the most important ingredient. Another important ingredient is rice and noodles.
As with the cooking class I attended in Hanoi, as the only vegetarian in the class I was well catered for. First we made gỏi cuốn – rice paper rolls. While my classmates had rolls with pork and prawns, I was given vegetarian substitutes to use in mine. It was a little tricky to roll up the rice paper as it stuck to the banana leaf but thankfully they turned out well and tasted even better.
Next it was time to make bánh xèo – savoury pancakes. The addition of turmeric powder in crispy pancakes (or Vietnamese pancakes as they are known in some parts of the country) turns the pancakes a sunshiney yellow. The mixture is cooked on a hot pan with oil until the pancake is super crispy.
The crispy pancakes are filled with goodies like mushrooms, bean sprouts and herbs, rolled up in rice paper and eaten by hand. In Hoi An the pancakes are made in a small pan but in other areas they are made in a wok which makes them a good size for sharing.
Next it was time to craft our own wontons, something I hadn’t done before. I was given a delicious tofu filling and we were shown how to fold the wontons into a shape that’s described as ‘the cloud covering the moon’. It was a little difficult to get the right shape – I think I did ok and my tummy didn’t mind what they looked like!
The wontons were steamed for a few minutes in a bamboo steamer and turned out perfectly! Such a great little snack.
And for the finale, we made cao lầu noodles. Cao lầu is a special Hoi An dish, traditionally served towards the end of a meal. It’s incredibly tasty so if you knew one was coming you WOULD save room for it. The noodles used are thick like udon (Japanese noodles) accompanied by broth, tofu, herbs, chilli and rice crackers and crispy croutons that add a wonderful crunch. Ms Vy made a vegetarian version for me with tofu (instead of pork) to make the broth.
After the class we headed downstairs to Morning Glory for some homemade ice cream. It was also an opportunity to buy Ms Vy’s book ‘Taste of Vietnam’ which she kindly signed with a fitting inscription of ‘Cook well, eat well, live well’. The beautiful book contains memories of Ms Vy’s childhood in Hoi An, fantastic photos and family recipes.
Cooking classes are a great way to get a learn about a new culture. I’d love to hear from you friends! Have you had a fun cooking experience in your travels?