I love taking cooking classes when I travel...you learn so much about the food culture and usually get to try lots of foods all at once. This class took that last part to the extreme! It's Ms. Vy's Cooking Class in Hội An and it's held at the Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant and Cooking School. Honestly, I'd call this more of an eating class than a cooking class and it was pretty amazing. We did actually cook a few things...one being bánh xèo which is one of my favorite dishes I tried during my entire week in Vietnam! Even if you don't get to take the cooking class, I'd strongly encourage checking the restaurant out...everything is delicious and it's truly like you are at a street food fair with a million different options to try, but all cooked right there in the restaurant. Great way to check a lot of foods off your list if you're running out of time on your trip or a bit nervous about street food. Let's get cooking and eating!
First we learned how to make all different types of rice noodles...starting with the rice flour and water paste and cooking it up until it becomes a gummy dough. Quite the cool and very quick process when you see the pros do it...there's a specific mixing method with two wooden dowels to get it to the right consistency, definitely more of an art than a science which was fun to learn about. Then we got to have a little noodle slice-off to see for ourselves just how difficult it is to hand cut noodles to the exact right thickness as quickly as the women teaching us were doing it.
Hilarity ensued...trust me, we were not good at this! I'm surprised they let us anywhere near a knife for the rest of the class after this experiment. We also learned how to capture, fold and grab noodles coming out of the machine for thin rice noodles. You'd think since a machine is doing some of the work it would be pretty easy, but definitely a very specific technique here too. We were much better at this, but takes some focus and real hand-eye coordination to get the little folded packets of noodles just right!
Next, we learned how to make one of my all-time favorites, bánh xèo. The batter was already made for us, but we got a recipe for it and really the challenge of this dish is more around knowing how much oil to use, how long to let the pancake sizzle, when to add the ingredients and how to drain the oil so it doesn't end up too greasy. So we walked through those steps and made ourselves honestly one of the best bánh xèo that we ate during our trip! Stay tuned for a post on this dish alone, along with the recipe for you to try yourself. This little savory, sizzling, filled pancake is to die for. The special thing about the one we made here vs. some others that I've tried is that they added mango and green papaya in with the fresh herbs and lettuce that you wrap inside. That little touch of sweetness wrapped within the savory crisp pancake is amazing...highly recommended.
Here I am showing off my bánh nậm, freshly steamed in a banana leaf. This loosely translates to steamed flat rice dumpling (with a pork and shrimp filling), and while it may not be the prettiest thing I've ever cooked it certainly was delicious.
Ah, banana flowers...what a fun treat! I've never seen a banana flower up close nor have I seen the different components and how the banana flowers are shredded or used. Fun to pick one right off and pop it in your mouth! And the banana flower salad that they served us was delicious...full of herbs, shallot and thinly sliced chili peppers. Healthy and flavorful.
This was a truly unexpected bonus of taking this class for someone like SavoryGirl...a whole section of foods to try that would scare most people away, but not Katherine and I, we dug right in! So what did we try, clockwise from the top: Pig Brains, Silkworm Salad, Lemongrass Snails, Lemongrass Frogs, Pig Tongue and Pig Snout (and ear in the background there which we also happily munched on). You're asking the wrong person here if you want a shock and awe reaction...everything was delicious. Hard not to be with the Vietnamese cooking it, man they are just so great at sauces and flavor profiles. It's hard to imagine anything they make wouldn't be divine!
Ok, this is where you almost get a shock and awe reaction. Even before coming to Vietnam I knew there might be an opportunity to try what I know as balut (the Filipino term for fertilized duck embryos -hột vịt lộn, in Vietnamese). They actually sell it here at a Farmer's Market in SF and I've always been curious but just too freaked out. Now to be clear, that is extremely rare for me...but c'mon, you can see the little beak and eyes and feet and sometime even feathers within the hard boiled egg! I'd be lying if I said I wan't freaked out by that. But when the opportunity to try it was presented to me I just couldn't pass it up.
So our guide got a new egg, cracked it open and carved it all up into bite size pieces for us. In that bottom right photo you can see the duck embryo...head, beak and eye right around noon, body a bit below and turned toward us. Our guide got us each a spoonful and we popped it into our mouths. Honestly, I didn't look at my spoonful too carefully because I was worried if I did I'd lose my nerve after seeing it laid out on the plate like that. It really was pretty good...no crunch of bones or beak as I feared (they're still too underdeveloped to be crunchy) and mostly just tasted like a really rich, meaty hard boiled egg. Now, would I request this regularly to eat? Probably not. Still freaks me out a little bit. But I wouldn't have an issue eating it again if there was the opportunity, so I'm glad I tried it...the only way to conquer your fears is to push through them, and this one proved to be not all that fearsome after all!
Now it's time to make spring rolls! We're all pretty familiar with spring rolls...but this one had a unique special touch...thin, crispy spring roll that you roll right inside! That's right people, a fresh spring roll with a crispy spring roll inside right along side all of the fresh herbs, rice noodles, shrimp and pork. Holy yum what a great idea! We also made a beef spring foll with herbs, mango and green papaya which was unique and delicious as well.
This next one is another one of my favorite dishes from my entire time in Vietnam...cao lầu! This is a really special dish, because you can pretty much only find it in Hội An. It's a specialty of this region and is said to have both Chinese and Japanese influences from the city's trading port history...and you see that in the thicker than usual noodles. They almost have the bite and texture of udon, but not quite...I really love these noodles! This dish is only made authentically in Hội An because the noodles are said to be made with ash made from firewood on the Cham Islands and the water used to cook the noodles (three times!) is only sourced from specific wells in Hội An. These amazing noodles are topped with fresh herbs, pork and fried lard pieces...you mix it all together with the amazingly rich pork sauce at the bottom and you have yourself a soul satisfying delight! Do yourself a favor, don't miss this if you visit Hội An.
Well, that about wraps up our amazing Ms. Vy's Cooking Class class! We also got to try the most amazing phở broth I've ever had (less rich than ours, but more complex with increased levels of ginger) and had quite a few other nibbles throughout class...so trust me when I say that by the time class was over we were bursting at the seams. And that's coming from a girl who can eat! So if you're in Hội An and have an opportunity to take this great class, make sure you arrive very, very hungry!