It has been a year since I was in Vietnam, and I keep getting reminders from Facebook of all the wonderful memories. I can’t believe that it has taken me this long to write about this amazing day I had getting a taste of what Vietnam had to offer in food, culture, and life. This Hoi An Cooking Class with Ms. Vy’s Restaurant and Cooking School was part of a Travel Writing and Photography Retreat that I was attending. I included the recipes for you if you want to attempt to make these dishes at home. Enjoy this little glimpse into the Taste of Vietnam with Ms. Vy’s Cooking School.Taste of Vietnam – Hoi An Cooking Class
The Taste of Vietnam class immerses you in the culinary culture of Hoi An with Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant and Cooking School. Ms. Vy started the first cooking school in Hoi An and is the owner of three fabulous restaurants, Cargo, Morning Glory, and Vy’s Market. The Hoi An Cooking Class that I participated in gave me an understanding of how ingredients are selected and assembled to create local dishes. We were shown the whole process, from touring the market stalls to select the right ingredients, how those ingredients are prepped for use at the restaurant and then cooking our own Vietnamese meal.Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant
Our day started by meeting at the Market Restaurant. The workers were beginning their day prepping for when the restaurant opens. The key purpose of Vy’s Market Restaurant is to give customers a sensory food experience. You are allowed to observe them and ask questions to understand how the food is made. We watched how roasted nuts, dumplings, and noodles were made and cooked in bulk.Weird Wonderful Food
Warning! For the squeamish, you might want to skip this section and move to the next one. Well, when in Asia, you have to try the exotic at least once, right? Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant has a whole section of exotic foods called Weird Wonderful Food. I was so curious about these dishes. For me, these are unusual foods, but in Asia, these are normal. For starters, there is the Jelly Fish Salad, Pig Ear Salad, and the SilkWorm Salad. But, wait, there is more. How about trying Stewed Offal with 5 Spice, Stir-Fried Frogs, and Spicy Tiny Snails? And don’t forget Steamed Pig Brain, Duck Eggs Embryo, and Stuffed Snails with Pork. Did I try them all? Uh, that would be a hard no from me. However, I did eat the Spicy Tiny Snails. You were supposed to put the snail up to your mouth and suck it in quickly. Well, I apparently did not do that right and ended up having to use a toothpick instead. But I did eat it.Cruising down the River
Part of our cooking class was a guided tour through the Hoi An market. And to get to the market, we took a boat ride on the Thu Bon River. The river is such a big part of the Vietnamese culture, from fishing to the lighted boat rides at night for the tourists. You can find plenty of activity along the riverbanks in Hoi An. Many of the Vietnamese hang out and gossip on the boats during the day. The photographer in me loved how the colorful boats pop against the green trees and the river’s brown water. There is always something to see and experience along the river in Hoi An, Vietnam.Visiting the Food Stalls at the Market
Visiting the Hoi An market at the beginning of the day is such an eye-opening experience. In Vietnam, the market represents not only a place of commerce but a gathering place for catching up, gossiping, and of course, eating. Here you will find the pulse of Hoi An.
The market is so vibrant, splashes of color everywhere, smiling faces, and the ladies of Vietnam run it. What I noticed as I walked around is that women were the hardest workers here. They ran the restaurants, the tailor shops, the food stalls in the market, and even saw them working in construction zones. I found walking around all these amazing ladies inspiring that they maintained their smiles on their faces, even after working hard all day.
Our tour guide walked us through the market, beginning in the seafood section, where I saw cuts of fish that I haven’t seen before. We went through this area quickly as the smell of fish guts was strong. Again, I noticed the most smiles on the ladies when they greeted friends or their regular shoppers. The vegetable area was an explosion of colors. Every vegetable was grouped in bins or plastic bowls awaiting your purchase. The herbs were hard to tell apart even as they were all in different bowls. That is because they were all green. What I learned, though, is that you can tell them apart by their smell. If you rub them together with your fingers, their flavor comes out so clearly. As you walk through the market, you have to be strong and set a purpose on where you are going, not to get swayed by every person yelling out to you to see what they have and buy from them.
Another area we toured was the butchery. This is completely different than what you would expect coming from America. Everything is out in the open; you are free to walk down the aisle between ladies chopping meat with hatchets and huge knives over and over. The piles of meat are enormous, and it is all sold by the end of the day.
What is unique compared to America is that in Vietnam, people shop daily for their food. They buy what they need to use for the day and no more as they don’t have ways to save food long term. So, the markets are busy every day, and even though it looks like a lot of food would go to waste, it doesn’t. What doesn’t sell goes home with the workers for their families.
Another part of the tour through the Hoi An market was the tour guide showing us a fabulous multi-useful tool that much Vietnamese use daily. This tool looks like a small hatchet and has a hole sliced in the middle of it. It is used to cut vegetables, pineapple, and loads of other food. It was so welcomed to get a demonstration on how to use the knife correctly. I brought a bunch home with me to give out Christmas gifts last year to my family, and no one knew how to use it. One even thought it was to be used in the garden. We are an unimaginable lot, apparently.Hoi An Fried Wonton
The first dish we were to make in the cooking class was fried wonton. Somehow I think my wontons came out a bit too brown. But I ate them anyway, and they were delicious. Miss Lulu was very patient with all of our questions and our class’s shenanigans. I tried my best at converting the measurements, so hopefully, they work if you want to follow along.
Hoi An Fried Wonton Recipe
- 8 Wontons
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp. white spring onions, pounded
- 1 tbsp. shallots, pounded
- 1/2 cup crab meat
- 1/2 cup onions, diced
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. fish sauce
- 1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1/4 tsp. mild rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup tomatoes, pulp, and seeds removed
- 1/4 cup green spring onions, sliced
- 2 cups vegetable oil for frying
- Heat oil in a small frying pan
- Add shallots and white spring onions, sauté one minute.
- Add crab, white onions, salt, fish sauce, pepper, and vinegar, stirring for one minute.
- Add tomatoes and green spring onions, stir one minute then turn off the heat.
- Heat oil in a shallow frying pan on medium heat and fry wontons for one minute.
- Remove and drain well standing up in a flat bowl on absorbent paper.
- Place two wontons on each plate and top with a spoon of crab mixture.
- Serves four as a starter.
This dish made me a little nervous as it had mushrooms in it, which I am not a fan of. The good thing is that they were large slices, and I could easily find them and remove them before I dug in. I am not a big foodie person, but since I’ve been traveling, I have been open to trying more things and finding out that I enjoy many more food types than I ever thought especially Asian cuisine. And this grilled fish in a banana leaf is amazing!
Fish Grilled in Banana Leaf Recipe
- 150 gr (0.33 lb) firm white fish, i.e. Spanish mackerel, 2cm (0.8in) cubes
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. fish sauce
- 1 tbsp. fresh turmeric
- 1 tbsp. spring onions, sliced
- 1 tbsp. wood ear mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tbsp. glass noodles, soaked in cold water, 3 cm (1.2in) lengths
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 hot red chili, seeded and sliced, optional
- 6 pieces banana leaf 30 cm x 30 cm for wrapping (11.8 in x 11.8 in)
- In a bowl place fish, salt, sugar, and fish sauce and mix well to combine.
- Add pounded turmeric, spring onions, mushroom, noodles, oil, and chili, stir well to combine.
- Place one banana leaf on a flat surface in a diamond shape; place the next one on top as a square.
- Put the fish mixture in the middle.
- Fold pointed end closest to you over the middle, fold in both sides and then turn over so you have a square.
- Fold the remaining four banana leaves in half and wrap around the square fish parcel until all sides are covered.
- Put in a BBQ wire basket and chargrill 10 minutes on each side until the banana leaf is black.
- To serve take off four folded banana leaves, then place a small plate on top of the square parcel. Turn over and unwrap, tucking edges under. Put the small plate on a larger plate to hold edges under.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- Serves 1-2 people per parcel.
The Pomelo Salad was, by far, my favorite dish to make and eat. The chili sauce, mint, and pomelo (which reminds me of a grapefruit) were a fabulous combination. I loved making this dish as you use chopsticks to mix all the ingredients, so fun. Plus, there is a trick to peeling the pomelo, and out of the entire class, I was the only one to get it right. See the photo below of a correctly peeled pomelo.
Pomelo Salad with Prawns Recipe
- 200 gr (0.44 lb) pomelo segments
- 1 cup onion, sliced finely
- 1.5 cups mixed Vietnamese mint and regular mint
- 100 gr (3.5 oz) prawns, poached and sliced
- 4 tbsp. coconut milk
- 2 tbsp. lime juice
- 1/2 tsp. Hoi An chili sauce
- 1/4 tsp. sea salt
- pinch of coarse black pepper
- 2 tbsp. fried shallots
- 4 rice crackers
- In a bowl put pomelo, poached prawns, onion, 1 cup of mint, line juice, coconut milk, salt, pepper, and chili sauce, and mix well.
- Add to pomelo mix and toss.
- Serve on four small plates and garnish with remaining mint and fried shallots.
- Serve with rice crackers.
- Season to taste.
- Serves four as a starter.
And for dessert, a yummy combination of fruit and cream. You can’t go wrong with that! This was my first try at flambéing anything. I think I did a good job, and it tasted delicious!
Banana Flambé with Coconut Cream Recipe
- 250 gr (0.55 lb) freshly grated or desiccated coconut
- 250 ml boiling water
- 75 gr (0.165 lb) sugar
- 300 ml coconut milk
- 2 tbsp. corn flour, dissolved in four tbsp. of cold water
- 4 tsp. sesame seeds, roasted
- 4 tsp. butter
- 4 tsp. sugar
- 4 bananas
- 4 tbsp. rum
- Place coconut and boiling water in a bowl.
- Rest for five minutes.
- Place mixture in muslin cloth and squeeze well over a saucepan removing all the coconut milk.
- Add sugar and bring to a boil, thicken with corn flour then turn down heat and simmer until you have a thick coconut cream. Set aside.
- Heat a fry pan, add butter and bananas, cook until bananas are slightly soft and a golden brown color.
- Flambé with the rum, then place in a bowl and pour over some coconut cream and top with a teaspoon of sesame seeds.
- Serves four.
Getting a first-hand look at how the Vietnamese make their food makes me appreciate eating the food so much more. So much heart and soul goes into the preparation of their dishes. I’m so grateful that I was allowed to experience the Taste of Vietnam. As they say,” Taste Vietnam bringing the passion for Vietnamese cuisine to the World.” I think they are doing it, and I’m glad to share with you how fabulous Vietnam and its cuisine are. Happy Eating, everyone!
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