They are EVERYwhere in Vietnam, from the largest city to the smallest village and even aboard tourist boats in Ha Long Bay.
No, not T-shirt sellers.
We’re talking cooking classes. This is THE thing to do in Vietnam and I sampled several. There was the well polished class in Hoi An … 15 people at tables, the instructor under a angled mirror up front. There was the spring roll class aboard the Emeraude cruise ship in Ha Long Bay. There was a chance to learn fried spring rolls while squatting in a real village kitchen over a coal fire at Cat Ba island.
But best, honestly, was Mrs. Pham Thi Tuyet in Hanoi.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You like cooking and want to learn the secrets of creating good Asian food.
- You want to learn more about a country’s culture.
- Best for people who are curious about new things, especially methods of cooking.
City classes are taught in city restaurants and Mrs. Tuyet’s is no exception. Mrs. Tuyet taught us herself. Not much English but lots of guiding of hands and patting of knuckles. She has been teaching these classes for 30 years and now, has her own cooking show on TV.
Thirty years? Private enterprise? Wasn’t that, um, a problem in the early 1980s?
Yes, of course. Those first classes were done in secret in her home. But today, frankly, for a communist country, Vietnam has thoroughly embraced capitalism and there’s hardly a molecule in the nation not for sale.
First, though, at our class, the traditional trip to the market. We followed along as Mrs. Tuyet bought dill, basil, Chinese coriander, baby banana flowers, pork, fish and more.
Then we walked up a dark, narrow staircase into her restaurant and were escorted to a small balcony overlooking the life of the Old Quarter.
Into a bowl went sliced green papaya, carrots, the tiny banana flowers, sugar, rice vinegar, chilies, garlic, basil, coriander and other things we could hardly identify. This was set aside to marinate a bit.
Dish By Dish, We worked Our Way Through The Meal
Next, we sliced catfish thin, added dill, saffron, ginger, mushrooms with soy sauce and oil. That dish disappeared to be steamed and we went to work on the spring rolls.
The secret? You wet down the center of the rice paper with raw egg, then add a teaspoon of the pork/vegetable mix and make a thorough mess trying to fold it. That, too, went off to be cooked clumsily by us for 10 minutes in a wok of boiling oil.
By now, it was time to eat the first salad, which was crunchy with the sharp flavor of vinegar and spices. Then the spring rolls, then the catfish, which returned in a tiny bowl with delicate mushrooms and more veggies.
Mrs. Tuyet added a bit of crisp-skinned chicken with lemon/salt dip, which we had not cooked, and for dessert, we had a small banana, breaded with rice flour and fried tempura style, then served with syrup. It was so light, we thought it might levitate off the dish.
And we were so full, we skipped dinner that night.
- Cooking classes are not dirt cheap, depending on where they’re taught and who is teaching them. The class with Mrs. Tuyet was $38 per person. The class in Hoi An with 15 other people and taught by an assistant, was $25. The class aboard the Emeraude was free with the cruise.
- Vietnam is 1,000 miles long and stretches from true tropics to temperate, ranging from frost in the mountains of the north in winter to temps well over 100 in the south in summer. October through March can be damp and cold in the north. Above all, avoid the mid summer rainy season. Best bet is April, May and October./li>
- The currency is the Vietnam dong but dollars are accepted nearly everywhere. At last count, it was about 21,000 dong to the dollar.