“Tell, me again, what are we doing here? What kind of cooking lesson starts at eight in the morning?”
On a damp, chilly February morning along with 20 wannabe chefs from a variety of countries, John and I sat in the interior patio of the Hai Café in Hoi An, Vietnam, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cooking class start time may have been early, we knew it would be worth it. Ho An is in an area where the cuisine is renowned due to the legacy of Emperor Tu Duc, a finicky-eater who demanded 50 different dishes prepared by 50 cooks for every meal.
We set out with our guide, Het, for a tour of the morning “wet” market. We were unfamiliar with some of the fruits and vegetables. Het said “Ginger and turmeric may look alike, but the turmeric is orange on the inside. This dragon fruit, this is sour melon…”
Holding some nuts, she pointed to an older lady vending baskets, “See that lady with red-stained teeth? That’s because she chews betel nut. It gives her energy and she doesn’t feel hungry.”
When we got to the area where the fresh fish was displayed, it became quite obvious why it is called a “wet market.” Water is continually sprayed over the fish to keep it fresh looking.
Hey also works as a professional infomercial reporter. She showed us how to use some unique and inexpensive Vietnamese cooking utensils. Of course, I just had to buy them. Now that I am home I can’t figure out how to use them!
We left the market and climbed aboard a long, narrow boat for the 25-minute scenic boat ride on the Hoi An River. As we soaked in the sights along the river, the purr of the engine and an occasional slap of a fishermen’s net hitting the water were the only sounds we heard until we reached the Red Bridge Cooking School.
In the classroom, clipboards with the recipes were on chairs lined up in front of an exhibition table. Around the edge of the building, the staff had placed all the necessary ingredients by our individual gas burners.
Our teacher, Chef Thanh, had such a quick wit and snappy patter I wondered if he was practicing for a spot on the Cooking Channel. Pointing to the large mirror above the demonstration table he quipped, “Vietnamese TV. You can see everything. If you pay good attention you will make a good lunch. If not, you have to do it again, but at home!”
We watched Chef Thanh prepare a dish, then he’d order, “Ok, Now you try! Go to your cooking stations.”
After we made Vietnamese Eggplant in Clay Pot he commanded, “Back to your seats. Watching a clay pot is very boring.”
Try as I might I could not slice the cucumber thin enough to curl into a Vietnamese Fan decoration. When one would break because it was too thick, Thanh would say, “Eat your mistakes!” I ate quite a few!
We watched, we cooked, we sampled, and then, to my delight, we went to the dining area and enjoyed our Vietnamese Eggplant in Clay Pot.
We left our cooking adventure quite full. Our Vietnamese cooking class had been an extremely full “half” day and we arrived back to Hoi An by boat at 2:30 p.m.
The half-day class is $19 and includes the market tour, river transportation, and lunch. To learn more about the Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School check www.visithoian.com.
Recipe for Vietnamese Eggplant in Clay Pot.
– by Sandra Scott, RFT Contributor