I love Vietnamese food. I was actually introduced to the fresh spicy flavours at a restaurant in Edmonton, Canada in the late 80′s, strangely called ‘Le Charles Mansion’. It is still the gold standard, as far as I’m concerned, and helped promote my love of the cuisine. I have continued to eat Vietnamese whenever I can, luckily there was a great place across the street from where I worked in Toronto, ‘Ginger‘, that I ate at practically every night for a couple of years. So when I began dreaming up my tour of Vietnam, one of the highlights was going to be the chance to sample more of the unique foods. And when I stumbled on to the Vietnam Cookery Center online, I decided to sign up for the half day course, an introduction to cooking Vietnamese, and am I ever glad I did.
The center is about a half hour drive across Saigon and then down an alleyway, so it’s best to take a taxi (and in fact they make sure you have a map, written in Vietnamese to hand to your driver. It is all very open with lots of dark wood and decorated with cooking utensils (what else), clay and ceramic pots, also used for cooking, and about 20 work stations set up. I was lucky and was in a class of four, a family from Indonesia – mom, dad and their daughter who had recently moved to Saigon with her husband.
First course – the Spring Rolls. We chopped and shredded the ingredients for it, and then watched Chef Dai show us how it should be done – it was all pretty easy, and they turned out grrreat! We mixed up the sweet fish sauce with garlic and chilies and then went over to the dining table to sample our work. We ate them southern Vietnamese style, wrapping them in lettuce leaves and mint and then dipping them in the sauce. They were delicious, light and crispy and not the least bit greasy. If I could do it, why do some restaurants make them a soggy, greasy mess?
Chef Dai then prepared the rice in coconut juice (not coconut milk) and put it in the steamer to cook, before we moved on to the next dish, Caramel Pork (or fish) in Clay Pot. Again we followed Chef’s lead and it turned out very good, very rich and fairly salty from the fish sauce. We ate that over the coconut rice.
If you decide to take the course, just $35usd for the half day session, one piece of advice – Do NOT eat before the class. We had a four course feast before noon.
The biggest thing the course did for me, is to realize I don’t need to be intimidated from trying to cook Vietnamese, or any other cuisine at home. It’s a lot cheaper than eating out all the time, plus now I’ll be in charge of quality control.
Bon Appetit or as they say in Vietnam Ăn Ngon Miệng