Vietnamese Cooking 101

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.

We were introduced to Linh, manager, our interpreter, and co-instructor, along with Executive Chef Dai who would be demonstrating for us.

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.

Finally we cooked up a Sour Clam Soup with Dill.  I’m not a big fan of clams, but this was delicious. It’s kind of a hot and sour soup with star fruit, tomatoes, and spring onion.

Chef had also prepared the dessert for us, bananas in coconut milk with tapioca, a sweet and refreshing end to the meal. 

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.

We had a little ceremony after we finished eating, when Chef Dai presented us with certificates and a handbook, that contains all the recipes.

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

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5 Responses to “Vietnamese Cooking 101”

  1. Ron
    January 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Good blog! I’m enjoying following your trip so far. I think maybe Vietnamese food will be on the menu tonight! :-)

    • Darren
      January 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

      Thanks Ron, hope it was as good as mine ;)

  2. Lindsay
    January 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    So much fun!!!!!! Can’t wait to have dinner at your house….haha….likely be a long time from now, but I still can’t wait! xoxo

  3. Saskia
    August 27, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    Hi Darren, we met at Vietnam Cookery Center. Nice article, but actually I’m from Indonesia not Malaysia hehehe….The last time you said you we’re going to Jakarta and Bali. So did you go there?
    Good luck with your around the world trip :)

    • Darren
      September 2, 2011 at 3:05 am #

      Oops I will make that change. Thank you for connecting with me, it’s great to hear from you. I have not gone to Jakarta and Bali yet, and right now I’m not sure I will make it during this trip. If I do I will send you a note to say hi.

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