Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hoi An, A Day at the Cooking School

Where best to take cooking classes than in the culinary capital of Vietnam?  There are lots of cooking schools here in Hoi An.  It seems almost every restaurant offers some kind of class for very cheap.  After perusing through a few offerings, we settled on the cooking class provided by a reputable restaurant in town called Dao Tien River with Chef de Cuisine, Viet. For $25/pp we got a tour through the Central Market to buy some ingredients, then a boat tour of Hoai River and watched the fishermen cast their nets and catch fish (!), then we returned to the restaurant to start cooking.

We had a full day.  You can see our blog entry on the market tour at the start of the day.  We didn't think we were lucky enough to have the chef to ourselves for 6 hours for $25/pp, but we also didn't expect 17 other French tourists who happened to be an hour late for the meeting time either!  Wandering through the market and delivering cooking instructions to 19 people is quite challenging.  As a former educator, I can relate, so we think Chef Viet did an amazing job of keeping us on track, especially since the menu was quite ambitious for a mixed crowd.

The entire upstairs of Dao Tien was set up as a cooking school with 19 stations.  2-3 people shared propane burners. We loved this cooking school because although it took a long time to get through the instructions of 4 dishes with such a large crowd, it was all hands-on.

The one thing Akiko really wanted to learn was how to make fresh spring roll wrappers, rice paper.  We finally got our chance!  We hope to find the flexible bamboo turning stick because we can't think of a good alternative available to us in the States.

The following was a mixture of sautéed pork, wood ear mushrooms, herbs, and seasonings.

Our creations weren't the prettiest but tasted good with the ubiquitous sweet-sour fish sauce!

This was the most interesting dish we made, especially the marinade.  Ginger root, galangal, chive garlic (bulb of the garlic chive plant), lemongrass, and turmeric were pulsed together into a mixture.  Traditionally, this would be done in a mortar and pestle for the best consistency, but a food processor works just as well.  The mixture was put into a hot sauté pan and other ingredients were added.  This mixture, along with fresh herbs coated a piece of mackerel which we wrapped in banana leaf.  Then, the entire packet was grilled over a charcoal fire.  Yum.

We love the bluntness that comes from communication barriers.  We don't always learn the politest or most PC way to say something when we're learning a language, and such was the case when one of the helpers said to Mike trying to wrap the fish in banana leaf, "You're not very good at this are you?". Lol.  Akiko intervened and the packet of fish looked presentable.  We had to mark our packets from carved out carrots!  We were A and B, so that someone else didn't accidentally eat our creation.

Cooking in a clay pot is a very Asian thing, and there was nothing spectacular about this dish, but turned out quite lovely as a vegetable dish to accompany our lunch.  The key is to soak the peeled, cut-up eggplant in salt water before cooking to draw out the bitterness and keep them from turning brown.

Dao Tien is famous for their "money bags" -  fried spring roll dish in the shape of money bags!  Very clever.  The filling consisted of many ingredients, including ground pork, veggies, peanuts and fried onions for texture.  We carried our less-than-perfect creations to the spectacle of the lunch crowd seated outside who were eating the professionally prepared money bags!  Ours probably tasted better anyway since we made them ourselves.  They were perfect dipped in plum chili sauce.

A key in replicating any of these dishes at home is to stock the pantry with the appropriate ingredients.  The staples include: Vietnamese fish sauce (waaaaay different than the basic Thai fish sauce we're used to buying in the States), oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, chicken buillon, rice flour, and shrimp paste.  Necessary aromatics include chilies, galangal, shallots, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic.  It'll be an adventure trying to find all these in Kansas City.

We officially completed the class and were awarded these certificates.