Happy Friday! I’m actually writing this blog straight from our cooking class in Hoi An despite the fact it won’t be published for several weeks. Why you ask? Well, because this was up there with the very best foodie experiences we’ve had while travelling and I wanted to get it all down for you while it’s fresh in my mind.
We decided to take our cooking class for Vietnam in Hoi An due to some great recommendations on Twitter and we’re very glad we did so thank you for those. The city itself is a beautiful olde worlde heritage site full of markets and fantastic restaurants but without the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh so it was the perfect place. There are innumerable cooking classes on offer here in Hoi An as it’s such a popular stop off with many travellers lingering longer than they initially plan, as well as the fact that central Vietnamese cuisine is some of the best you’ll find and this is where it’s made to the highest standards.
The class we took in the end after lots of research was the Holiday Masterclass at Vy’s Street Food Restaurant and Cooking Class and boy am I glad we found these guys. For 32USD our cooking class in Hoi An included a boat trip to and from the market, a guided tour of the market itself, live demos and tastings from the street food stalls in the complex and finally the cooking class itself in which we made 3 delicious dishes.
Running from 8.30am to 1.30pm it was great value for money in an extremely professional set up. It was slick and well organised with great facilities for the 20 odd people in our group, with the experience as a whole about as far away as possible from our small scale authentic home cooking experience in Laos but no less enjoyable for that. One of the many reasons we chose this was that we saw their other cooking classes included those designed for professional cooks so we assumed they’d be producing food to a high standard generally which we were interested to experience after lots of street food on our travels thus far.
I understand that Vy is a bit of a legend in Hoi An when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine with numerous restaurants and cooking classes available, and whilst we often choose to support smaller businesses, in this case we thought we’d take a slightly different approach and see if it affected our enjoyment of the lesson. It’s probably clear already that it didn’t and it was interesting to see how different it was from more rough and ready cooking classes we’d experienced in Myanmar and Laos.
The market tour was very similar to other classes we’d been on that offered the same, with the only real exception that we arrived by boat which was a nice touch. We saw the fish market, meat market, plenty of stalls offering spices and traditional local ingredients as well as vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables piled high. Interestingly we’d awoken that morning to find the whole town without power – but the show must go on as they say and it was a bit of an experience to watch the butchers at work by candlelight in the covered market.
Returning from the market we were sat down with a refreshing glass of lemon and kumquat juice before our tour of the street food stands began. Vy’s is a three storey complex with a street food market on the ground floor which is packed out daily for lunch and dinner, and the cooking classrooms on the upper two floors. It was by far the cleanest and most modern cooking school set up that we’d seen in South East Asia.
The street food stands cover a huge range of Vietnamese specialties, from fried treats to dumplings, barbecued meats to weird and wonderful dishes. We tried fried dumplings with chilli shrimp, Bahn mi pork sandwiches and even silk worms and duck egg embryos. Ok, we weren’t brave enough to try the duck by we watched as one courageous member of the group gave it a go… apparently it was quite nice but I’m not entirely convinced.
With our appetites whetted we made our way to the classroom to meet our friendly teacher, Bo. I think that might mean ‘beef’ in Vietnamese (Pho Bo?) so top points for topical names there. His English was fantastic and he taught the class from a cooking station at the front, complete with well positioned mirror so we could all see the full details of every dish he prepared.
Like our Cambodian and Laotian cooking classes we didn’t get a choice of what to cook, but the menu for the day was delicious. Starting with a vegetable broth containing shrimp and cabbage parcels and moving on to include traditional Hoi An pancakes and barbecue chicken with mango salad. We also got a bonus dessert in the form of their signature lemongrass ice cream although we didn’t get to make this one ourselves. The food in central Vietnam is known for its wide variety of flavours and extensive ingredients lists so I was intrigued to see a menu that seemed so ambitious.
Luckily all of the chopping and other preparation was done for us and it was simply a case of combining and cooking the right ingredients after watching Bo’s demo. The dishes were still by no means simple even with the prep work done so I don’t know how I’ll manage when it comes to giving these recipes a shot back home! Whilst it definitely feels less authentic when you’re faced with ready to use ingredients what this did provide was a brilliant opportunity to cook more advanced dishes and to really pay attention to the cooking techniques, assembly and flavours.
Rather than cooking simple but hearty local dishes as in many other classes (Thai Curry / Chicken Laap for ex) it was great to have the chance to cook something far more complex. We ate each dish straight after cooking as well so it was piping hot and as fresh as it could be which was another added advantage.
All in all our experience here was great. The food was delicious even with our limited skills, especially the mango salad and pancakes, and you can’t visit the market without trying the ice cream, it’s up there with the best we’ve tasted without a doubt. This was a huge highlight of our 3 weeks in Vietnam and we’d fully recommend to everyone visiting Hoi An.