Vietnam 2013 trip diary: Rolling up our sleeves in the kitchen

Hoi An Cooking Class 2 Hoi An Cooking Class

By Tina Yoppolo
Sylvania, OH

We began our day with a walking tour of Old Town Hoi An. Well preserved temples, pagodas and ancient homes line the vibrant narrow streets. UNESCO has named this a World Cultural Heritage Site. Centuries old structures gave us the feeling of walking through 16th century Viet Nam. Our guide bravely took us through the Hoi An market to look, not shop! The bustling market was bursting with exotic fresh fruits, vegetables fish ,and meats. Open kitchens serving fresh local dishes, flowers, and spices all contributed to the visual and aromatic delights. Artisans sold their crafts, vendors offered silk scarves, kitchen utensils and so much more.

Next, a short boat trip on the Thu Bon river to the small village of Cam Nam. Along the narrow dirt roads were typical village houses built with local timber and material remnants left by the United States military. We also found a few modern houses made of cement walls and tile floors. Chickens in the yards, beautiful flowers, colorful birds, butterflies and unusual vegetables surrounded us. The people were so friendly!

Our next stop: Viet Nam Cooking Lesson! A short, air conditioned (we’re all grateful for a.c.) bus ride outside of Hoi An delivered us to Tra Que Herb Village. We walked about a quarter mile down a rustic little road with rice paddies on the left and quaint village homes on the right. When we arrived we were welcomed with a refreshing drink of fresh lemon basil seeds, pressed sugar, lemon grass and ginger. Under a wonderful bamboo canopy we had the most amazing view of the organic gardens. Our cooking instructor, Tu, helped set the stage, providing us with professional chef hats and aprons. At least we looked professional!

Our first lesson was learning how to roll spring rolls. For the filling use chicken, pork or shrimp, thinly cut veggies, chicken powder, garlic, black pepper Tu gave us shrimp and chicken to use together along with spring onions (scallions).

Take a rice paper wrapper and place it in front of you like a diamond. Spread out 1 tablespoon of filling not quite in the middle of the wrapper. Fold the corner closest to you up and towards the corner farthest away from you. Pinch to make sure the wrapper is tight around the filling. Fold in the two sides to where it meets the filling. Try to keep the sides straight. Pinch and roll tightly. Lightly dampened the last corner with a bit of rice flour and water (it looks like wallpaper paste) before rolling up all the way. Fry until the skins turn golden brown and crisp, about 6-8 minutes. These rolls stay hot for quite some time so be careful when you bite into one! Serve with fish sauce, spiced with lime and ginger. Delicious!

Our next lesson was Vietnamese pancakes (Bahn Xeo). This is where the professional hats and aprons failed some of us! This is basically a crepe like dish made with rice flour, bean spouts chicken and/or shrimp. It’s cooked in an omelet pan. The trick is in flipping the pancake. Marilynn was a natural. Francine, not so much. Tu told Fracine, “No hope for you.” Mary Caroline and Karen made excellent partners at the grill. Rannie and Julie taught Tu the hokey pokey while their pancakes were cooking. The pancakes were fantastic, the entertainment….priceless.

After our pancake lesson, lunch was served! “Bumpkin soup, rice, morning glory greens and chicken in a clay pot!