Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Vietnam - Saigon cookery school

I have tried to get a cookery class in on a few of my last holidays and every time this has ended up as one of the best bits of my holiday. Even if you arent crazy about food its a brilliant way of meeting people, getting to understand the ingredients and methods used in what you have been eating while away, staying in from the maddening humidity and in this case also getting to see ingredients that would be far too intimidating to buy and try out in a hotel room!

In Ho Chi Minh City we visited the Vietnam Cookery Center. As we were there during the rainy season the class we went to on a Saturday was fairly quiet and there was only four of us that met our teacher and translator early in the morning at the Ben Thanh market. The other half of the class were an American couple living in Manila, one half of which was the incredibly talented and lovely Abby Mott.

I really enjoyed the market trip because despite being in the same market a few times over the previous few days there were parts that I felt intimidated by visiting and although I really wanted to know what some of the fruit and veg were I knew that they wouldnt be able to explain them to me. Having a guide walk us around was great, even if the teacher wasnt buying that much within the market itself. 
Millions of dried shrimp

As we walked through the market we were shown as many mountains of dried shrimp as mountains of rice, dried fish and fruit. In visiting the meat section of the market we saw how every single piece of each animal was used (no pictures here as it was far too close to my breakfast) including the tails and ears.


The back part of the market was probably the most interesting as there were little stalls that sold the ingredients just for the one thing that you were making much like all of the restaurants we had seen that only serve one meal,  like everything you need for making Pho or the herbs used with Banh Xeo alone. There were stalls that sold nothing but a variety of eggs, including unlaid eggs which took me a while to figure out. 

Unlaid eggs
There was also a large fish section to the market which was divided into further sections for freshwater and saltwater fish. This seemed to be the only part of the market where there was a distinction between the different areas and the reasoning we were given was due to Bird flu strangely enough. 

Most of the work was being done by women in this part of the market, whether it was skinning frogs, shelling clams or knocking out and scaling fish. I couldnt help but feel that if we had such an impressive market in Dublin that I would have felt any less gob-smacked by how everyone went about their daily business. 

I would love someone to prepare mis en place for me at home!

Once we got to the school we sat and had tea before going to our perfectly prepared workspaces with these perfect arrangement of mis en place in little bowls. Almost all of these little bowls were used in each of the 3 recipes we made. If I remember correctly there were shallots, spring onions, soy, lime juice, tamarind paste, fish sauce, chicken stock granules, chopped chillies, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar. 

Our menu for the day consisted of
  • Spring rolls with mushroom, pork, crab meat and prawn and a fish dipping sauce
  • Sour Clam soup with dill
  • Caramelized pork served in a clay pot with rice steamed in coconut juice
The recipes all had such a delicate balance of flavours and textures and were enough to convince me that the simplicity of everything I tasted over the few weeks had a real complexity behind it that one day in cookery school was never going to teach. 

This is the last of my posts on my holiday in Vietnam but if you would like to see some more pictures you can review some more here  and you can enter my competition to win some coffee from Vietnam here


  1. I love your idea of incorporating a cooking class into your holidays, and this one sounds like it as a fantastic experience, I'm jealous!

  2. Interesting market I'm in for the crabs. What do they do with the unlaid eggs? Good for your to spend your holidays cooking!


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