Cooking School in Asia – Been there and really have done that!
I just returned from my Asian adventure, where my favorite experience was the cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam. Let me recreate a day in the life there: it starts with a tour through the central market, filled with just-plucked, exotic vegetables and fruits. Women vendors sit cross-legged on tables filleting fresh catch as you walk by. The butcher is offering fresh chickens and pigs with a long line of clientele eager to purchase them. Locals walk to the market in the morning to buy their midday meal ingredients and then return later in the day to choose fresh ingredients for supper.
Mind you, there is little or no refrigeration so everything is sold out by early afternoon. You will find just about everything in the market—from sidewalk baskets of drying noodles to the tools needed to julienne veggies. Down the center aisles, the local chefs are offering street food: spring rolls in diaphanous wraps and Vietnamese pancakes (a cross between an omelet and a crepe).
Note to self: Now that I’m home, I should plant a window box full of these herbs for flashbacks when there is a kitchen breeze.
After the market, it is time to board a rickety boat with benches on both sides. As we cruise the river we see fishing boats, large fish traps circled with tall nets, water-front hotels, and after about twenty minutes, a red bridge. I have finally arrived at Red Bridge Restaurant and Cooking School where the first thing on the menu is a tour of the restaurant’s herb garden. I can still smell the lemongrass, basil, interesting variety of mint, and lots of what we Americans call “mesclun greens”.
Next up, cooking school! It’s time to roll up the ol’ sleeves. A friendly chef greets us in an open-air kitchen, motioning toward 18 cooking stations. The chef makes a Vietnamese pancake first, and then we go to our stations to try our hand at this Asian staple. Next, we julienne vegetables while Chef makes a salad with fresh shellfish. The chef makes rice paper for spring rolls and WE make rice paper and spring rolls. He prepares clay pot eggplant stew, and so do we at our respective stations. Two hours fly by, and then we are invited to sit down and gorge on all of the food we made; this includes steamed fish with local veggies and fresh fruit for dessert. Oh, and there is wine of course!
What a lunch…what a day!
We head back to the hotel in vans as I suspect that the boat might be a bit overloaded after that meal. Ha, ha! Message me if you want to make any of the foods from my magical day at Red Bridge. I know I will make these dishes over and over again in my American kitchen.