Street market in Hoi An

Chefs for a Day: Vietnamese Cooking Class Part I

Nov 17, 2014 - Julie

We always knew we wanted to take a Vietnamese cooking class, but we waited until Hoi An to learn from the famous Morning Glory Cooking School. A pioneer in Vietnamese cooking classes, the half-day included breakfast, tour of the local market, cooking demonstrations with tastings, and of course, the cooking lessons. It was a glorious food-filled day!

All You Can Eat Breakfast

The day began early at 7:30am at The Market Restaurant, but it was so worth it when we realized how much great food was available for breakfast. They weren’t kidding about “all you can eat.”

Stations around The Market Restaurant
Stations around The Market Restaurant

Stations around the restaurant offered a variety of classic Vietnamese dishes, from pho and banh mi, to steamed savoury rice flour crepes and tapioca flour dumplings. There were simply too many to name.

Small eats at the restaurant
Small eats at the restaurant

The drinks provided for breakfast were amazing. We had a choice between lemon ice tea, lime and kumquat, and passionfruit juice. All of them tasted so fresh and so good.

One of the best juices I've ever had
One of the best juices I’ve ever had

Breakfast finished off with fresh fruit and optional dessert: banana pancake with sweet potato. I wanted to keep eating and trying all the stations because every single bite was mouth-wateringly delicious, but we were so full with food and drinks. If only we knew how much more eating there was to come…

Banana pancake with sweet potato
Banana pancake with sweet potato

Market Tour

After breakfast, we donned our conical hats and followed our guide to catch a boat to the local market: Cho Hoi An. We had walked by several times ourselves, but we saw it in a completely different light as we learned about the use of fresh ingredients in Vietnamese cooking.

Street market in Hoi An
Street market in Hoi An

First came the spices – mint, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, basil, cilantro, garlic… The weirdest looking one was undoubtedly the banana flower. Our guide also showed us the difference between local produce (smaller but stronger) vs. bigger and milder produce from Saigon, which are each used for different purposes. Clearly I need to be using more spices in my own cooking.

Vegetable's market
Vegetable’s market

The meats were next. Being both a meat lover and used to Chinese cuisine where every part of an animal is used, it didn’t bother me to see everything laid out in front of the butchers. Two girls in our group were vegetarian so they skipped this part of the tour.

Meat cuts
Meat cuts

Fruits were popular with everyone, and the lady at the stall we visited was kind enough to let us sample her lychees. Kumquats, dragon fruits, and persimmons were also fruits on sale on every stand (I like all three!).

Fresh fruit
Fresh fruit

The market tour concluded with quick visits to a dried noodle stand (we saw cao lau noodles!) and the seafood section because it began to rain. All the goodies were there – crabs, shrimps, squids, tunas, even stingrays. It was a brief market tour, but we learned about so many ingredients and I could totally imagine locals popping by the market each morning for the freshest foods.

All kinds of fish
All kinds of fish

Cooking Demonstrations with Tastings

Back at The Market Restaurant, the tour changed gears after a drink break. We received an extensive tour of the many stations around the restaurant (a few of which served us breakfast) with detailed explanations of each cooking method and resulting dishes. It was great to see how iconic Hoi An dishes like white rose are made. Of course, every station came with tastings. Everyone in my group looked at each other like “more food?!” I found room anyway – it was simply too good to say no.

Making white rose
Making white rose

Some stations were interactive. From making rice paper to gathering thin noodles, the chefs made it look effortless, until one of us tried. Carlos volunteered to hand cut noodles… let’s just say they’ll need to be recut. I’m sure he enjoyed it though, haha.

Carlos attempting to hand cut noodles
Carlos attempting to hand cut noodles

We took this opportunity to try out some delicacies. We figured if we were going to try it anywhere, there would be no better, cleaner place. I have no qualms about eating practically anything so it was really just more food for me. Carlos could only handle so much.

Weird food tasting - silk worm
Weird food tasting – silk worm

The silk worms were tasty, but so small you could barely notice you were eating them. Snails required a strong intake of breath to suck up the juices inside. Frog meat was a bit tough and chewy, but otherwise tasted like chicken.

Frog - it does taste like chicken
Frog – it does taste like chicken

The duck embryo was the breaking point for Carlos. I was expecting it to be like the ones on Survivor where there are bones and beaks still inside, but luckily, it was just the egg parts. Pig brains and bigger snails completed all the delicacies. I know most people think eating these things are disgusting, but to be honest, they’ve all been so well-cooked and flavoured that they taste like regular food.

Tasting duck egg embryo
Tasting duck egg embryo

By this point we were really, really full. But the cooking lessons were just about to begin. Continue to read about the rest of the day that we spent in the kitchen cooking in Chefs for a Day: Vietnamese Cooking Class Part II!

For more pictures from the Vietnamese cooking class, please visit the gallery!