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Monday
Mar272017

Vy's Market Tour and Cooking Class, Hoi An

I was that girl at the cooking class in Hoi An. No, not the know it all who answers all the questions and shows everyone how it’s done. I do my best to keep that under wraps, though fair play for jumping to that conclusion.

I mean the one with two cameras (iPhone and DSLR) and several lenses taking photos of anything and everything – the market stalls, the vendors, the teacher, the demos, the ingredients, each stage of preparation and the finished dishes. The girl sitting next to me looked like someone who might have bothered to talk to me in another environment, but I could see what she was thinking: ‘you crazy tourist, why don’t you just put your cameras down and enjoy the class?’

I don’t blame her. I think the same when I see people viewing a temple, a museum, a castle... mostly through the lens of their camera, but with food I feel I have an excuse and I couldn’t be bothered to share it with her.  That would leave less time for photos... 

Vy’s market tour and cooking class wasn’t my first choice, but I left it till the day before to book and the other two I’d seen were already full. I’m glad it worked out this way, mainly because it gave me the opportunity to try out some of the strangest things I’ve ever put in my mouth at the Weird and Wonderful section at Vy’s Market Kitchen and Restaurant, which you can read about here.

I enjoyed the market tour, where they split our group of around 20 people in two and took us round each food section of the market – seafood, fruit and veg and meat - teaching us a bit about the ingredients, how they are used and how to select the best quality ones. They also showed us some interesting utensils and did a few demos with how to use them.

Back in the kitchen they had a great menu lined up – cabbage stuffed with prawn mousse served in broth, banh xeo (crispy stuffed pancake), BBQ marinated chicken skewers and green mango salad. It was a lot to cook in two hours and we didn’t get as involved as I’d have liked. Most of the more longwinded or complex parts of the process had already been done or were shown as a demo at the front. 

I do understand that they have a lot to fit in and Asian cooking often takes hours of preparation, but I think more could have been incorporated into the class. Perhaps they would be better off focusing on fewer menu items in order to get people more involved. Still, I loved eating it all, even if I didn’t get to cook as much of it as I’d have liked.

My favourite dish was the starter – cabbage leaf stuffed with shrimp mousse poached in broth. The dish had a Cantonese feel to it, which makes sense given Hoi An has a long history of Chinese settlement. The shrimp mousse reminded me of the filling for har gau (prawn dumplings) or the topping for crispy prawn toast. Mushrooms, carrots and spring onions added some different textures, but what tied it all together was the broth; a veggie stock enhanced with Asian aromatics and condiments, such as fish sauce, sesame oil and white pepper. It was comforting and restorative with an amazing depth of flavour.

I loved (half) learning how to cook one of my favourite Vietnamese dishes – banh xeo (crispy stuffed pancake). The pancake mix, which is probably the hardest/most laborious part of the process was all ready to go, so all we did was cook it and add the toppings. Still there’s a bit of a technique to frying it, which I am pleased to have learned and it was amazing to eat it straight out of the pan - as crispy as it will ever be.

I’ve made green mango salad before, so that was less interesting to me, though it was fun learning how to use the traditional Vietnamese utensil that is used for this, which is basically like a hand held mandolin. A bit scary, but very efficient.

The salad was crunchy and refreshing with that typical Vietnamese trio of sweet, sour and salty. It was a great side dish for the more hefty flavour of the BBQ chicken skewer – spicy and chargrilled.

Overall it was a great day out. The reviews I had read which put it at number 3 on my list were true – it was a bit too organised, quite a big group and not as much cooking as I'd hoped for – but they did manage to pack a lot in. I learned a lot about Vietnamese ingredients at the market, I ate like a queen, I learned to fry a banh xeo and I got to try a lot of weird and wonderful foods at the market restaurant. As a parting gift we got one of those crazy Vietnamese utensils and a recipe pack, so next time I am feeling ambitious, I have all I need in my back pocket to create a Vietnamese feast. Cause let's face it, it would take a day at least.

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