Learning to Cook in……Hoi An, Vietnam

What can I say about Hoi An – its a quaint little city on the South Coast of Vietnam – the Old Town which is close to where we stayed and, where we spent most of our time is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – with influences from Portugal, France, Japan and China, the old town is a beautiful mixture of east and west in its architecture and colour.

We spent our time in Hoi An at the night markets (i run a tough bargain when negotiating for souvenirs!), cycling, fishing and generally pottering about.

Raqs and I attended a cooking class at the Lantern Town restaurant with a famous Vietnamese chef called Dong – he took us around the market teaching us about fresh vietnamese produce and food preparation – the market was far larger and more chaotic than the ones we have in the UK and the range of food was insane! So much, fish, seafood, fruit, poultry and endless vegetable stalls – all with so much colour and variety and, dare I say it…..some a bit gory!

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Back to the cooking class….we made 3 main dishes along with a dipping sauce and il briefly go through the recipes and also a few tips Dong told us which I have used since and are very useful!

The first dish we cooked was Hanoi Rice Noodle Soup with Beef. As a Londoner Im very familiar with a Vietnamese restaurant called Pho and this essentially means rice noodle soup and is very popular and can be made with fish, tofu, seafood, chicken and pork. In Vietnam we mainly saw it with beef and the version we cooked in class was the best iv tasted.

Ingredients (6 people)

600g fresh Flat Rice Noodles
300g Beef Rump
2 pieces Cinnamon
6 pieces Star Anise
2 Black Cardamom pods
10 shallots
3 cloves garlic – minced/grated
1 Chicken carcass
2 Carrots
2 Onions
200ml Fish Sauce
100g Coriander – chopped
100g Spring Onion – chopped
a Handful of Sweet Basil – chopped
Chinese Coriander – chopped

First to make the broth – cook the chicken bones and then add to the stockpot with carrots, onions and water – simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the spices by wrapping the cardamom , star anise, cinnamon and shallots in foil and popping on top of the burner (gas hob) at a low heat until the spicey/christamassy aroma comes can be smelt (probably about 3 minutes – turning every minute or so).

After 45 minutes of simmering the stock, add the spices and 100ml of fish sauce and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Sear the garlic and spring onions with a sprinkle of soy bean oil and add the sliced rump steak to saute at a high heat.

Place the noodles in a bowl and top with the beef, garlic and spring onion – pour the broth over and sprinkle with the fresh herbs and some chilli and a slice of lime.

We learnt in the class that an important aspect of Asian food is to understand the balance between sweet, salt, sour and spice – this dish is the perfect way to test this as we get spice from the chilli, sour from the lime, sweet from the shallots and spices and salt from the fish sauce.

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A far prettier dish and my favourite of the day was the Bun Bo Nam Bo which is a South Western Vietnamese Tossed Beef Noodle Salad. It was refreshing, light and I added extra chilli which gave it a wonderful kick! Dong taught us a handy hint to prepare and chop chillies which avoids the awful tingly fingers watery eyes. The trick is to shake the chilli, rolling it between your hands and tapping it against the table top – to loosen the seeds (when you shake the chilli you can hear the seeds rattling about). Then slice the top off the chilli and shake the seeds out – they should all freely fall out of the chilli avoiding the need for us to touch them!

Back to the recipe….

Ingredients (4 people)

600g fresh Thin Rice Noodles
300g Beef Rump – thinly sliced
6 Fresh Red Chillies
400g mixed leaves and herbs (lettuce, basil and mint work well)
2 Small handfuls of Roasted Peanuts
4 Shallots – slice into rings and fry in vegetable oil to crisp up
200g Bean Sprouts
200g Pandan Leaf
1 tsp Mince/Grate garlic, chilli, pepper and salt

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce – stir all the ingredients together
100ml Fish Sauce
100ml Rice Vinegar
100g Brown Sugar
170ml Water

Wrap the pandan leaf around the noodle and put in a bowl. Warm in the microwave for 2 minutes until warm. Put the fresh herbs and leaves on top of the noodles.
Stir fry the minced garlic in oil and add the beef – cook quickly and add the salt, pepper and bean sprouts.
Place the beef on top of the noodles and leaves and pour over the Vietnamese dipping sauce. Top with the crispy shallots and the roasted peanuts.
Dong suggested adding garlic, chilli, ginger, passionfruit to the Vietnamese sauce for extra variety – obviously I added chilli!

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Finally we cooked an authentic Vietnamese dish simply called Fish in a Clay Pot – the name makes this dish sound pretty mundane but the sweet and sour, sticky sauce has such an amazing depth of flavour I ended up eating this dish three times – twice with mackerel and once (as used in class) with basa fish – the dish works well with any oily fish.

Ingredients (4 people)
150g fish fillet – cut into 4/5 pieces (each 2 inches long)
3tbsp brown sugar
20g dried green tea
1 inch piece of ginger
1 inch piece of galangal
5g black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
2 red chillies
250ml Water
3tbsp Fish Sauce
4 Cloves Garlic

Caramelise the sugar in a sauce pan and add the water and the fish sauce, simmering and stirring (with chopsticks!) until the sugar has dissolved and you are left with a dark brown caramel. (A tip here is to slowly stir the sugar in a dry pan until it begins to caramelise, then, turn the heat up and add water and leave for 5 minutes, then stir to get any bits of caramel off the bottom until it all has dissolved)
We placed the spices in the bottom of the clay pot (I think you will be fine to use an ovenproof dish or maybe a tagine) and topped with the fish. Pour over the caramel ensuring the fish is completely covered – bring to a boil on the hob and then simmer for 45 minutes until the sauce is reduced by half. The fish should be melt-in-the-mouth and the sauce should be sticky and sweet with s chilli kick to it. Eat with rice and a fresh salad and a squeeze of lime.

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So – there you go – a vietnamese cooking class in my blog! I hope you enjoyed – Raqs and I had a wonderful time learning, cooking and eating authenticfood. Since the class I have cooked the salad for me and Elix – I added pickled vegetables (cucumber and carrots pickled in a vinegar/sugar/water mixture) for some extra crunch which worked well – we ate al fresco in the garden and it was the perfect light Summer’s dinner!

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