On Thursday Laura and I went into Hoi An to join a group going out to Thuan Tinh Island’s Cooking School. There were six of us in our group and our Chef and Tour Leader Hon handed us all a shopping basket as we arrived. It was then a short walk to the market where Hon explained various foods to us and purchased the ingredients we would need for the cooking class. No matter how many times I have been in the market all the weird and wonderful produce still amazes me. The meat section is especially interesting given they don’t have refrigeration as such – that is why it is imperative they sell all their product as quickly as possible. All the stalls are attended by woman wielding large knives – some I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of!
We also visited the wet market where the fish is sold. The prawns, shrimp and crabs are all still alive so Hon was picking the shrimps out of a bucket of water and they were flapping around much to Laura’s horror. A couple escaped onto the ground so there was a bit of squealing!
All our purchases were then off loaded to be transported to the island by motorbike – a much quicker way to get there as we discovered on our trip back to Hoi An after the cooking class. We walked down to the river to board our boat for the 45 minute ride to Thuan Tinh Island. All the fishing is done at night so there were a number of fishing boats parked up. The big fishing nets were also out of the water.
We passed by Coconut Island where they grow these water coconut trees that produce the leaves they use to thatch the roof of a house or as a cover on a fishing boat. We had to switch to a row boat for the last five minutes of our journey and we had to row! Thuan Tinh Island is recognized by Hoi An as an official ecological zone.
We then made our way back to our classroom for the morning which is effectively a bamboo building with no sides overlooking the water. The last cooking class I did was inside so it was nice to have the airflow and it is definitely a cooler scenario once all the little cookers are fired up.
The first dish of the day was Goi Cuon – Fresh Rice Paper Salad Rolls with Pork and Shrimp with a Tangy Peanut Hoisin Dipping Sauce. Hon showed us how to make the dipping sauce first which is yummy. He then showed us how to make the rolls – I have been making these at home for a while but Hon’s methodology is certainly more clinical with much better results. It was then our turn and I must say I am sold on his methodology – just like a bought one!
Next up was the Banh Xeo – Crispy Vietnamese Crepes filled with pork and shrimp, bean sprouts and green onion. Served with lettuce leaves, fresh herbs and nuoc (dipping sauce). I have made these before and have eaten my fair share of these around town so they are definitely a favourite of mine. The trick is to have patience and let the pancake get crispy. Hon showed us how to flip the pancake which was fun – I did OK but Laura had a few issues and Hon had to do some remedial work on her pancake. Our theory though, was that they would still taste delicious and they did.
One of my favourite main dishes in the local restaurants is the Bun Bo Nam Bo – Herb salad with rice vermicelli and sauté beef, topped with roasted peanuts and hot soy sauce vinaigrette. I normally ask them to replace the beef with chicken as I find the beef a little bland (far too spoilt at home with eye fillet steak). Hon showed us how to make the soy sauce vinaigrette which tasted OK – I am more a fan of using a fish sauce based dipping sauce on my noodle salads – a bit more tang. This dish gave us the chance to showcase our creative skills as it was all about the presentation. Check it out : )
The last dish of the day was the Pho Bo Hanoi – Beef rice noodle soup infused with beef bones, cinnamon, ginger and star anise. Pho or soup is a staple dish of the Vietnamese people. Prior to doing the spring rolls we had prepared the beef stock which needed to boil for about an hour and a half. Hon showed us how to ‘cook’ the noodles by putting them in a strainer and holding them in a pot of boiling water for about ten seconds. We also cooked some thinly sliced beef in the same way. We then assembled our Pho and ate it – we were pretty full by this stage so didn’t do the dish justice. I have had this dish once before and although I am a cinnamon fan it isn’t a favourite of mine.
We had been plied with homemade passionfruit juice throughout the morning which was very tasty and refreshing – a bit more of a sugar hit than I’m used to but hey we were working hard cooking up a storm.
Hon escorted us back into Hoi An in a taxi which only took about ten minutes – it had taken us about 45 minutes by boat to get to the island but this gives the Chef’s assistants time to prepare all the ingredients that we had purchased at the markets. This preparation includes chopping off the heads of the shrimp and prawns so they are no longer high tailing it around the place! Laura was so releived : )