When Marta and I were planning our Vietnam trip, the one thing that we both agreed strongly on (and that was suggested by many, many friends) was that we take a cookery class whilst we were there.
After undertaking some research and carefully examining our remaining money, we became worried that we just wouldn’t have enough money to do the cooking class AND the Cu Chi tunnels tour. The tour of the tunnels alone was around $40 each, and we were worried we just couldn’t justify such an expenditure. But then, our luck changed.
Marta stumbled across the HCM (Ho Chi Minh) Cooking Class. They were offering a cooking class AND a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels in one package for $69. We looked up some reviews on TripAdvisor, which sold us on it even more. A quick email later and we were booked in for the following day (even more impressive, as it was the Lunar New Year).
As the next morning arrived, Marta and I realised that we had slept through the alarms and rushed around to get ready. Luckily, our guide was ten minutes early, giving us both time to make ourselves a little more presentable. Our guide was absolutely amazing. Despite it being early in the morning, she was keen to talk to us both in English and taught us about different Vietnamese traditions.
About 30 minutes later (though it felt shorter), we arrived at the cooking class and were immediately introduced to our chef, Mr. Luong Viet Tan. The cooking class itself took place in an open-walled hut (though it was more like a banquet hall). Immediately, the chef put us at ease. He talked to us whilst lazing back in his chair. He had two restaurants in Melbourne, but his real pleasure was the farm that the hut was surrounded by (and the cooking classes he ran there). Local people had laughed at him when he first set up his organic farm and cookery class. But he knew it would succeed – his time in Melbourne had shown him what people wanted.
Although he didn’t make any profit here (“We just make enough to get by”, he claimed), the pride and joy in his voice was clear. He had created a little slice of paradise on Earth. The air was beautifully scented from the Thai Basil, soundtrack provided by birds and paddy hats swinging in a light breeze. The view was a simple one but clearly beautiful.
We were soon joined by a German couple and the class began. He began by showing us how he cultivated oyster mushrooms. You fill a large plastic bag with tree mulch and obscure them (in this case, with plastic sheeting) which enables the mushrooms to grow. Following this, he took us on a tour of his farm, allowing us to pick things like cucumber and basil along the way. These would be used for our dishes later.
One of the best things about taking this course was that we were allowed to choose our own menu. Marta and I chose the following:
Entrée: Special Vietnamese bread with BBQ chicken with chilli, lemongrass in special sauce (bánh mì thịt nướng)
[We were too hungry to get a picture of this]
Salad: Papaya salad with prawn (Goi Du Du)
Main course (soup): Famous beef noodle soup (Phở bò) [We had to substitute beef for chicken to prevent the needless slaughter of animals]
Dessert: BBQ banana with honey served with coconut milk (chuối nướng mật ong nước cốt dừa).
Well, that is all I have time for today. Check back Wednesday for the next post in this series, in which I will finish talking about the cooking course and introduce you all to the Cu Chi tunnels.
Note: All photos in this were taken by my girlfriend. See them and more over on her blog at Down From The Door.