Spring rolls cooking
By John Lechner
You must do this Vietnamese Cooking Class in Hoi An
Every now and then you see something on Tripadvisor that just sounds too good to be true. And honestly, when I looked at Green Bamboo Cooking School on Tripadvisor, I was thinking that.
On Tripadvisor Green Bamboo has an outright 5 star rating, a rare thing. Thing is, it isn't cheap either. The price is US$45 per head or 1 million Vietnamese Dong.
You may think that isn't bad and you are right but in perspective. This is the home of the world's best Banh Mi for US$1. A wonderful meal in a local restaurant including beer is under US$2/head.
Fried Spring Rolls
But the short answer is, the Green Bamboo Cooking School is worth every cent of the US$45. Let me tell you why. But first some logistics.
This is the most popular cooking class in Hoi An and there are only 12 spots per day, they fill quickly. In fact, we nearly missed out completely, only the fact that Van was so accommodating that we made it in.
Pre-Book, classes fill quickly
So, prebook, well before you leave. It is a whole day and you will need only a light breakfast and probably wont eat dinner afterwards. If you arrive in Hoi An and haven't already booked in then call Van. Her contact details are here.
I meant it when I said, only have a light breakfast, you will know why soon.
Once you have confirmed your spot, Van will ask you to confirm your preferred dish from an extensive menu of over 60 items. The reason why is simple. Each student in the class (max 12) will cook they're own dish. This is the dish you will actually cook.
But the best news is that for each student in your class you will also get to watch and learn as they prepare and cook each meal and then taste every dish. This is why you only want a light breakfast. I am no lightweight when it comes to food and I left the class completely stuffed full.
The day starts between 8 and 9am depending on where your hotel is on the route to pick up all the students. Once everyone is in the bus we head to the Central Market to buy the produce for each dish.
Market shopping for produce
After getting off the bus, each class member is given a conical hat to wear (not to keep) and given a basket for produce. We gradually make our way through the market and Van shows you the tricks and tips of buying in the market.
For instance in an asian market like this one. When buying chicken, touch the skin of the chicken. If it is room temp and dry then the chicken is fresh today. If cold and sticky, it is at least yesterday's perhaps older, don't buy it.
So with our fruit, vegetables, herbs and proteins in tow we head to a local coffee shop for a quick, icy cold Vietnamese coffee, soft drinks are also available. This is a great chance to pick Van's brain about the market without the hustle and bustle of the market.
When done we jump back in the air conditioned bus and head back on the 10-15 minute drive to the cooking school.
After a quick briefing and hand washing we get stuck into preparing our protein. Depending on the dish you chose, this may take you two minutes, Kim chose Cao lầu and her prep time was 2 minutes. But other dished took 20-30 minutes. Kim ended up helping others.
After all the protein is sorted then its time for a quick drink. There are an ample supply of cold water, soft drink and beer to enjoy (no extra charge) throughout the day.
Van's two assistants where constantly cleaning the prep spaces and equipment. It flowed like a well oiled machine.
For our group, the first dish was fried spring rolls. So the rest of the class got to sit back and watch while the first student was walked through the steps by Van. She happily answered questions as we went along and there was no rushing.
With so many spring rolls to prepare, we all got to try our hand at rolling them up and once completed they were cooked and we got to enjoy our first dish of the day.
Cao lầu pork cooking
The thing I love about a Vietnamese fried spring roll is that you wrap the cooked spring roll in lettuce and herbs before dipping it in the sauce. So much fresher and lighter than just a plain spring roll.
Throughout the day we were constantly eating, learning and participating where extra hands were needed.
The portions were just the right size to not be a total glutton but that said I went home full and wasn't interested in dinner that night.
Kim cooked the Cua Lau and while we cant reproduce the famous and unique Hoi An noodles at home we can make the dish with soba or egg noodles to get a close copy. It was surprisingly easy to make and so yummy.
Kim with her Cao lầu
Van even taught us the tricks like cutting the meat across the grain rather than with it for more tender and moist meat.
I had the last dish of the day and honestly when we got to it I was stuffed full. But I love Banh Xeo, Vietnamese Pancake. So I wasn't going to miss out. It was delicious and I now feel able to reproduce it here at home for my friends and family.
At the end of the long day of cooking we finished about 3:30pm we got a little goody bag with recipes, cooking chopsticks and a prep tool and we jumped back in the bus to be dropped back to our hotels.
My recommendation is simple. If you are going to Hoi An then book a day at the Green Bamboo Cooking School. I would rate it 6 star. When we go back to Hoi An we will do it again and pick two new dishes.
Just do it, you wont regret it.
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