Location: Hanoi Cooking Centre
The people behind Hanoi Cooking Centre not only know Vietnamese food, they also know Western palates and pantries. The instruction is very clear, with great demonstrations and lots of hands on time. The biggest drawback in our course was that we didn't get to personally grill our food, but it by no means ruined the experience. The classes at Hanoi Cooking Centre are a great way to learn how to cook the food that regular Vietnamese people eat both at home and on the streets.
Who should attend:
Anyone who likes food. This class is both approachable and in-depth, letting novices and pros alike walk away with a deeper knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine. Vegetarians will appreciate the option of a completely vegetarian menu, and there's even a coastal class for the pescetarians out there.
Cabbage and Chicken Salad
A refreshing salad to whet your appetite made with shredded cabbage and chicken dressed with a sweet fish sauce and lime vinaigrette, topped with fragrant herbs
Smokey Eggplant with Dried Shrimps
Charred eggplant that is then skinned and cooked on the stove with a mixture of aromatics and dried shrimp for extra pungency
Beef with Green Peppercorns
The marinade for this is super simple, but the end product is super delicious. The beef is grilled and served with fresh rice vermicelli, pineapple, green banana, herbs and rice paper for wrapping, then dipped in nuac cham (fish sauce, sugar and lime juice).
BBQ Pork Ribs
The pork ribs are marinated with five-spice, star anise and cinnamon along with the standard Vietnamese seasonings of fish sauce, lime, garlic and chilies. The ribs are then steamed and grilled, resulting in a delicious and chewy charred rib.
Hanoi Cooking Centre does something pretty unique: they give you lots of choice while maintaining cohesion. Instead of asking you look at a list and pick one soup, one salad, one main, one dessert etc., they give you six choices of set menus organized by theme. You can choose from street food, BBQ, vegetarian, food from the coast, spring rolls or Hanoian food. This model works incredibly well to give you a focused class while still allowing you to choose what you want to learn. If all the choice overwhelms you, our teacher said that the street food class is his personal favourite, and we can vouch for the quality of the BBQ class.
We decided to take the BBQ course because it had the most unfamiliar items on it: grilled pork ribs, grilled beef with rice paper, banana flower salad with chicken, and a smoky eggplant dish. The inability to grill our own food is unfortunate but understandable given that the classes can have up to 10 students in them and the school only has one small grill.
Aside from the barbecuing itself, the instruction at this class was exceptional. Our teacher, Hung, demonstrated each dish at the front of the class before we tackled the same dish at our own stations equipped with the all ingredients and tools needed. It's clear by Hung’s chopping methods that he's a French trained cook, and we walked out of the class with a few new techniques for chopping vegetables more effectively. He also made sure that we tasted the dishes he prepared in order to give us an idea of how it should be balanced.
The food itself was consistently great. The beef was served with a ton of herbs, some rice noodles, and strips of green banana and pineapple that was eaten together in a sheet of rice paper. It was a really flavourful and well balanced combination, with the sweet-tart pineapple bringing everything together. The pork ribs were slightly dry to our taste, but that's more of a cultural difference than a cooking error - meat is cooked slightly chewier on this side of the world and that's how people like it.
All in all, this is probably the best non-private class you can take. The only way to improve the class would be to let the students have a hand in barbecuing the food they prepare, and maybe to eliminate the forgettable market tour that we didn't even bother to mention earlier in our review. If you're interested in learning about Vietnamese food, you can't go wrong with Hanoi Cooking Centre.
What we learned:
Hung has a ton of shortcuts and efficient methods for chopping vegetables. It was great to watch him demo each dish and we walked away with a handful of new techniques to streamline our own cooking.
Roasting eggplant like a red pepper, by blistering the skin, gives a great smokey flavour while allowing the eggplant to retain structural integrity.
Vietnamese food is traditionally prepared with a fair bit of sugar - we definitely like more tart, less sweet salads than the classic vietnamese palate.