One of the best travel souvenirs you can bring home is the ability to cook some of the local dishes you sampled on your journey. Cooking courses are becoming more and more popular as a travel activity, so we asked Lonely Planet staffer Ellie some questions about her culinary experience in Hoi An, Vietnam.
What made you decide to do a cooking course?
I’ve always been a bit intimidated by cooking Asian food, so wanted to learn more about it – and where better than in the birthplace of the cuisine itself? I also didn’t want to spend my whole Vietnam trip just travelling from place to place - it was important to me to stop in places and get involved in local culture and activities.
How did you find your course and why did you choose that particular one?
I did a bit of online research before I went, but I ended up asking travellers when I got to Hoi An. I ended up finding the Red Bridge school purely by through word of mouth. I wanted to do a course with some depth to it, so went for the full day course.
What was the general framework of the course?
The course ran from 8am to 3pm and involved a range of different activities. We went to a market first thing in the morning to buy our produce for the day, and we were then were taken to see an organic herb farm run by a local family. The cooking itself took about four hours, and we got to participate in pretty much everything – from making rice noodles for the pho to barbecuing to pickling vegetables and even making decorations out of food. We made four Vietnamese dishes from scratch during the day, including grilled chicken and banana flower salad, and claypot fish with dill, all of which we got to eat at the end. The ‘kitchen’ was set up outside next to a swimming pool which we could use during the day, and the course ended with us being taken back to Ho Chi Minh City by boat.
What sort of people did it attract?
There were only three of us on the course – the other two being a young Australian couple - which meant that we got to have a go at pretty much everything, which was fantastic. There was a half-day course running alongside which was much busier.
What was the tastiest thing you made?
It was all amazingly tasty, but the dish I was proudest of making was the pho – Hanoi beef and rice noodle soup. We made both the stock and the rice noodles from scratch, which was something I never thought I would do!
Have you put those cooking skills to use at home?
Errrrm… I had every intention of doing so and kept the recipe booklet they provided us with, but to be honest haven’t made anything. I guess with so many Vietnamese restaurants near where I live there hasn’t been much need!
Has it inspired you to do more courses?
Spending the day out of busy HCMC and learning new skills was definitely a highlight of my trip to Vietnam and something I will always remember. I’ll definitely do another cooking course on my next trip, wherever that might be.
What advice would you give someone looking to do a cooking course in Hoi An?
If you’re going to do it, do it properly. There’s not much point in signing up for a two-hour or half-day course, you won’t get to do or see much. I’d commit to at least a day and find a course that not only shows you how to cook but other aspects of local life too.
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