I hadn’t meant to take a cooking class in Hoi An.
(I could describe every day of this trip with I hadn’t meant to.)
I’d just stopped to read a sign one evening and Nga (pronounced Nya) came out to chat, aka negotiate my participation. When I rode by her restaurant on my bike two days later she waved me down. By then I’d realized that every cook in this quaint central Vietnamese town offered a “cooking class” but something in me really liked Nga. She was insistent but not too pushy, and she seemed personable and kind.
“You meet me tomorrow? We go to market and cook?” It was more a statement than a question.
I agreed and spent the next morning and afternoon with her exploring the market (pictures posted here) and learning a few traditional dishes. The foods we cooked were mostly for special occasions. Vietnamese home-cooking, as in any culture, is much simpler than what you’d find in restaurants, although these foods were super simple to make.
It was just the two of us.
Ingredients, prepped and ready.
Grilled lemongrass beef. Beef marinated in crushed lemongrass, oyster sauce, chilis, salt and pepper, wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over coals.
Fried calamari rings, baby not included. Kids request this one for their birthday and I don’t blame them. The squid we used was fresh-caught and tender, the tenderest I’d had in my life.
Banana blossom salad is popular at weddings.The base contains finely shaved banana buds (or green papaya if making papaya salad), mint, cilantro, crushed peanuts, chilis, and fried slivered shallots and garlic, tossed in a dressing of oil, oyster sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper. We topped it with pan-steamed shrimp flavored with a balance of salt and sugar, garlic, oyster sauce and lime juice.
It’s served with a large, frying pan sized rice cracker that you can break into pieces and use to scoop up the salad.
Beef and bok choy soup. A simple homey dish with just two ingredients. This was more of an every day food. The bok choy was first blanched in salted water, then removed. Nga explained the initial boil is to remove pesticides from the produce, it’s a common practice but not sure how dependable. The salt in the water preserves the bright green color. We brought another pot of salt water to boil and used a spoonful to flash cook the raw ground beef we had in a plate. Then we combined the beef, juices, bok choy, and salted water together to create the soup. You could use broth instead of water, but it was surprisingly good the way it was.
It was a great experience spending the day one on one with Nga and her family. Most cooks in Hoi An would be happy to teach you a few dishes, for a small fee you can negotiate with them. I paid about $20 US for four hours of Nga’s time at the market and in the kitchen, and all the food, enough take home and share with friends.
You can find Nga and her family-run restaurant here:
Ngoc Nga’s Thanh Nhi
404 Cua Dai Street, Hoi An