Friday, March 16, 2012

March 6th – Cooking Class in HCMC

Today we had organised a cooking class at a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. We met our teacher and our fellow students at the Ben Tanh Market, where we had a fascinating trip around the food stalls and were shown all the unfamiliar vegetables and herbs that are a staple of the Vietnamese diet.

Our time in the fish section was particularly memorable – our guide was talking away to us, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a little lady wielding a very big mallet. In her other hand she had a large fish which she'd just picked out of a tank on the ground. She laid the live fish on a chopping block and then proceeded to smash 7 bells out the wriggling fish's head with all her might. The violence of the assault on the head was only made more remarkable by the nonchalance with which she did it.

If that was stomach churning enough, the gross-out stakes were then turned up a notch at the fish stall. A lady was sitting on the ground with a plastic bag of wriggling fish and a pair of scissors. Before your eyes, she blithely snipped the heads off the live frogs, then cut the feet off the jerking frogs legs, before her piece de resistance – getting a pair of pliers and ripping the skin off what was left of the still moving frog carcass. At this point, one of the women on our tour almost passed out and ended up leaving the class.

Fortunately, we were told by our teacher that frogs legs weren't on today's menu, so we went off to the restaurant where we made a succession of delicious dishes – the best thing was that we then got to eat them straight after. We started with the fresh tastes of a mustard leaf roll, filled with crunchy vegetables and topped with a butterflied prawn - the sweet and sour chilli sauce we made for it was fantastic.

Then we made deep fried crispy noodles (my attempt at rolling up the noodles in the deep fryer didn't go so well), and wok-fried crispy vegetables – this was my favourite dish of the day. We were now pretty full, but we still had to make the final dish, a chicken stew in a Vietnamese clay pot, with ginger, fresh basil, cocoanut juice and steamed rice – again very tasty.

It was all excellent fun and hopefully has inspired us to be a bit more adventurous with our cooking in the future.