Flight Centre's Public Relations Manager, Deana Tynan recently ventured to Ho Chi Minh City. Apart from doing the general tourist sights, she decided to take a cooking class in traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
If you love cook, but are never quite sure how to go about expanding your recipe repertoire, why not consider taking a cooking class when you travel aboard. There is really no better way to savour local cuisine and learn culinary secrets from those who cook it every day.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I jumped at the chance to take part in a hand-on cooking class at one of Saigon’s most renowned cooking schools.
The team at Travel Indochina signed us up for an afternoon session at Saigon Cooking Class by Hoa Tuc, which is attached to the famous Hoa Tuc Restaurant.
The contemporary Vietnamese cooking school is located in the old opium refinery in downtown Saigon, overlooking a lovely courtyard setting. Having enjoyed a delicious authentic dinner at the restaurant the night before, I was confident that we were in for a real treat.
Upon our arrival, we are greeted by the school’s head chef, who is friendly and humble. He casually welcomes us in, hands us matching purple aprons and motions for us to sit down at a large table. We each have our own workstation, equipped with a mini stovetop, chopping board, utensils and an array of pre-cut, pre-measured ingredients, presented in neat portions before us.
A tantalising menu of three Vietnamese dishes is handwritten on a blackboard at the front of the classroom and includes Sour Soup with Prawn, Char-grilled Beef Salad with Kumquat, Lemongrass and White Aubergine and Vietnamese Pancake.
By this stage, my tastebuds are dancing on the tip of my tongue with anticipation for what was to come, but I listen patiently to the instructions that are being given.
We kick things off with the soup, which is somewhat similar to a tom soup.
Now, I’m not particularly keen on hot broth-based concoctions at the best of times, but even less when it’s a scorching 30 degrees and humid outside.
To my surprise, the soup is actually quite refreshing, with a zingy flavour that lingers on the palate. Fresh tomato and chopped pineapple balance perfectly with the tartness of the tamarind paste, while the addition of prawns and bean sprouts give the soup substance.
Second up, we test our skills on the beef salad, which proves to be the favourite among the group. A zesty fish sauce dressing and marinated beef strips is tossed through leafy Asian greens, with thinly sliced kumquats and baby eggplant and finished off with sesame seeds.
Finally, the pancake, but this is not your average pancake. It’s a savoury batter, made from rice powder, turmeric and coconut milk, and then filled with a mix of pork, prawns and bean sprouts for flavour. Once taken off the heat, the pancake is served with fresh mustard leaves and lettuce leaves that are used to wrap it into rolls and then dipped into sauces.
Best part? We got to eat every dish we cooked and to be completely honest, they tasted amazing. My cooking buddies were just as proud of their achievements as I was, even talking about impressing their friends back home with their new array of dishes.
A special thanks to the team at Travel Indochina for booking our experience and to all of the staff at the Saigon Cooking Class for making our visit so enjoyable. Photography is by Saxon Templeton, Flight Centre's VIC state marketing manager.