Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Red Bridge Cooking School, Hoi An, Vietnam

[NOTE: When we traveled to Vietnam in 2009, I used Posterous for a lot of the photo hosting for this blog, because it as an easy way email photos from my phone.

With the subsequent death of Posterous, now most of my Vietnam travel posts have broken image links... I have the photos still on Flickr, but it will take some time to recreate the visual narratives... Apologies for broken links below.]

There are lots of opportunities to take Vietnamese cooking classes in Hoi An -- many of the restaurants and cafes will allow you to choose items from the menu, and pay only the price of the menu item plus a small upcharge (just a few bucks) for a demonstration on how the items are prepared before you have your meal.

There are also full-blown cooking classes available through several restaurants -- half day, full day, for amateurs or professionals. We took a half-day cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School.

The class included a guided walking tour of the local produce/meat/fish market, a 30-minute boat ride up the river to the restaurant -- which offered nice views of the historic buildings from the waterfront -- an herb garden tour with explanations of the uses for different greens and herbs, then 2 hours of demonstration and hands-on cooking -- the chef would demo a dish, then we'd all get to a station for a chance to make it ourselves (most of the prep work having already been done, with several assistants walking around and guiding, i.e., saying gently "No, not like that, you're doing it wrong."). Then we'd eat what we had just made before going on to the next dish.

The pace was very fast, because there were a number of dishes covered (we even learned how to make Vietnamese rice paper from scratch), and there were some small disasters, but everything we made was still tasty, if not necessarily pretty, and we both feel like we got a lot out of the class. I've cooked some Vietnamese food before from cookbooks, and I'm familiar with a lot of the ingredients from living in Hawaii, but nothing like getting tips and tricks from a chef...

The half-day class was just $22 each. There were, of course, several opportunities "presented" to us, to buy ingredients, cooking utensils, etc, but it was pretty low pressure. I appreciated that the markets are benefiting from travelers learning how to cook the local food -- the guide made small (probably token) purchases at any stand we stopped in to talk to, and I'm sure a large number of the students (including Daniel and myself) ventured back into the market afterward to look at ingredients, buy spices and cooking utensils, etc.

Market tour. Due to the noise in the busy market (and we were there after noon, a slower period) it was almost impossible to hear what she was saying unless you were right next to her, but a lot of what was covered in the market was repeated later in the day.

Red Bridge Cooking School, Hoi An, Vietnam

Herb garden tour.

The chef was a lot of fun. Very good at what he does, and he knows it. Walked in with a swagger and an attitude wearing Beatle boots and a motorcycle jacket -- I think I said aloud something like, "Holy cow, Elvis is teaching our class." Spoke very good English with an Australian accent and had a fun sense of humor.

A students was called up at random to assist each demo -- actually, he'd direct, and the lucky victim would do the work. Daniel was one of the lucky ones, making the Hoi An Pancake (kind of an omelet with sprouts and greens, but the batter is rice based instead of egg based). Daniel looked like he knew what he was doing up there -- I was glad it wasn't me. On my camera, I have video of a pretty spectucularly lucky spatula-less pancake flip Daniel managed to land in a tiny little 6" crepe pan -- I'll post it later.

Red Bridge Cooking School, Hoi An, Vietnam

Class - besides us, mostly travellers from Australia and New Zealand, a pair of girls from Bavaria, and three others from the US.

Stations being set up for Eggplant in Clay Pot

Eggplant in Clay pot, with Vietnamese food decoration. We made the same dish, and were given a chance to "do our best" with the food decoration. Food decoration was only briefly demoed, as it takes a lot of knife skill and experience. The rose in the pot of stew was made by peeling a tomato into a single long strip, then somehow rolling it into a rose. (I say somehow because we failed miserably at this part and I have no idea how to do it); the fan next to the pot is a sliced cucumber, with alternating slices folded inward.

Below is the chef's creation. Ours turned out to be, well, not so pretty... Our roses looked like someone had already chewed them up and spit them into the bowl, and our cucumber fans had all the spines broken off.

I am so far behind on blogging... We leave for Hue tomorrow, and there is still more I want to post from Hoi An, including getting leather boots custom made (ordered at 10am, ready by 6pm!), plus a lot of pictures of the river and the historic buildings in town.

We also have learned that this "sleepy" town has a pretty spectacular rush hour -- at 5 o'clock, the tiny streets become quickly clogged with motorbikes and bicycles as shifts change in shops (not Saigon traffic levels, but still a lot); I've got a fun little post about that.
Lastly, today, I rode my first motorbike taxi -- pretty tame -- about 3 blocks (running to the ATM and back to get cash to pay for the boots), and thankfully, not during the rush hour. Daniel's is still yet to come.


  1. I'm am loving all of this! Those multi-colored-go-with-anything shoes are to die for. And the cooking class! I want to do this.

  2. Kim, this is wonderful! I'm having so much fun reading about it. I haven't said it yet, but thank you so much for sharing! :)

  3. You'll have plenty of time to perfect the rose display for the Woodzie food tent. Have ya'll been able to sample/photograph any of the local music/instruments? Have fun, see ya soon.

  4. I second the thank you comment from above and just want to leave my two cents so you know your blog is being read. Thanks Kim. It's very entertaining. I feel like I'm learning a lot too. That's is a wonderful gift your giving us.

  5. What a cool experience! Those crepes you mentioned must be banh xeo.

  6. Thanks for recommending this cooking class for us. We had a wonderful experience with the Red Bridge cooking class. We started with an interesting tour of the local market, where we bought a few things on our guides suggestion. The boat trip was nice, nothing special there, but arriving at Red Bridge was quite special, a beautiful location and atmosphere. After a welcome drink, a brief tour of the garden then into the cooking demonstration and lesson. It's a great experience and a lot of fun, not too serious. This place was very popular for good reason. This cooking class along with the food tour we joined were a highlight of our time in Vietnam. Definitely be back to Hoi An next time.


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