Hoi An is one of the most famous spots on the traveller circuit in Vietnam. It is well-known for its perfectly preserved old town that is a great example of a South-East Asian trading port dating back in some areas to the 15th century. The majority of the old town is painted yellow and beautifully adorned with colourful paper lanterns that are famously made in the city. Everywhere you look you will find tailor shops ready to make you everything from a 3-piece suit to a bikini in the blink of an eye. For most travellers, getting a beautiful tailor-made garment is at the top of their to-do list while visiting Hoi An. However, my priority was to do the other activity that the area is famous for – a Vietnamese cooking class!
If you want to take a cooking class in Vietnam, you can expect to pay a standard price of about $30 – $35 for the privilege. If you want to find something cheaper, avoid booking the class through your hostel or homestay. They will be taking a decent cut of the profits and you will probably find that these classes are packed with people. I was looking for a more intimate experience. The best way to find a good deal, is to simply do some research online and wander the streets to check out your options. I was wandering around the central market with my two Vietnam travel buddies, Annie and Tiffany, when we stumbled across OM restaurant. They were offering a cooking class for $15, and one with a morning cycling tour of a local farm for $17. For half the price of the standard cooking classes, and an additional bike ride, it was a no-brainer. We booked for the next day and picked our dishes from a selection. We chose to make Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, green mango salad, lemongrass chicken, and I picked a tofu clay pot as a veggie option. After not having the chance to cook since Australia, I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen!
At exactly 9am the next morning, three bikes and our lovely guide, Eric, were waiting outside our homestay. We hopped on and followed Eric out of town, across rice paddy fields, towards the north coast. Our destination was a farm full of all sorts of amazing plants, vegetables and wonderful smells – from lemongrass to morning glory and kumquats, I was in my element! The farm is predominantly run by a family, and there is an elderly couple (94 and 87) who still work out in the fields. They were SO unbelievably cute.
After being told about all the produce growing on the farm and how the Vietnamese use them in their cooking, we hopped back on bikes and road the 5km back into the old town. Once back at OM restaurant, conveniently situated right next to the central market, we were adorned with the traditional conical hats (nón lá) and baskets ready to go and purchase our ingredients. We went to buy the fresh fruits and vegetables, rice paper and other bits and bobs, ready to cook up a storm. The whole time Eric spoke amazing English and cracked jokes every few minutes, making the day even more enjoyable.
We went back to the restaurant and headed upstairs where the outdoor kitchen was set up for the three of us. It was a totally private lesson which for $17 couldn’t have been more perfect. The first task was to shred the mango, papaya and carrots, ready for concocting the green mango salad and fresh spring rolls. We were given an extremely handy peeler tool and I had finished my mango in seconds while Annie and Tiff faffed around making a mess with the other veg! Sorry girls :). Click here to find the recipe and method for constructing this delicious traditional dish.
After we had finished making our beautiful batch of spring rolls, we put them to one side and got on with the tofu clay pot. This was a completely new way of cooking tofu for me and something which I’m dying to try out now I’m back. It was still a combination of typically Asian flavours – garlic, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce – with fresh tomatoes, shallots and spring onions. We fried everything up and then let the put the lid on top and let the clay pot do the rest of the work. We would leave that to continue to cook while we prepared the next two dishes.
Next it was time to create one of my favourite Vietnamese classics, the green mango salad. It’s one of my faves because it is the perfect blend of sweet, sour, spicy and salty all in one mouthful. We already had the basis of the salad left over from the spring rolls – thinly grated unripe mango and carrot. We needed to add little shrimp, herbs and spices, fish sauce, peanuts and a few other bits and pieces to the mix (for the recipe click here) and then I popped on a plastic glove and got messy!
As we finished each dish, we placed them to one side, so that we could tuck into all of them in a decadent meal at the end. We just had one more dish to cook before we could tuck in. As you may have gathered, I don’t really eat meat anymore, but the Braised Chicken with Lemongrass and Chilli dish that we cooked to finish was made using the freshest chicken – kill and plucked just a few hours earlier. Luckily I wasn’t there to see it being killed, but the freshness certainly came through in the taste. This chicken and lemongrass dish was made in a very hot wok, cooked up perfectly by the lovely Tiff. It was a combination of beautiful flavours – lemongrass, chilli, garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, sugar, oyster sauce. It took moments to cook and it was extremely good!
So finally it was time to tuck in! A lovely part of the day, due not only to the fact that we could finally indulge on the delicious food we’d just slaved over, but also because we were on our own at the back of the restaurant, looking over the river and left to our own devices to slowly graze through. They served us additional rice and morning glory with garlic to compliment to rest of the food and we literally FEASTED. They even served us a banana and chocolate dessert and gave us all one of the fantastic, all-singing all-dancing, graters to take home with us!
Unsurprisingly, I would highly recommend checking out the OM restaurant and its cooking class options if you find yourself travelling through Hoi An. For $17 it was one of the biggest bargains of the entire trip, and a truly memorable experience.