Rain, Fire and a Weapon – Cooking in Vietnam

In the spirit of the holidays and stuffing your face, apparently Southeast Asia is where we eat. A lot. Frequently. To add to this excessive tasting of local (and occasionally Western) treats, we decided to take a Vietnamese cooking class, having enjoyed our Thai cooking lesson so much. We signed up for the renowned Morning Glory Cooking School Holiday Masterclass. It was a 5-6 hour course including a market tour and boat ride all for $30 USD per person. The course description said it even included a surprise Vietnamese cooking utensil… mysterious.

Morning Glory Cooking School

The night before our course we went to the Morning Glory restaurant in Hoi An for my birthday dinner. It was taste-tacular! Scrumptious, delicious, delectable, mouth watering. Insert your yumminess adjective of choice and that’s what our meal was. It was so good that I forgot to take great pictures of it. Bad blogger, Victoria, bad. We tried “Roll It BBQ Pork” for an appetizer – skewers or marinated, barbecued pork that you wrap in rice paper with green veg and peanut sauce. I’m making good food noise as I write this. For mains, I had the cinnamon beef stew, complete with crusty French bread to soak up the sinful sauce. David had the pork belly with caramel sauce, coconut sticky rice and salad. Yeah… there was no room for dessert.

Back to the cooking course.

Having enjoyed our dinner so much, we couldn’t wait for the class. Our ticket told us to be there for 8 sharp, so we woke up early (meaning we had to skip our free breakfast at the guesthouse which started at 7:30) and walked into town. We arrived early, at 7:45) hoping for coffee. The sign on the Market Restaurant – they do the course at their sister restaurant which was built two years ago – said they opened at 7:45. The only person in sight was a member of the cleaning crew. We wandered in and sat at a table, more or less in the dark. Eight o’clock arrived. Nobody. My foot bounced nervously, convinced we’d gone to the wrong place.

Nope. The course started at 8:30. Not sure what the 8 a.m. thing was all about, but we were the only one with that memo. Lacking caffeine and wishing I’d had time for breakfast, I resigned myself that our mini-group of seven people was in fact heading out into the torrential rain.

The Market Tour

I don’t exaggerate here. Torrential. And we got on a boat with wet seats. As the water seeped through the butt of my trousers, I cringed. Come on, Victoria. Happy face. Urgh.

Morning Glory Cooking School

The market tour was pretty cool, if partially flooded (it’s almost at river-level). I saw my first flying fish, smelled some fascinating odors and learned how to tell the difference between a female and a male crab (the female has a yellow belly, the male has a white belly). The part of the tour I didn’t appreciate was seeing the trussed up live chickens.

Full disclosure, I’m a meat eater. I like to think that I could be a vegetarian, but I’m not there yet. What I do appreciate and try to do in my own cooking is to buy meat that has been humanely killed. I know the definition of that is different around the world, but to me it is a speedy death that is as painless as possible. Ideally the animal has also led a fairly decent life. The chickens in the Hoi An market are under extreme stress. Trussed up in a pile waiting to be picked, they shake in fear, eyes bulging. As a chicken is selected, the stall owner grabs it by the feet and whacks it onto the scale, securing the legs of the chicken as she does so. The chicken is then handed to its new owner, upside down. As they exchange money and have a little chit-chat, the chicken writhes, the stress evident in it’s bugged-out eyes as the blood must be rushing to its head. I know this is the norm in Vietnam and many other countries. I know that I’m probably sounding like a privileged Canadian, but I found it a repulsive experience.

Taste Test Time

Soaked to the bone, we headed back to the cooking school (again by boat). I know I’ve made it sound depressing up to now, but this is where things get good – promise. We were served fresh passion fruit juice as we warmed up, then took a guided tour around the market restaurant. Our group had the opportunity to taste tiny samples of all the food they make. Ah… breakfast. White rose dumplings, rice crackers, salted peanuts, coconut cake, silk worm salad (wait, I passed on that one), snails stuffed with pork (I did have that one) and duck embryo (no, wait, passed again). The food was delightful.

Morning Glory Cooking School

Oh… forgot to mention the spicy frog. Yes, there was that. David sampled that. Tastes like chicken.

Morning Glory Cooking School

David even got to try his hand at making rice crackers. Harder than it looks.

Bellies satiated, we headed up to the classroom where about thirty or thirty-five stations were set up. The space is a little bit tight and it is the traditional set up with the instructor at the front, tilted mirror above them so that you can see every step. I was a tad disappointed to find that many of the steps had been prepared for us. Sauces were made, spices assembled. In Thailand I really enjoyed the process of grinding our own curry paste. In this class it was pretty idiot-proof, bar the crispy pancakes. Oil and very hot pans are NOT my thing. So. Not. My. Thing.

Yes, they equip you with a terracotta cover to put out the fire that they know you will make, but who wants to put their hand near the fire in the first place? My oil heated and the flickering blue flames and sparks began. I was getting spattered with oil, wincing at the hot flicks. Then the flames began. They were a good seven inches tall and I froze. No stop, drop and roll for Victoria. Apparently I panic with fire. Luckily the Morning Glory Cooking School are prepared for this, so they supply the classroom with a number of aides who deftly toss your terracotta cover over the impending doom.

Morning Glory Cooking School

One crispy pancake later and I was recovering from the temporary flame-filled trauma. We made BBQ lime chicken (from my poor chicken friends) skewers, green mango salad and “mother-in-law” soup. Apparently new brides are expected to cook this dish for their mother-in-law the day after their wedding. A prawn mousse is packaged into a cabbage leaf and wrapped like a parcel with a spring onion. It looks pretty darn cute and is tasty and reasonably healthy to boot.

So... sorry to my mother-in-law, Sharon, but I think my soup would not pass muster. My "bow" didn't quite work out so well. Limp spring onions are hard to work with!

So… sorry to my mother-in-law, Sharon, but I think my soup would not pass muster. My “bow” didn’t quite work out so well. Limp spring onions are hard to work with!

All in all, the food was to die for. I wish it had been a bit more hands-on as opposed to assembly-based, but every mouthful (including the poor chicken – I’m sorry) was to die for.

And the secret gift? A Vietnamese vegetable peeler that could double as a weapon.


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One Response to Rain, Fire and a Weapon – Cooking in Vietnam

  1. Irma December 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Very cool, Victoria!! And Happy Belated Birthday!!
    p.s. poor chickens!!

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