Last year, my family and I enjoyed one of the greatest cultural experiences of our trip to Vietnam: the best cooking class in Hanoi. Thanh (Tang), my daughter’s Vietnamese friend invited us to her house for a culinary experience.
Thanh is quite the entrepreneur. She runs a travel company that offers amazing street food tours. Her house is typical of Hanoi, tall, narrow, and deep. She has a large kitchen, which is unusual for Southeast Asia. Although we didn’t get a chance to do this, Thanh often takes her students to the market to purchase the food items for the class. The variety of fresh foods is a feast for the eyes.
Everyone in my family loves to cook, so without a doubt this experience was one we could not pass up. Furthermore, my son and nephew are both in culinary school, so for them this was an invaluable lesson outside the classroom.
What an incredible gastronomic adventure we had! We all chopped, sliced, diced, stirred, and participated in the making of an incredible feast. My husband and daughter folded spring rolls, which was a bit like making origami.
All in all we made four dishes: banana flower salad, fried tofu, spring rolls, and a delicious pork stew braised in coconut water, Thanh’s favorite. The banana flower salad is delicious, and very typical of Vietnamese cuisine.
Observing Thanh in the kitchen was truly magical. There was no specific measuring, yet everything tasted like it had been carefully crafted. She talked to us about substitutions for ingredients, and how to achieve the perfect flavor balance. You see, Vietnamese food is all about establishing a balanced flavor profile among ingredients.
At last, everything was ready and, we all sat down to enjoy a typical Vietnamese meal. Hands down, this is the best cooking class in Hanoi.
One of the funniest moments of the afternoon happened when Thanh’s mom returned from the market. She saw my husband doing dishes, and she said to Thanh in Vietnamese: “You need to find a husband like that.” Thanh translated, and we all had a good laugh.
Finally, after we finished our meal Thanh showed us around her house. She recently added a rooftop terrace that overlooks her lovely neighborhood. She wants to expand her business, Maia Travel & Events, to include home-stays, as well as authentic Vietnamese meals for foodie travelers. I am certain that she will do well because she is indeed passionate about Vietnamese food and her culture.