We spent our last day in Vietnam at the Hanoi Home Cooking class, to learn more about the local cuisine in a hands-on way. We were greeted at our hotel and taken to the class by our host, Lily.
Our first order of business, was to learn a few words and phrases in Vietnamese. We were supposed to buy our ingredients for the day at the local market, and we needed to know what to say. Ella loved this!
We bought a rice dessert to try, similar to Japanese mochi. It was basically a chewy rice paste formed into a ball and filled with a sweet sugary substance. Mochi is just not my favorite thing, and especially doesn’t qualify as dessert, to me! (This was our darling guide, Lily.)
Chicken was next on the list. Being in another country opened my eyes to meat handling. Meat was always just sitting out, on display, never refrigerated. Lily said that they butcher the animal in the morning and bring the meat, fresh each day, to the market to sell.
And- GASP- the dog counter! Yes, DOG! Eva had a hard time looking at this one. We were told that dog is a very popular meat to eat at the end of the lunar month, because it brings good luck. Matt was intrigued, so we bought some for him to try. As for me? No thanks! Lily also assured us that these were dogs raised on a farm for this purpose, not pets, but I was still picturing Rover!
I really loved how the onions, shallots, and ginger were roasted over a flame, before being added to our chicken stock for the pho ga (chicken noodle soup). We also toasted cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and anise, before before adding them to the simmering broth, as well. This step really added so much depth of flavor to the broth.
We made a salad from banana flower. I had never seen nor heard of this, but it is the flower that blossoms at the end of a banana bunch, and is actually considered a vegetable. We purchased this, already cut, from the market because the flesh needs to soak a bit before eating.
This was a very interesting recipe; ground beef and veggies, wrapped around a stalk of lemongrass, then steamed and fried. You eat the meat off of the stalk, like a corn dog. The lemongrass really lent a fabulous flavor to the meat.
We also made pork with caramel sauce. This dish included pork chunks, quail eggs and thick slices of fresh coconut, simmered in a caramel sugar sauce. (The coconut pieces are the orange strips.) Amazing!
And, last but not least…..sautéed dog. I was not planning to try it, but Matt did, then Ella wanted to, then Eva wanted to, so I felt the pressure. I could not be the only one in my family who did not try it! And actually, if I didn’t know that it was dog meat, it probably would’ve been okay. The flavor and texture were very beef-like, but I could not get past that one bite.
Our last order of business for the day was to find Café Giang, known for originating the popular, “egg coffee”. Lily was kind enough to show us the way there and we said our goodbyes. We just loved her!
The egg coffee was quite interesting. It is traditionally made with coffee, whipped with sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks and sugar, and has a frothy custard-like consistency that you eat with a spoon. (The girls had egg hot chocolate, which was also quite good.) The flavor has been likened to “liquid tiramisu”, and I could see why! Also, the coffee cups were served in a bowl of hot water to keep the temperature of the coffee warm. Delicious!
Wow! What an amazing adventure this was. Vietnam is a beautiful country with a rich culture, and tons of history. Now for the long flight home…. Ella spent most of our travel time studying and practicing Vietnamese. She is very proud to have mastered counting to ten.
And poor Eva caught some type of travel bug on our last night in Hanoi. She spent most of the evening hugging the toilet. Matt told her that she is now a “seasoned world traveler,” due to the stomach bug. I think that is a title she would rather have done without. Poor kid!