There is nothing I love more than traveling (ok I love my cats and my job!) and I am very lucky that where ever I go, I always take cooking classes so that I can learn more about the cuisine, the culture and also find out how to bring the cuisine back to Palate Sensations. Vietnamese Cuisine remains my favourite Asian cuisine, mainly for it’s freshness, it’s use of herbs and the fact that it’s almost always healthy is definitely a bonus.
I stayed at a small hotel right smack bang in the middle of Beer Street at the Old Quarters called Essence d’Orient Hotel & Spa. So conveniently located, we could walk everywhere. If you have been to Vietnam, you will know that the city streets are often so noisy with traffic, people and the blaring honks from cars and scooters that you just want to beat a hasty retreat to your hotel for some air conditioning and some peace and quiet. This is that kind of hotel. The staff are always welcoming when you are totally beat and need a cold glass of water.
Street food is at the very essence of Vietnamese Cuisine. The best food, from the pho to the banh mi (bread rolls filled with pate and pork), to the coconut ice cream and fried desserts can all be found at every street corner. Small stools and hastily assembled tables are pushed together at the side of the road. The morning stalls will all be serving pho, a very popular breakfast dish and by the early afternoon, the stalls would have been cleared away and swept clean. The early evening will see yet another stall set up serving fried food and beer. It is with the idea in mind of trying as much local food as I could in such a limited time that I went on a street food tour with Hanoi Cooking Centre. Their tour runs daily and takes you on a 4 hour non stop tour around the best parts of the Old Quarter and the markets. Highly recommended as a great introduction to the ingredients that you will encounter again and again while you are in Vietnam. The markets are dark, haphazard, sometimes full of puddles of water and lots of different smells that may assault your nose if you are not used to pungent things! Be prepared! I loved it all. Living in Singapore, the markets are all cleaned up and sterile so there is not much character left in them.
While I was in Hanoi, I attended 2 cooking classes. One was about the art of pho making at Hidden Hanoi which I loved while the other was about all sorts of spring rolls at Hanoi Cooking Centre. Both were really interesting classes because you can actually replicate the recipes again. I have already re made them since I returned home. The pho broth from the north is much lighter and they don’t use hoisin sauce or bean sprouts as garnishes. I very much prefer this version for it’s lightness.
The spring rolls we learned used a much thinner rice paper roll that you can’t purchase in Singapore. I brought some home and it’s so thin you can just roll it without re-hydrating it with water. Vietnamese food is essentially very simple to make because, like Thai Cuisine, it’s all made on the stove without any fancy equipment. What we often find challenging is the inability to source for the ingredients. All in all, Hanoi was a short get away as I only had 5 days and 4 nights. I am definitely interested in returning for more cooking classes and delicious food in other parts of Vietnam. There is so much to see and do and all I have done is scratched the surface!
For those of you who are not travelling to Vietnam anytime soon, we offer 2 Day SkillsFuture claimable Vietnamese Cuisine classes at Palate Sensations. Be sure to check out the classes at our schedules. They are on going throughout the year.
PS: I can recommend an amazing degustation dinner at Chef Didier Corlou’s La Verticale restaurant. As good as any fine dining restaurant in Singapore, it is a delicate blend of Vietnamese and French Cuisine served in an old colonial house. Everytime I come to Hanoi, I am sure to go there for dinner.