First of all let me say, Vietnamese food is good, I mean, really, really good. I used to think Chinese food — by which I mean the food found in China, not at the Panda Buffet found at your local mall — was the best. But, traveling around Vietnam for the past couple weeks has altogether changed my mind. Sorry China, I guess you’ll have to settle for number two. In Vietnam every meal, no matter if it was ready-to-eat street food or food found in the nicer eateries, has unreservedly blown Ashley and I away. An extended stay here in Vietnam would indubitably result in weight gain. So much so, in fact, that I would probably become unrecognizable to my loved ones and even possibly go as far as to live up to the “fat American” stereotype. That is, if it wasn’t so healthy.
Since we have been enjoying the food here so immensely we decided it best to take a cooking class while in Nha Trang at this restaurant called Lanterns. It was a no-brainer doing a cooking class at Lanterns as part of the money you spend there goes straight to feeding orphans in the local orphanages. There are a lot of restaurants in the area that offer cooking classes, but not many give back to the local community. It’s good to support those types of things, ya know.
With the guidance of the head chef, we started the morning off by hopping on cyclos for a pleasurable ride to the market to buy the necessary items, along with some extra things that people might want to try, like frogs, mango cakes, and hard-boiled fertilized duck embryos. (See last picture) According to the chef, there were other people ballsy enough to try the little almost-hatchling, but I was the only person ever to eat all of it — as in nothing left on my plate, not even the feathers. I’ll eat anything, be sure of that.
At the market we picked up rice paper, pork, chicken, shrimp, frogs, eggs, stock, lettuce, Chinese basil, rice noodles, lemon grass, little red and green peppers (the super hot ones), garlic, onions, carrots, fish sauce, bananas, mangos and cucumbers, if I remembered them all. Oh! And Banana Rum, which smells and tastes dangerously good. I’ll have to bring a few bottles back stateside. The guide showed us how to find and select the best of the aforementioned items. At the local markets here in Vietnam, which is for the most part where one does their grocery shopping, items come in every morning from the countryside and therefore is ridiculously fresh, but a trained eye can still spot blemishes on a seemingly blemish-free fruit or vegetable, or whatever.
After picking up all the goods at the market we went back to the restaurant, and for the next three hours cooked and ate. While we were cooking the chef also taught us a few things. Neat tricks, if you will. Like, for instance, how to de-bitterize a cucumber. It’s pretty simple actually. Just cut the tip of the cucumber off, about a half-inch down, then rub the freshly cut off piece over the other, larger sliced cucumber in a circular motion. When it’s foaming, it’s working. And lastly, to top it all off, as a departing gift we were given a little recipe book and some cooking utensils.
Lanterns cooking class, in addition to giving us an intimate look into Vietnamese cuisine and culture, was a lot of fun. Ashley and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and we learned a great deal. We can’t wait to get back to Shanghai and hone our new acquired skills. Who ever comes and visits us will surely be in for a treat. Although, even though I’m writing this, Ashley is the real cook, not me.
Here’s what we made:
Rice Paper Rolls, Fish in a Clay Pot (although Ashley had chicken and frog and I had pork and frog, but the recipe is the same), and lastly, for dessert we made banana (I did mango) flambé.