Saturday, 14 June 2008

Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An

Many, many months ago when I used to work, and when I used to take the tube  everyday. I read the Metro. A free paper that used to keep me occupied during my 15 minute Journey. Most of the time it was pretty mundane stuff, but this one day they had a report on a cooking school in Hoi An, called the Red Bridge. It was quite a good report, and as we had just decided to quit work and goto South East Asia, I kept the article just in case we ended up in Vietnam.
As we have travelled North from Saigon, I have been meeting people who have been to the school. All reports were good. So as we arrived in Hoi An, I decided to do the class. I knew it was nothing to taxing, but just a mornings fun. Amazingly I even managed to persuade Lina to come with me. 
It runs everyday, with from what I can gather with about 18 people everyday. Nice little earner. You are taken around the central market and shown lots of fruit, veg, salads, fish, meat and normal everyday things that are used in a Vietnamese kitchen. All quite informative with lots of jokes from our market guide. It's amazing how much of Vietnamese food has a dual purpose. Like some leaves are good for arthritis, and some good for back pain. Two things I suffer from. Maybe I should move here. 
The market tour ends in a trip to a kitchen appliance stall, where we were shown the instruments to make flowers out of a carrots. Quite a hard sell, but in true Vietnamese fashion its all good fun. Quite a few people brought these implements, Lina included. I can really imagine her making petals from slices of carrot with every dinner we have from now on. Well it beats turning carrots as I was forced to do at Leiths. Failed miserably at that. 
We then had a leisurely 25 minute cruise downstream in their boat to the cooking school, which also turns out to be more of a resort than just a school. There is a restaurant and a swimming pool there, but as it is so far out of town, I can not see too many people making their way out there to dine. 
We were given a quick tour of their small herb garden. Lots of wonderful smells there. It was quite intoxicating. 
The area where we were to have our class was right on the water front. They had already set up the work stations for us, and chairs were lined up for us to watch the demonstrations. We each received a recipe sheet of everything we were going to cook, plus a few extras like dipping sauces etc. 
Our teacher for the class was the chef at the restaurant there. His jokes were well practised, and went very smoothly. He'd obviously been using them for quite a while. Some were funnier than others. 
We were first shown how to make a seafood salad, which was to be served in a cut out pineapple. Unfortunately we did not get to male this, but we did get to eat it afterwards and it was great. 
We made a quick aubergine and tomato sauce simmered in a clay pot. We never got to finish this and I am sure it was thrown away as the one we ate later was quite different.
Next we were shown how to make fresh rice paper. Quite a long process, with soaking the rice over night. Thankfully the rice had been soaked and blended. They are actually quite easy to make, all you need is a large pan 1/2 full of simmering water. A cloth tied tightly over the top and a larger lid. You take a ladle full of the liquid, pour it on the cloth and move it around from the middle to the outside. Pop the lid on, let it steam for one minute. Then prise it off with a thin piece of bamboo. This took me two attempts to get it off as the first one folded in on its self and stuck fast. The second was much better. Everyone made a decent attempt at it and we all got to roll our own salad rolls with an already prepared ingredients. They were delicious. Still not overly keen on the peanut dipping sauce as for me it doesn't taste too peanutty. But the chilli sauce. Delish.
After scoffing our salad rolls we were shown how to make Hoi An pancakes and a bit of fruit decoration. The pancakes were nice but a little bit greasy, as you use quite a lot of oil. But rolled in rice paper they were very good. My attempts of making a fan out of the cucumber and a rose from the tomato were, well not so fruitful. The picture shows how they should of looked. Not going to claim that one. 
Class finished with we sat down in the restaurant to eat all what we cooked. The aubergine in a clay pot was quite different from the one we started to cook earlier. This one had a few more ingredients in like garlic. I wonder what happened to ours. The seafood salad in pineapple was really delicious. We also had a steamed fish in a sweet and sour sauce, which we wrapped with salad in rice paper. Really delicate flavours. All washed down with a glass of Australian Pinot Grigot, it was a fun morning. Everyone had a good time. It was a different way of spending a morning, and nothing to taxing on the cooking front. 
Lina has said she wants to do all the cooking courses with me now. Finally I can get her to cook for me.... 
Next course Hanoi.

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