Good Morning, Vietnam!
During a trip to Hanoi, Vietnam in November 2005, I had the privilege of attending a culinary demonstration at the Metropole Cooking School in the Sofitel Metropole.
My morning commenced with a steaming hot bowl of Beef Pho (Pho Bo), which was offered to all participants. A wonderful way to start the morning!
The soup was a good balance of wholesome beefiness with a subtle hint of spices.
It tasted more refined than the Pho that I had upon arrival the day before.
In fact, it was the "cleanest" tasting Pho I've ever had. I don't mean to say that the other establishments that I've eaten at are of questionable sanitary standards but simply that the stock tasted like alot more care had been given towards preparing it.
This was definitely a strong case in point for the basic tenet of classical cooking that a good stock is an essential foundation for cooking various dishes.
Check out the pic of the Pho that I had at a cafe (I was not quite prepared to risk streetside stalls on the first day of my visit to Hanoi).
I love Pho Bo (Beef Pho) & Pho Ga (Chicken Pho). I would have tried Pho Ga in the cafe but for the fact that Vietnam was having an outbreak of Bird Flu during my visit & thus no chicken. :(
The instructor told us that as the dishes are best consumed immediately after preparation, hence we would be given tasting portions as & when each dish is completed. Gee! I'm LOVING this class already!
The first dish on our menu was Banana Flower Salad (Nom Hoa Chuoi).
It was very refreshing. The saltiness from the fish sauce was well balanced with the tanginess of lime juice & the crunchiness of ground peanuts added an interesting dimension to the dish.
Then we had another Vietnamese classic, Nem. I love these flavourful fried rice paper spring rolls! I like how an explosion of flavours bursts into your mouth upon biting into the crispy thin "skin" of the spring roll.
Next dish was Beef grilled with Lemongrass (Bo Kep Sa) which was very tender & juicy. As it was sandwiched between Lime Leaves (a.k.a. Daun Limau Purut) during the grilling process, the end result was a subtle hint of lime.
This was followed by Steamed Fish with Mushrooms & BEER (Ca Qua Hap Voi Bia Va Rau Gia Vi)!
I was apprehensive at first as I do not like the taste of beer unless its totally masked by spices (like in certain stews). I tried the dish anyway. It was very fragrant & the beer added an interesting dimension to the fresh sweetness of the fish. Mental note to try this recipe out.
I'm not a huge fan of pork unless its masked by spices so that the "porky" smell is less intense.
The pork was marinated in Fish Sauce (Nuoc Mam), caramelised sugar, ginger & chili. Then its wrapped in Banana Leaf & grilled in a Bamboo casing.
It did not have a "porky" smell & was so tender that it melted in the mouth. It was delicious! Kudos to the chef for cooking the pork dish so well!
The lesson ended with a serving of Pumpkin Branches Sauteed with Garlic (Ngon Rau Bi Xao Toi).
I'm glad I spent my only free morning in culinary class. It was time for me to rejoin the group & continue with the city tour.