16 MayL: HANDICRAFT VILLAGE/NIGHT TRAIN TO LAO CAI.
AM: traditional cooking class in Hanoi
Visit Bat Trang ceramic village
21:00: Transfer to Hanoi railway station
21.55: Night train to Lao Cai.
This morning we went to Viet Cuisine and had a Vietnamese cooking class. First off, the chef took us on a tour of the Old Quarter farmer's market--not to buy, but just to see the wide range of products available. The level of hygiene was not exactly what we are used to in the states, what with raw meat and fish and seafood being prepared right on the floor of the stalls. Takes some getting used to, esp. the smells.
We returned to the restaurant and, after we all washed our hands, they ushered us upstairs to the second floor where a horseshoe-shaped set of tables was set up. We each got a chef's hat and an apron. We learned how to make four dishes:
Fresh spring rolls and dipping sauce
Chicken with lemon leaves
Fish with Tamarind sauce
Sweet potato pudding
The spring rolls were easy once you learned not to overload them: chopped lettuce, cilantro, rice noodles, pork (stir-fried with peanut butter!!!) and a cooked shrimp (artistically arranged), wrapped in a rice paper wrapper.
The dipping sauce had fish sauce, water, sugar, garlic, and lime juice, plus one hot pepper for flavor.
The lights went out during the stir-frying phase, but came back on after a minute or so
We ate the spring rolls right after making them for our appetizer.
We had to debone the chicken quarters--I had an advantage over the students because I do this often at home, as it is much cheaper to buy the chicken quarters bone-in, so I got some praise from the chef. Then we put some plum sauce on the non-skin side, and pressed a few lemon leaves (maybe they were actually lime leaves, as they referred to lime juice as "lemon juice"). These were to marinate for about 15 minutes, and then pan-fried.
The fiash was catfish, filleted and cut into three-inch square pieces. We scored cross-hatch marks into the flesh and put finely sliced ginger on top. The tamarind sauce was already prepared, but they gave us a recipe for making it from scratch. Then you steam the fish.
The most surprising dish was the sweet potato pudding. We began by finely dicing (white!) sweet potatos and puttign them into boiling water to cook. When they are easily "mushed" they are done, but midway through this process the lights went out, and this time it was for good. So the chef finished the pudding on a gas burner. You add coconut milk, cornstarch, sugar, and finely julienned ginger to the sweet potato mixture to finish.
Then we all trooped down to the first floor to enjoy the fruits of our labor, eating by candlelight.
Everythign tasted wonderful, esp. the chicken. The chef fried the lemon leaves as well, and the crispy leaves tasted just like (really!) Fruit Loops.
This would be an easy meal to make at home (add steamed rice), and I will definitely make it for Liam upon my return.
Well, one of the students needs the computer, so I will finish later.