Vietnamese food is known for being extremely flavorful; however, many of the flavors used in Vietnamese food aren’t common or as plentiful in the Western world. A great way to learn about what makes Vietnamese food so flavorful and mouth-watering is to take a cooking class at Hanoi Cooking Centre. The “Hanoi and Northern Highlands” class is a fabulous introduction to Vietnamese food. The class will also make you aware of how easy Vietnamese food is to make yourself, even if you are not an expert chef.
Discover Vietnamese ingredients during a market tour
The class begins with an hour-long tour of Chau Long Market. Chau Long Market is a wet market, which means there are live animals and fresh produce for sale in the market. However, don’t expect to see chickens, cows and pigs running around the market. Those animals, among others, are killed before the morning rush begins at about 7 am and again before the evening rush begins at 5 pm. The live animals that are for sale are mainly seafood, including fish, shrimp, crab, and tortoises. The live “seafood” are kept in tanks whose water often overflows onto the ground, creating a wet environment.
Aside from fresh meat and live seafood, there is also a large selection of produce. Your head chef will escort you through Chau Long Market pointing out cilantro, basil, Vietnamese carrots versus Chinese Carrots, dragonfruit, and more. Feel free to ask your chef about anything you see or where the produce comes from. If he does not know the answer, he will ask the vendors.
You will notice that the vendors are almost all women. Furthermore, the buyers are all women. In Vietnam, the market is women’s work. If the women are in a hurry and don’t want to pay the 5,000 VND (0.22 USD) parking fee, they will drive their motorbikes through the market as they hop from vendor to vendor. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled!
Time to prepare your feast!
During the “Hanoi and Northern Highlands” cooking class, you will cook four different dishes: ginger chicken, banana flower salad, shrimp and omelette spring rolls and, lastly, sweet corn and coconut soup for dessert. After returning from the Chau Long Market, you will head to the cooking room. The head chef cooks at the front of the cooking room. Stand up front during the presentation to have a better view of the technique and what ingredients are used. The head chef will prepare one dish, then tell you to return to your cooking station to copy his actions.
The food preparation stage is when you will discover where all the flavoring comes from. Vietnamese dishes require a lot of sugar. Yes, even the ginger chicken used a lot of sugar. Additionally, there is fish sauce in almost everything. Phu Quoc, an island in Southern Vietnam, is the mecca of fish sauce and where most of it is made. On top of the sugar and fish sauce, much of the flavor comes from ginger, different types of vinegar, basil, and chili.
Each cooking station is set up for two people to cook together. Staff will bring you the necessary ingredients for each dish. The chef will walk around the room making sure you are preparing the dish correctly. The chef is available to answer any questions or to help you if you require it. After preparing one dish, you will return to the front of the room to watch the presentation of the next dish. In all, it will take you approximately 2.5 hours to prepare and cook all four dishes.
Enjoy the feast!
After 3.5 hours working up an appetite, it is finally time to enjoy your feast! Walk up the spiral staircase into the Hanoi Cooking Centre restaurant. The staff will bring all your food upstairs for you and escort you to a set table for everyone from the class. Enjoy some Vietnamese rice wine or a local beer with your meal. You will most likely have trouble finishing all four courses of the meal; however, you will try because it is all so tasty! Don’t fret if you can’t finish it. You may box up the leftovers and take them to-go for later that day.
Cooking class details
The “Hanoi and Northern Highlands” cooking class costs 1,320,000 VND ($58.88 USD). The price includes the market tour, an English-speaking chef, all of the food, the detailed food preparation instructions and guidance, drinks throughout the class and lunch, a pamphlet with the recipes from the day, and a Hanoi Cooking Centre apron. If you are not interested in taking the “Hanoi and Northern Highlands” class, there are also classes available about making spring rolls, coastal cuisine, street food, a vegetarian class and an international class that periodically changes.
Although you will be eating a lot of food at the end of the class, it would be smart to eat a small snack or meal before the class as it will be about 3.5 hours before you will be able to eat all the yummy food!
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.