Besides getting clothes tailor made in Hoi An, there was another thing that we had to do in Hoi An and that was to do a cooking class. There are a few options available but in the end we chose Red Bridge Cooking School as it looked the most professional and had the most positive reviews. From the 3 available class options, we decided to do the Delxue Full Day Tour which only costs US$43 per person. The class is conducted in English, apparently operates everyday of the year and the maximum class size is 8 people.
The 7 hour class starts off with a welcome drink at a cafe, you are then taken to an organic farm to see the local farmers work to supply various greenery and herbs to restaurants, cafes and markets. Before arriving to Red Bridge Cooking School (which also has a restaurant serving lunch and dinner daily by special request), we stopped over to the local markets to shop for some of the ingredients we’ll be using during the class; this also gave us a chance to have a glimpse at the hustle and bustle of the markets which are open every single day for the locals.
Ant and I really enjoyed the cooking class. We were so full by the end of it and our chef and guide, Phi, made the entire class very entertaining and his jokes and advice were quite funny eg if you get chilli in your eyes, apparently to “treat” it, you grab some hair and brush the ends of it into the affected eye! I’m not too sure if it’s actually true but it was hilarious to see one of the guys do it.
So the day started at 8am, we meet at Hai Cafe for our welcome drink. We both had a coffee each; I’m a cà phê sữa đá (iced milk coffee) girl whilst Ant likes his coffee hot and without milk (cà phê đen nóng).We spent about half an hour here as one group was running a little late, but that was ok as it allowed me to check out the rest of the cafe before we started. I really loved the relaxed atmosphere and charming decor of this cafe; we even went back to the cafe in the afternoon to escape the hot sun with a cool drink. I can’t vouch for what the food would be like here but seeing some of the options on the blackboard near the BBQ in the courtyard did tempt me. Will need to check it out the next time we go back..
There are two entrances to this restaurant.
Addresses: 98 Nguyễn Thái Học & 111 Trần Phú, Hội An
Telephone: (+84) (0510) 386 3210
After the welcome drinks, we were taken to Tra Que Organic Village by a minivan. Tra Que Organic Village is an organic farm located about 10 minutes from Hoi An. Here the farmers use traditional methods of growing and harvesting many herbs, vegetables and greenery; all which is done without any form of machinery what so ever. The farmers here earn their income through supplying their produce to restaurants and cafes, and also through the tourism that come through here (we were encouraged to give a tip if we were to volunteer watering the plants).
The size of the farm was massive and everyday, starting early in the morning, the farmers would water each plant manually by carrying two heavy water cans back and forth the well and up and down the rows of plants. I decided to give this a go. Normally each can would fill up about 5L (5 quarts) of water but it obviously wasn’t filled up that much for me, just in case it was a little too heavy. It was quite straight forward, swing the cans back and forth so you get an evenly distributed spray of water and keep walking forward. As you can see in the picture above, I had my right hand tilted down way too much so by the time that can was empty, the other one was still going so I had obviously missed a spot! Whoops!
So what do you think? Does the farmer look suit me?
Before we set off to the markets, we were provided a refreshing drink of ginger syrup-infused water with basil seeds. The basil seeds look a little like tadpole eggs so Phi jokingly freaked out some people out by saying we were having a tadpole egg drink! Although I’m not a big fan of ginger, I did quite enjoy this drink as the ginger flavour was very subtle and the textures of the basil seeds made the drink very interesting (think: slight chewy texture of tapioca pears with a crunch in the centre). I think I need to make this drink when the season gets warmer.
After the refreshing drink we were on our way back to the local markets to shop around for ingredients for the class. This shot was taken shortly after we exited the farm. There was a dirt pathway leading to the main road and to my left was this! Simply spectacular hey?
Like all local markets throughout Vietnam, there’s a lot of commotion and a variety of items for sale. There were sections for fresh fruit and vegetables, greenery and herbs, spices and condiments, noodles, seafood, poultry and red meats. Everything is laid out in front of you and from the look of things, the produce is as fresh as it can be. The locals would squeeze their motorbikes/bicycles through the narrow walkways, pull over at a stall and quickly purchase something before hopping off to the next stall for something else.
We arrived at the cooking school and couldn’t believe how amazing everything was! Dining table near the inviting pool. Palm trees dotted around luscious greenery provided welcoming shade. River along the edge of the premise. And deck chairs so you can laze around after all the hard work you’ve done. There’s a long bench in the centre of the class, lined with chopping boards, knives, gas burners, steamers and ingredients. We also had 2 assistants helping us with the clean up so that made everything run smoothly and efficiently; now where can I get one to bring back home?
We were told that drinks (besides wine and spirits) were on the house. You could imagine the sheer amount of joy that brought to our group. But this was a little dangerous too because by the time we got to the cooking school, it was very hot and the only way to solve this was to hit back a few drinks to get one re-hydrated again. I think I downed two 500mL bottles of Biere Larue in a matter of moments, all on an empty stomach mind you but it went down so smoothly without any bitterness. I was feeling a little tipsy during the class because of this but I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one because pretty much everyone was feeling the same!
Cheers to that!
There were 9 of us in this class this day and we soon found out later that we were all Aussies. Brilliant! Everyone was easy going and genuinely wanted to learn about Vietnamese cuisine. Our cooking class sets out to make 4 Vietnamese dishes; Phở bò (beef noodle soup), lemongrass prawns wrapped in banana leaf, clay pot fish with dill and turmeric and grilled chicken and banana flower salad. The class did not seem rushed at all, it was pretty much all hands on; tasks were shared amongst everyone if the job was too big or to ensure everyone played a part in making the dish.
I was quite impressed to find out that we were actually going to learn how to make the rice noodles for our Phở from scratch! A batter of rice was made by soaking rice grains in water overnight and grinding this mixture until a smooth thin batter forms. A ladleful of this batter was then poured and smoothed out thinly over a muslin cloth that has been draped tightly over a pot of boiling water. It is steamed for a minute and then peeled off with a bamboo stick and lightly oiled. Once we have two rice sheets, they were cut into thin strips for our noodles.
We also learnt how to make the Phở broth. Beef bones, onions, shallots and pieces of ginger were grilled on the BBQ for a few minutes before they were plunged into a pot of water and left to simmer for a minimum of an hour, skimming any fat or scum that rose to the surface regularly. The broth was cooked on top of the BBQ whilst we continued on preparing the other dishes. When the broth was about done, we got to put our Phở together. Our noodles and bean sprouts were quickly blanched in the boiling broth, we topped the noodles with thinly sliced pieces of beef and fried shallots, then the piping hot broth was poured over the top and we were allowed to enjoy our bowl of Phở by the pool.
There’s nothing more satisfying than making your own Phở besides gobbling it all up of course. This is the first bowl of Phở I’ve ever made! The broth wasn’t as meaty as I’m used to but it was still good, it was more of a light and fragrant beef broth. I understand that we couldn’t cook this broth for longer due to time constraints of the class but if one was to make this at home then definitely cook the broth for about 4 hours (obviously the longer the better).
A simple dish to whip up for a BBQ is this dish of lemongrass prawn wrapped in banana leaf. Using a mortar and pestle, we pounded a mixture of lemongrass, shallots, garlic and chilli until grounded, oil was added to make a paste. The prawns were coated with this paste and then wrapped up in banana leaf to create a little parcel which was grilled on the BBQ for about 7 minutes on each side.
These prawns were simply served with a lime, salt and pepper dipping sauce and were so tender and flavoursome.
Everyone was assigned a vegetable to shred up or tasks to prepare the chicken for the grilled chicken and bamboo flower salad. The vegetables featuring in this salad include banana flower, green papaya, green mango, carrot, water spinach and chilli. Earlier on during the day, Phi promised us to introduce us to Edward Chopstick-hands which we found out to be his alter ago. With three pairs of chopsticks in 2 hands, he tossed the shredded vegetables and dressing with precision and speed.
We were instructed to take our dish over to the restaurant to enjoy it and relax with more drinks. I think we all were starting to feel quite full at this point and couldn’t believe the generous serving of this salad! The chicken was cooked beautifully and salad was served with toasted rice paper which was fragrant and nutty and provided additional crunch.
The last dish we prepared was clay pot fish with dill and turmeric. Freshly ground turmeric coated chunks of fish which were grilled on the BBQ and then placed in a clay pot with a fish sauce broth, chilli, shallots, peanuts and dill and cooked until broth has reduced further.
I love cooking with a clay pot, it gives dishes an additional earthiness to it. It is a fantastic way to make caramelised meat dishes as it retains the moisture and keeps meats tender. The fish was exactly that, tender and succulent and jammed packed with flavour and it was served with rice vermicelli noodles to provide something to soothe the dominate the strong turmeric and dill flavours. And although there wasn’t that much food, we sadly couldn’t finish our meal (possibly due to the sheer amount of alcohol we had consumed which made us feel bloated for the entire evening).
After our scrumptious and filling lunch, we make our way over to the pool to relax or have a swim. What a perfect backdrop for a cooking class that didn’t cost an arm or a leg. We get to rest for about half an hour before we are then taken back to the Old Town by boat.
I’d definitely recommend those who are visiting Hoi An and want to do a cooking class to check out Red Bridge; they also have morning half day & short evening classes.
Red Bridge Restaurant & Cooking School
Address: Thon 4, Cẩm Thanh, Hội An
Telephone: (+84) (0510) 393 3222