Monday, January 12, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: Cooking Class, Street Food

Hanoi Cooking Centre
I took two morning-long courses here, starting on Saturday with "Food of Hanoi and the North". The dishes were Banana flower salad with pork and prawns, Fresh spring rolls with omelet and shrimp, with an awesome dipping sauce, and Ginger chicken clay pot. Dessert was Corn and coconut pudding with pandan.

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Those little yellow things would eventually become bananas, so cutting banana flowers is a fairly costly exercise. Our salad involved two petals, one to serve as the bowl, and one to chiffonade. Soak the chiffonade for fifteen minutes in water with lime juice to soften without discoloring, then add in the other ingredients (chopped pork, shallot, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts). The dressing is similar to the dipping sauce I'll describe below. That's me with my cooking partner Stacey, a Brit by way of Greece.

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The spring rolls are pretty standard, except perhaps for the addition of some pho, but the dipping sauce is delectable. Ingredients (you'll want to make this!): 2 tbsp lime juice, 1/2 tsp rice vinegar. Combine with tbsp sugar and dissolve. Then add in tbsp fish sauce, finely minced large garlic clove and 1/2 seeded red chili pepper (or to taste).

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To make the ginger chicken, you cut up chicken, marinate in tsp fish sauce, 1/2 clove garlic, chopped, about tsp julienned ginger, a pinch of sugar salt, and black pepper. Fry up the chicken most of the way ...

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... add 1/2 tsp annatto oil, finish browning. Put in clay pot with tsp more of fish sauce, more ginger, and oven bake for 6-9 minutes. Top with some julienned kaffir lime leaves. Fab!

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Street Food Tour
We started our morning with a hearty pho bo, beef noodle soup, a traditional breakfast choice in Vietnam.

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On our way to a walk through the local wet market (pics here--or scroll down to previous post), we encountered a couple of opportunities to sample vendors' offerings, such as milk apples (Chrysophyllum cainito)

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Other foods we sampled (or I sampled separately) included water chestnuts, sticky rice, Vietnamese apples, and roasted sweet corn.

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Next stop, a banh cuon restaurant, which served these super thin wet rice batter crepes, filled with mushrooms, chicken or pork, then rolled. The dipping sauce was sweet and sour, to which our guided added a dash of waterbug oil--waterbug? Yeah.

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We stopped by a little shop with all sorts of candied fruits (I liked the ginger plums best) before making our way to a little alley with a popular bun cha stand.

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What is bun cha?

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It's a fatty pork and noodle soup, in our case served with fried spring rolls and piles of noodles. The guide also got us some fresh Vietnamese "donuts", with mung bean inside. They were delicious--unlike what you'll likely be offered at bia hoi, which are stale and greasy.

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Aside from a trip to a famous and much-lauded, but generally ho-hum coffee shop, our last stop was further up the little alley, for dessert. Che refers to any of these sweet fruity or gelatinous beverage, pudding, soup sort of things. Also yummy.

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Some other street foods I ate included these strips of grilled, mechanically separated ham (edible with the sauce, but not so much otherwise), pigeon (fattier than you might think by looking at them) and stir-fried frog with bamboo shoots--this was quite good!

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KOTO Restaurant
This place is located directly across the street from the Temple of Literature. It is famous for its fusion cuisine and also for employing and training underprivileged youth for the food business. I had five spice grilled duck breast on a potato and mushroom patty, and it was terrific.

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City-View Cafe

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Yeah, there is a great city view, but that's about all there is to be said for this restaurant. I thought I'd go upscale for one night in Hanoi, and I ordered the steak--a measly gristly bit of beef and some spring rolls far inferior to what we made in cooking class. give this place a miss.

Still, the mixed drinks and the atmosphere make for a good opportunity to toast the city of Hanoi!

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