Vietnam: Hungry in Hoi An(2/2)

This blog post in a continuation of Vietnam: Happy in Hoi An (1/2). Click here to find out more about our stay in this beautiful, ancient city and what we did during our 3 days here; including visiting the old town, our stay at Sincerity Hotel, a trip to An Bang Beach and booking ourselves into a last minute cookery course that started with our whole hotel staring at us….

So after searching far, wide and long for a cookery course (see the first of this two-part blog Vietnam: Happy in Hoi An (1/2)) that suited our growing list of requirements, it seems that the class we needed was under our very nose the whole time. We awoke bright and early at 7am and rushed down to our hotel’s travel desk to book onto the 8am course.

If you read my previous blog you’re probably wondering why we were the talk of the hotel. Since booking the course it seemed that every single member of staff would come by to check out this crazy pair of discoverers. We began to wonder what we had let ourselves in for? We figured that perhaps we’d made the wrong choice. In reality, it seems, that we were one of the first groups to do the course. We were the guinea pigs. Let me tell you how this unforgettable, highly recommended day unfolded…

We met the Food and Beverage Manager, Angel, in our hotel lobby at 8am, sharp. She took us to the ‘Backstreet Boys bar’ where we were crooning the night before and we giggled as the barman waved at us as he rushed to the CD player to put on some more classic tuneage. Angel explained our itinerary for the day and it sounded fantastic. We would begin by wandering around the local market to taste, purchase and spot new foods. We would then return to Sincerity Hotel and learn how our sustainable, eco-friendly hotel grows it’s own crops and vegetables. We would then end with a 3 course meal cooked by ourselves with hands on tuition from their head chef; seafood was substituted with meat at our request and all was well; off to the market we went!!

On route to the market Angel made us aware that this was no simple, easy in and out; we were going to experience the local market like a local. The Wife and I were to source, order, barter and purchase the ingredients for our dinner. What’s more, the winner would bag themselves a prize. Game On. We were taught basic phrases, prices and words such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’ and ‘more, more, more’ for when they bag the purchase. Mrs DreamFlyDiscover was tasked with finding Bun (noodles) and Rau Nga (corriander) whilst I was responsible for Gia (beansprout) and Rau Hung (mint). Our walk around the market was sublime. There was so much colour and fragrance in the air that it has ruined my supermarket experience for life. Livestock, fresh fruit, colourful vegetables and vibrancy were everywhere we looked. Angel showed us countless fruit and vegetables that we were absolutely clueless about – we are so limited in the UK when in comes to Asian vegetation that we looked embarrassingly under educated. This was purely a locals market and we were the only tour group we found wondering around during our 45 minute stay, so it was only right that Angel made us dress and look the part as well as sound it.

After a good browse, a lot of explanation and a few tasting stops Angel watched from afar as we went to purchase our items. Mrs DreamFlyDiscover was straight in there with the Bun and Rau Nga receiving large quantities of each -the woman are usually at market and tend to get better deals than the gents. I tried hard with my Rau Hung and Gia and also received a respectable amount, mostly thanks to my pleading and begging being greeted by laughs and smiles.

We had half our dinner bagged up so it was time to head home. Such was the heat that when we returned to Sincerity Hotel that our first stop was our rooms for a super quick freshen up, another benefit of the localist-of-local classes.When we returned to Angel we were ushered into Sincerity’s Garden to meet Mr Bai, the gardener and groundskeeper who manages a large plot of land on the estate where the hotel grows it’s own herbs, potatoes and various vegetables. Quite unlike any other cookery course we learned how to prepare the earth, sow some seeds, water and farm. This was an amazing experience and very enjoyable although hot and sweaty work in the 33 degrees+ heat. Had we stayed a few more days we would have been able to see (and taste) our own hard work. Amazing. This was a particularly appropriate educational tool as Vietnamese food has strong roots in herbs, spices and fresh tasting ingredients as opposed to the spice and overpowering flavours of curries from neighbouring areas of Asia. It was a great experience all round I’m sure Mr Bai enjoyed watching us sweat and struggle too.

On to the cookery class and to our surprise we had an Al Fresco kitchen set up in the garden of our hotel. Situated in a covered, fully fanned, decked area (usually used for massages or therapy) at the rear of the garden, space was made for our portable work station, gas cooker and a romantic table for two. We were introduced to our chef, Thai, who was as immaculately dressed as could be possible. The set-up was faultless and absolutely spotlessly clean- unlike many of the other cookery classes or indeed kitchens we had experienced walking around the old town. This was the perfect location for us- and anybody else who is a bit more hygiene conscious when abroad. I mean, I’m no health freak and as long as I can’t see the kitchen then I’m not really thinking about it- however, when I am standing in it then its a very different story. I suppose this comes from a brief background working in kitchens when I was a student-come-shift manager in a busy Airport pub (see- I’ve never been too far from catching a flight!).

A table full of ingredients were laid out in front of us as and Thai explained our menu to us. Everything would be prepared from scratch using the brand new knives, unused chopping boards and all-new spotless equipment.

Being that this is a travel/experience blog I’ll skip the cooking details and head straight to the courses that we created. To start, we enjoyed a very fresh and light BBQ Beef & Papaya salad that was created, by and large, with the use of a grater to create fine and thin strips of most of the papaya and carrot; finished off with garlic, chillies, vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and Thai’s momma’s secret recipe (I’ll take it to my grave). Next up, Vietnamese Pancakes complete with a rose-cut carrot (which I will never ever successfully recreate). This was a delicious, crispy fried pancake complete with chicken, chilli, corriander (thanks Mrs Dream Fly Discover), Mint (you’re welcome) and countless more ingredients. Despite being fried this was, again, super light and can be enjoyed with cold rice paper to create delicious, cold wraps of fresh herbs and chicken with a little crunch from the pancakes- yum! The star of the show was our main course, Hot Pan Chicken. Google ‘Hot Pan Chicken’ and you’ll see this is a bit of a vague title; just rest assured it was the tastiest dish either of us had eaten throughout our entire vacation. Some how the team at Sincerity Hotel have managed to better hundreds (and thousands?) of years of culinary knowledge and packaged it in a delicious, tantilising, easy-to-make 3 course experience for their customers. The food standard and quality created on this course far surpassed our expectations and experiences anywhere else throughout the country.

I would highly recommend visiting Sincerity Hotel for their cookery course alone; if you are staying at Sincerity then it is simply a must do. If you’re looking for accommodation in Hoi An with a cookery course being one of your top priorities whilst in the area then again, I would highly recommend combining your course with a stay at this fantastic location. See Vietnam: Happy in Hoi An for a little more info on the pros and cons of this hotel; overall its a resounding thumbs I’m I am pleased to say.

Our courses concluded with us receiving a certificate, recipe, photo opportunity and big, heart handshakes from several of the staff. We shared our food with Angel, Thai and Mr Bai and received the saddest of farewells when we departed for Nha Trang the following day.

More of Nha Trang to follow on the next part of our Upside Down Heart Tour.

Carl from the future speaking here: Now that I’m back perhaps you’d like to check out what happened next, or indeed what happened before…. The following blogs are from my Upside Down Heart Tour; click until yours is content!

0.0 Vietnam, An Accidental Adventure
0.1 Planning Vietnam The Upside Down Heart Tour 

1  Vietnam: First Stop Hanoi
2. Vietnam: A Hello from Halong Bay
3. Vietnam: Happy in Hoi An (1/2)
3.1 Vietnam: Hungry In Hoi An (2/2) (You Are Here)

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What was your greatest cooking experience abroad? Can you recommend some other really great alternative cooking classes? How was your stay in Hoi An?  Have you ever been confused as to why you went to the market to haggle with locals in a foreign tongue for herbs and spices that you actually grow in the garden of your home anyway? Yeh… I missed that point at the time too…

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