You know when you have that moment where you are like, I knew I wasn’t getting the whole story? It’s kind of a combination between an ‘ah hah’ moment and a ‘told you so!’ Well I had one of those when we took a cooking class at the Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam and it was over ingredients.
I have been trying to re-create that ‘je ne sais qua’ that all Vietnamese salads in Vietnam have… but I’ve been doing it with Western recipes à la Martha, Gwyneth, and Nigella–who has never been to Vietnam by the way, as much as I do love her. And while they’ve been good, they haven’t tasted like what I’ve had in Vietnam. So I had one of these moments when they told us that aromatic herbs are a building block of Vietnamese cuisine… and they include: saw-leaf herb, hot mint, spearmint, anise basil, purple perilla, wild betel leaf, lemongrass, and thai basil. Throughout the class we also used ram, bananna flower (above, lower center), sour star fruit (above, lower right) and pumpkin greens… things that I’ve never seen in the States, nor in any of the recipes by aforementioned kitchen goddesses. And understandably as they’re impossible to come by in most places.
We made a bunch of fun things, the most exotic being this banana flower salad above. Grilled chicken skewers wrapped in lemon leaves was a favorite, below upper left. We also marinated pork and cooked it wrapped in a banana leaf in a bamboo shaft (below, lower right). All of the recipes are available for download here and although some ingredients you won’t be able to find, most of the recipes feature things that most everyone can find easily.
I would highly recomend this class. Undoubtedly, the highlight was our super petite instructor Thanh who looked to be about 14, but was probably closer to 30. She was so sweet and demure, but wow could she thwack her knife! I’ve noticed that all Asian chefs love square knives… and they like to use the side of the knife just as much as the blade… to do things like mince garlic with one heavy-handed blow.