Cookery classes are to Hoi An what Starbucks branches (unfortunately) are to London i.e. one on every corner. Essentially, almost every restaurant you walk past advertises their own, which can make it a bit of a minefield when it comes to selecting one. Pumpkin had done something similar many years ago in both China and Cambodia (I’m still at a loss to explain why Pumpkin isn’t the one writing the blog) so was fairly laid back about the decision. Actually – he’s fairly laid back about every decision in life.
Mum (a long standing fantabulous chef and in my biased opinion, one of the best Indian chefs in the world) and Dad decided to sit this one out but for sibling and myself, this was to be a highlight of our trip so why on earth were we wandering around Hoi An on our penultimate night still looking for a class?!
- Well renowned classes versus lesser known classes – the better established companies may have a good reputation preceding them with well-equipped kitchens and ample working space but the smaller ones are perhaps more authentic and less touristy.
- Group size – classes can vary from groups of 20 to private classes for 2 so think about which kind of cooking environment you would thrive on and learn best from. Pumpkin will risk my wrath to verify that as delicious as my home baking may be (sorry to toot my own trumpet but I make a mean cupcake), I am not known for my savoury dishes! For me, therefore, smaller classes with more one to one guidance from the chef was definitely a necessity!
- Budget – the classes we explored varied greatly in price from 15 USD – 40 USD per person for 2 hour classes.
- Organisational skills – some of the better known classes, particularly those featured heavily in Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor etc often book up well in advance and would usually need at least several days notice. Smaller classes can often be booked within 24 hours of the scheduled class time.
- Menu – most classes have choices of set menus – worthwhile contacting or heading down to the class of your choice in advance to check this against your preferences or dietary needs.
- Time of day and attached market trip – many of the classes offer 8.30-9am guided trips to local food markets to learn about and purchase fresh ingredients before budding chefs-in-the-making proceed to preparing a full blown Vietnamese meal. This may involve forfeiting your free hotel breakfast or might not appeal if you’re not keen on squid salads for brunch! Other classes run later in the day and may suit those who want the cookery experience without the market trip or who want it to coincide with dinner. Many of the classes held later in the day do offer the market trip but the true experience involves getting there early in the morning.
After much deliberation (and if I’m honest, much inefficiency on my part), we took a bit of a gamble and opted for a very reasonably priced 4pm – 6pm class at the Viet Vic Cookery School on our final day in this gastronomic nation….and it really was a gamble. It is so authentic and understated in fact that I’m unable provide you with any links to this local riverside find.
When we first entered and enquired about the class, we were met with almost surprise. We struggled a bit with the communication when trying to discuss menus and then witnessed an adorable toddler running around the restaurant with a cardboard box on his head, being chased by his elderly but royally unimpressed Grandma…..Clearly, we had walked into a family-run restaurant, encompassed within a family home and with a slight sense of trepidation (and the knowledge that it was now or never), we parted with our dollars and hoped for the best. Fortunately for us, this leap of faith paid off hugely.
The chef, another member of the family, met us the next day and other than the 3 of us, we were accompanied by just one couple. The class was carried out on one of the restaurant tables and with the use of a portable stove. With such a small group, we made everything from scratch, had a combined menu featuring 5 dishes and were in close proximity to the chef throughout the class to witness his techniques. He taught us a lot, not just about recipes but also about knife skills, local ingredients and Vietnamese culture. He also told us most Vietnamese men grow up being taught how to cook! An interesting contrast to many other Asian cultures I’ve been exposed to.
As a doctor, it is almost a rite of passage to have illegible handwriting so I was immediately excused from recipe scribbling duties. I achieved two personal firsts on this class – (1) de-veining prawns for the first time (2) eating squid for the first time – both of which I’d been reluctant to do for many years and now feel happy to do.
The 2 hour class ended up being nearly 3 hours long including the gourmet dinner that we all ate together at the end, including our own handmade squid salad, Vietnamese spring rolls, fish wrapped in banana leaf, Hoi An Won Tons and rice pancakes.
It doesn’t get much better on holiday than fine, handmade, authentic food and stimulating conversation with fellow travellers in an intimate setting, made all the more rewarding with the knowledge that we cooked it ourselves!
The chef did gave us the option to visit the food market but correctly pointed out that the early morning is really the time to explore the market so the group decided to stay put, although he kindly offered to take us the following morning at no additional charge. We would have happily taken up his offer had it not been for the journey back to reality scheduled for the next morning.
The kind of class you prefer is an entirely individual decision but if you are more inclined to something smaller, more hands-on and truly authentic, try out this small family-run business – extremely good value for money and a thoroughly enjoyable 3 hours.