Explore Asian Culture Through a Local Home Cooking Experience

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Bucket List Worthy   Flight Network Foodie  

By Meggie 

It never crossed my mind the idea of attending a cooking class in my life. Do not be mistaken though, I can go crazy about good food, but I simply do not believe in wasting time in a cooking class with strangers trying to imitate a local recipe but could never get there.

What I got to experience in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was however entirely different. It was not a cooking class like any other. When we were on our third day pondering where to go next after Cu Chi and the city tour, we were recommended by Angela, another tourist from UK to try “So you think you can cook?” on www.triip.me. The idea appeared quite interesting to us. We will be cooking in a local’s home after shopping for the recipes in a local market together. 

Coming to picking the dishes for preparation, we registered “goi cuon” (wrapped rolls) as one of the two dishes. We had it once upon arrival and it was good. Plus the fact that it does not involve any sophisticated cooking process. More importantly, we could get the ingredients in China Town back in the U.S. Cat and Linh, the local guides from Triip recommended the second dish to be the sweet and sour authentic fish soup. Although we never tasted it before, we liked the idea immediately – we are fish lover and again, the cooking procedure sounds relatively simple.

Local Vietnamese wet market

We started at 8am to Ben Thanh market to shop for the ingredients. We were quite overwhelmed by the amount of goods being carried in Ben Thanh market – one of the largest wholesale markets in Saigon. Our tour guides Cat and Linh turned out to be two young and wonderful ladies who grew up in Saigon. The ladies led us through the market directly to the fresh ingredient corners. We never saw so many live poultry and fish and prawns and squids before! We needed fresh prawns and some pork for our “goi cuon” and fresh fish for the soup.

Cat and Linh helped us pick the live prawns (one by one) and one fish that weighed 1.2kg. Absolutely an exotic shopping experience I must say! They were live and moving in their hands! After that, we walked on to shop for the vegetable ingredients. We had carrots, tomatoes, bean sprouts, some tropical herbs, chili, and garlic on our list. Utterly fresh and the herbs smelled really good and inviting. The final item we shopped was the rice noodles (“bun” as the locals say) for the “goi cuon”. We were done with our shopping in 2 hours, happily awarded ourselves with chilled fresh coconut juice before heading to our guide’s house for the cooking.

Choosing ingredient at the market

We spent the next hour in the kitchen peeling carrots, cutting tomatoes, cleaning the herbs, slicing garlics. The most fun part was preparing the fish sauce, wrapping the “goi cuon” with rice paper, and finally brewing the fish soup. We learnt that dip sauces are “the spirit” in Vietnamese cuisine. If the sauce tastes good, the food tastes good. Linh told us in the more rural parts of Vietnam, sometimes the people could eat just plain rice with fish sauce. The sauce for “goi cuon” was a perfect combination of rice vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, and fresh chili. Linh noted down the proportion of each sauce ingredient for us, but I really am not sure we could ever produce the same perfectly blended taste of the fish sauce like we did that day. It was a little bit sour, a little bit sweet, a little bit salty, a little bit spicy, and tastefully fragrant of garlic, vinegar, and fish sauce.

The wrapping part was quite tricky too. To be able to present the “goi cuon” stuffing two thin slices of prawn, a slice of belly pork, some rice noodles, carrots, and herbs was quite a challenge but at the same time, really an art. We attempted a few times to finally be contended with a version easily told to be done by a foreigner. But admittedly it tasted so very good!

The second dish – fish soup – was ready after 15 minute brewing. It was a signature dish in the Southern parts of Vietnam, and it was uniquely tasty. The fish was not any type we tried elsewhere; it had a really soft and tender texture. The broth is clear with slices of tomatoes, bean sprouts, and lots of different types of herbs. It tasted sour, sweet, and mildly spicy. Yummy!

Enjoying the meal

We finished our course stomach-full and really satisfied. Our guides offered us some fresh mango as dessert and that was how we concluded an absolutely awesome cooking experience. Personally, it was beyond a cooking experience actually. It was also about getting to know the locals, their lifestyle, their rituals, and their cuisines, like we have never tried before in our past travel experience. So if you have a plan to travel in Asia in the most authentic way, we would suggest you try “So you think you can cook?” on www.trip.me. And if you do, Facebook me your version of the “goi cuon”.

 

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