Cookery class, Hoi An

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 Last night we went to the Secret Garden restaurant for dinner on the recommendation of one of the guests at the hotel. What a great find (when you find it) beautiful restaurant, cool hand towels on arrival, complimentary snack, and a free gift on departure. Beautiful food. And only about $3.00 more than any of the outside eating houses. You probably wouldn’t call it the “real” Vietnam, but it was very nice. It was only when we got back to the hotel that we found out they were recommending the pizza. If I had known that before we went, we probably would have gone somewhere else.

Today we had a cooking lesson at one of the restaurants in town. First on the agenda was a walk through the market to pick our ingredients. Everything is so fresh, I like the idea that they only bring to market what they are going to sell. There is no refrigeration so if it isn’t sold it goes off. The fish market gets around the problem by having huge lumps of ice in buckets,that they keep the fish the are trying to sell, in. The Vic Market fish traders measure the sale of fish and seafood at Easter by the tonne. The Hoi An market sellers may each sell a small bowl of shell-fish or 10 fish on a good day.

The menu we cooked was Hoi An springrolls, Vietnamese pancakes, Claypot fish, Banana flower salad. I think one of the big secrets to the food over here is the huge amounts of fresh herbs you eat your meals with, it is not just a bit of lettuce and some Vietnamese mint that we are given at home. Here it is a blend of coriander, mint, Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese basil and shredded lettuce, with random variations depending on the venue.

I shared my table, at the cooking school, with a woman from New Zealand who had cycled from Singapore with her husband and three sons. All the boys are at school, the youngest was 8. They are on a cycling holiday through Asia, then relocating to the UK. They were doing about 50 miles a day, but had done a couple of 100 mile days. They had done no training before they left – she had ridden to work once or twice, and they were riding mountain bikes, with mountain bike tyres, and 2 pannier bags on each bike. Nothing had been pre booked except for the plane fares. It had taken them 4 months to get to Hoi An, and as they are starting to run out of time (and in her case enthusiasm) they were going to start catch public transport for the next leg. I think they are scheduled to fly to the UK next week. I have to say I was impressed and a little bit envious.

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