It’s no secret that we love the food in Hanoi, so much so that we eat out for dinner every night and our cooking skills aren’t tested further than scrambled eggs for lunch. So it was a nice treat to be able to learn about and cook traditional Vietnamese food ourselves, thanks to Hannah’s birthday gift of a cookery class at the Blue Butterfly Restaurant.
The Blue Butterfly had raving reviews online and they run a slick operation. We arrived at 3:30pm on a Saturday and were seated with a glass of chilled lemonade. We waited for the remaining 8 members of the class to arrive and made our introductions. We had a very friendly group, mainly from Australia and one from America, ranging from young teens to early 50s. The fact that we all gelled well made the whole experience more enjoyable. It was also great chatting to them about our experience of living and working here as the rest of them were in Hanoi on holiday, quizzing us about the best places to visit. It was nice to be able to give them advice and made us realise how far we’ve come/how much we appreciate actually living here and having the ability to ‘do Hanoi’ thoroughly. You cannot fully see Hanoi in under a week!
Our chef and teacher for the day was Thien, an enthusiastic Vietnamese man who carries out this cookery course twice a day, seven days a week (hence the slick operation). The agenda for the day was 1. Collect some ingredients from the local market 2. Make beef noodle soup (Pho Bo) 3. Make spring Rolls (Nem Ran) 4. Make Banana Flower and Chicken Salad and 5. Eat food. It sounded simple enough!
We started off by boiling the broth for the Pho, which should normally be done over the course of 10 hours, but we only had 4. Once that was bubbling away on the heat, we were taken to Dong Xuan market just up the road form Blue Butterfly, on individual tuk tuks. It was great being back at the market we had explored at the beginning of our trip, and with someone who knew the ins and outs of the alleys so well. We bought a few bits and bobs from local traders while Thien educated us about the source of the food and allowed us to try a few delicacies.
One of the best things about the food in Vietnam is how fresh everything is. No part of the animal is wasted and everything we saw would be sold by the end of the day. Thien told us that cows are killed just once a day and sold/bought at the market, so if you want to eat beef you have to do your shopping at 5/6am. Pigs are slaughtered twice a day, and chickens can simply be beheaded as and when customers point out which one they’d like for dinner. It’s probably one of the main reasons why we’ve never had dodgy stomachs in our four months of eating street food (which has likely been jinxed now). We’ve found the same perks when buying bread at our local bakery. It’s all freshly baked on sight and tastes so much better for it. The dough is soft and spongy, made to be consumed within 24 hours. You wouldn’t think that Vietnam would do bread better than back home but it’s another aspect of living here we will miss.
By the time we were back in the kitchen it was time to get down to some food prep. We weren’t given much free reign when it came to the actual cooking, as most of this was done by the professional chefs working in the restaurant and Thien. But we were happy for our experience to be a mix of listening, chopping/mixing here and there, but also taking a back seat in the knowledge that the food we would eat at the end was actually going to taste nice. There was little room allowed for us amateurs to ruin the end product.
It’s safe to say that the food looked and tasted very professional. We were given the recipes to take home with us, but who knows when we’ll be able to try them unguided by Thien. For now we’re quite happy enjoying the street food and don’t fancy slaving over a stove for 10 hours to make a broth that we can devour in five minutes. Hopefully when we’re back in the UK and craving some Pho, we’ll remember all of the tricks Blue Butterfly taught us. Thanks Hannah!