Sunday, March 22, 2009

If You Can't Stand the Heat ...

…get into the kitchen! It feels as though it may be our hottest day yet, so what did the sons and I do? Take a cooking class, of course! The class was held at the Missy Roo Restaurant just around the block from our hotel, and started with, what else, a relaxed cup of coffee. One can’t get moving too fast in this heat.

The next step was going to Dong Ba Market to purchase some of the fresh ingredients. Sad to say, we moved through the market too quickly for me to stop and take any photos, though we did learn a thing or two. As I would have guessed, the stalls indoors, under the cover of a real roof, are charged a higher rent than the stalls outside with tarps or metal sheets for roofs. We also went further into the food section of the market than we had before; this was the first time we’d seen any meat stalls. Older son commented that it put eating fish in a new light to see the fish draw its dying breath as you buy it. Younger son, meanwhile, noted that the tofu was of higher quality than at home and at about one-thirtieth the cost.

Back at the restaurant, they had everything laid out for us to start. The very first thing we did was start the stock for the Hue Beef Soup we’d be making last. Then, in the tradition of cooking shows, that pot was taken to the kitchen to simmer while we made some other things, starting with Banh Khoai (Fried Pancake). The first step was to fry the tofu, something younger son and I realized we’d been doing wrong at home. It needs more oil than we’ve been using. Then we fried the shrimp and pork. After the batter was made, the instructor cooked one pancake to show us the technique, after which I made a meat one, and younger son made a tofu one. Then older son got his turn. Since he’d seen younger son and me both flip the pancake over and have it break, he’d learned from our mistakes and came close to the instructor’s pancake in terms of finished appearance. Here’s his pancake, followed by hers. To eat the pancake, you cut two strips, put them in a bowl with some fresh greens and bean sprouts, and peanut sauce (younger son’s was made with soy sauce, while ours was made with fish sauce).

First course, eaten, we moved on to spring rolls, both fresh (Nem Chay) and fried (Nem Chien Chay). We made all of these with tofu so that we wouldn’t have to do everything twice. The first ones we made used fresh (uncooked) filling; these were the ones that would later be fried. The tricks to rolling them include getting the rice paper just wet enough and not too wet, using the right amount of filling, and positioning it just right on the rice paper, in the center at one side. Then you fold the sides in and crease them below where the filling is and, starting at the filling end, roll it all up. Then we cooked the filling for the fresh spring rolls and rolled those up. Here are the instructor and her assistant helping with the cooking. The sons worked on the fried rolls first, after which I replaced older son so that he could write down some notes. The final step was to make the sauce and eat the finished product, three fresh spring rolls and three or four fried spring rolls each.

The final dish was the Hue beef noodle soup (no Vietnamese translation given, unfortunately). The interesting part about this is that the beef was cooked in a ladle in the pot of stock. Here’s a photo of the finished soup, to which one adds greens and bean sprouts before eating. After we got back to the hotel, older son went into what he called “snake mode” to sleep and digest. None of us were particularly thrilled when the husband came back from the Hue University conference at which he spoke this morning telling us that a taxi would be here at 5:45 to take us to the conference banquet he didn’t know about until he got to the conference this morning. Needless to say, had we known about a banquet tonight, we would have done the cooking class another day. Oh well, I expect we’ll live.

P.S. If anyone wants any of the recipes, comment or email me. I can’t promise I’ll get them typed and sent immediately, and I’ll do the best I can on the instructions part to tell you what you need to know. If there’s an Asian market in your town, you will probably be able to find the specialized ingredients (rice paper, fish sauce, etc.).


Karen said...

Jean, You never seize to amaze me. Taking the cooking class must have been extremely interesting. What a great idea! Hope the banquet was as much fun.

VA said...

In C'Ville Garden rolls are a standard item we select at the Saigon Cafe! Maybe younger and olders sons can make some extra money working there - their kids have gone on through higher education to more lucrative careers!