Hungry in Hoi An
When in Vietnam, you eat well. Food is a well-deserved source of national pride in this diverse, beautiful land where fresh ingredients meet local flair with absolutely, mind-bendingly delicious results. Traveling in Vietnam may have its challenges and quirks, but come meal-time, you forgive any nuisance or obstacle as an acceptable penance to enjoy some of the world’s most subtly delectable food. Each region of this latitudinal land has its own venerable specialities that celebrate the bounty of the region, and we humbly paid homage to many of them throughout our journey.
Because we’re absolutely fanatical about food and trying new cuisine wherever we go, we decided to take—you guessed it!—a cooking class while in the foodie haven of Hoi An, a glorious Mecca for tourists seeking culture and a newly tailored wardrobe, conveniently positioned midway between Saigon and Hanoi along the central coastline. We chose Thuan Tinh Island Cooking Class, which offered a unique and fun experience a bit out of town on its eponymous island down river by boat.
But first, we started in the morning market in the center of Hoi An’s Old Town, navigating the tiny, congested lanes bursting with the entrepreneurial energy we’ve come to attribute to the industrial Vietnamese people. Martin was in love with every single vendor, having to be dragged away from the uncharacteristically affable poultry peddler who allowed him to pet her baby chicks and ogle her fat ducks—even graciously posing for a photo with a beautiful, proud smile. There is something magnetic about this bustling activity in the markets of Southeast Asia, and we can't get enough!
With our provisions in tow, we made our way via slow boat down the Thu Bon River toward Thuan Tinh Island, passing leafy, elegant water coconut palms and local folks getting on with daily life along the riverbanks.
Our delightful, calming chef teacher, Kienthai, made our very full morning and early afternoon go by with breezy fun, showing us how to make the light, local version of Spring Rolls (Goi Cuon) with Peanut Hoisin Sauce (Nuoc Leo), sizzling Vietnamese Crepes (Banh Xeo) with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, Southern-style Beef Vermicelli (Bun Bo Nam Bo) and Hanoi-style Rice Noodle Soup with Beef (Pho Bo Ha Noi).
When we sat down to eat, we devoured and relished each dish; however, our favorite had to be the crispy goodness that is the Banh Xeo. Watch out friends: We feel a Vietnamese dinner party may be in order upon our return!
Sizzling Vietnamese Crepes – Banh Xeo
From Tinh Island Cooking Class
1 cup rice flour
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt
ladle of coconut cream (optional)
Soybean or high heat cooking oil
cooked pork slices
tiny dried shrimp
green onion, bean sprouts, lettuce, mint and coriander for garnish
2 cloves garlic
red chili to taste
1 tsp sugar
wedge of lime
2 tbsp fish sauce
1) In a large mixing bowl whisk together 1 cup rice flour, 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon black pepper and a pinch of salt. Add water until you reach the consistency of a batter for crepes (slightly thicker than milk). Add a small ladle coconut cream (optional). Set batter to rest 15 minutes. Alternatively you can soak rice overnight and use a blender to make the batter.
2) Heat up an 8-inch non-stick pan over high heat. Add ¾ tablespoon soybean oil. Add 2 very thin slice of pork and several tiny shrimps. Wait until the oil smokes. Pour ½ small ladle of batter (you should hear the characteristic sizzling otherwise your heat is too low) and swirl pan to coat the middle of the pan evenly. Pour another ½ small ladle on the side of the pan and swirl to coat the edge evenly. The crepe should be thin and of even thickness (avoid having the middle thicker than the edge).
3) Reduce heat after 1 minute and cook to a crisp for 1-2 more minute, drizzling a few drops of oil with a spoon on the outer edge of the crepe if necessary. The delicate flavor of the dish comes from the rice and turmeric batter being fried burnt to a nice brown color. Adding a few drops of oil will prevent the crepe from burning black
4) Flip the crepe and crisp the other side for 1 minute. To flip, tilt the pan at a 45 degree angle with your wrist and forearm. Slide the crepe towards the outer edge of the pan and flip straight up mostly with wrist.
5) Flip the crepe again and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chopped green onion and about 30 bean sprout strands. Fold the crepe in two like a taco to steam bean sprouts inside and transfer to a serving dish with lettuce, mint and coriander. Serve with Peanut Hoisin Sauce or Nuoc Cham Dipping sauce.
Nuoc Cham Dipping sauce
1) Pile 2 cloves garlic sliced thinly with slices of red chili in a mortar (or chop finely if no mortar). Transfer to a small sauce dish. Add 1 small teaspoon sugar and squeeze 1/8 lime juice, add 2 tablespoons premium fish sauce (from Phu Quoc Island) and 4 tablespoons water.
2) Taste and adjust with sugar, water, or fish sauce to fit your taste.
Tinh Island Cooking Class
Tel: +84 (0) 904 865 935
Address: Thon 1, Cam Thanh Village, Hoi An, Vietnam