I'm a writer and consultant living in Brisbane who loves travel in Australia, Asia, the Pacific and elsewhere.
Published October 15th 2013
Learn to cook and shop the Vietnamese way
Australian chef Tracey Lister is co-owner of Ha Noi Cooking Centre. Tracey lives in Vietnam with regular trips home to Melbourne. She is co-author of KOTO - A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, and writes guest articles for Australian publications.
Located in the city's famous old quarter at 44 Chau Long Street in a sunny yellow typical Hanoi-style building, Ha Noi Cooking Centre doubles as a cafe. A peaceful courtyard tucked behind the centre is a haven from the hustle of city streets for sitting and eating. Cooking classes are held on the ground floor.
Fresh meat is sold at the local market on our tour with Tracey Lister
Tracey chats knowledgeably about the district as she leads our class on a short walk to the local market. Here she explains the wonders of Vietnamese produce. Green, yellow and red colours greet us. All is fresh and clean. Turnover is high and quick.
Movement and Vietnamese voices surround us as we follow Tracey along rows of stalls. Pig carcasses hang from hooks, while benches display pork cuts prepared earlier that morning. Every part of the animal is used. We take in close-packed live fish in tanks, vast trays of snails, eggs, vegetables, fruit and herbs. Even love potions complete with legends.
There is no sign of the traditional fare of dog meat or water rats, but Tracey may be steering us away from those. Instead she picks a herb unknown to western cuisine, crushes it and lets us smell the pungent aroma. At another stall she shows us wriggling live silkworms ready for cooking.
Snails for sale at the market on Ha Noi Cooking Centre tour
After our stroll back to the centre, we launch into the Ha Noi and Northern Highlands class making banana flower salad, spring rolls and caramel pork and ché dessert. Each dish is demonstrated first by the Vietnamese chef. Then, working in pairs, we chop and sauté and roll rice paper. It is surprisingly easy and fun.
Classes take place in the spacious modern kitchen catering for up to 12, allowing the chef to oversee our efforts. Our class represents many countries, including Austria, the UK, Australia, the Philippines and Canada. Word about the Ha Noi Cooking Centre is certainly getting around.
An array of classes is offered, including kids' classes, international, vegan tofu and traditional regional cuisine. Team building courses for corporate training are also options.
The website calendar shows multiple classes scheduled seven days a week.
The cost of our class is 1,160,000 Vietnamese dong or around $55 Australian. This includes a good quality apron, recipes and the feast of our own exotic creations the class enjoys together after our lesson.
We put aside squeamishness and sample the freshly sautéed silkworms. As long as we don't think about what we're tasting, they're scrumptious. Lunch eaten, culinary skills improved, Tracey and our chef farewell us and our full stomachs.