Nha Trang cooking class and cultural journey in Vietnam
When you think of Nha Trang, Vietnam, resorts and beachside living usually come into mind. Culture and cooking do not. But like most of Asia, the food here is served in abundance and is all about bringing family and friends together.
On a recent trip to Cam Ranh where I was hosted by The Anam Resort ( about 20km from Nha Trang), I was able to delve a little deeper and discover some of the cultural aspects of this laid-back town. This was done in the form of a cultural and cooking day with Nha Trang Cooking Class.
I believe to truly immerse yourself in a country, you must understand its food culture. This is especially true for Vietnam as their strong French influence is seen in different aspects today. I just love cooking tours for many reasons and apart from the obvious (eating all day) you really do get to see another side of local life. We shopped at local markets, was invited into a local home and cooked local dishes. There is a reason why this tour is called “From my family to yours”.
Here is our recap of a truly delicious day with Nha Trang Cooking Class.
As a part of The Anam’s new cultural experiences, guest can embed themselves into a ‘day in the life’ situation with a Vietnamese family from the neighbouring countryside of Nha Trang.
Designed around the idea of families coming together for a delectable feast the day-long tour saw us visiting different local markets and shops and learning about daily life over traditional Vietnamese ice-coffed before sitting down to a three-course meal.
We are picked up by our host Dat who shares a little knowledge of Vietnam and daily life before asking US what we might like to cook. The menu is completely left up to us and we settle on morning glory, chicken with lemongrass and chilli and bánh xèo.
To buy the ingredients for the afternoon’s cooking class, everyone together visits the local’s markets, a herb stall, bakery and noodle making house. Dat introduces us to local farmers and artisans offering insight into each traditional trade.
‘We give you a unique inside view to the traditional style of Vietnamese cooking, renowned for its combination of 5 taste senses and use of the freshest local ingredients, making it the best and healthiest cuisine in the world.’ Dat explains his love for the Vietnamese cuisine.
The other amazing thing I loved about our day is finding out about Dat’s charity and community work. They help the facilitation of sponsoring children in their community. These kids are disadvantaged and the money helps to support their education. They have a guest house on their property that is available for volunteers taking part in charity projects.
‘At Nha Trang cooking class (VIET GARDEN) we believe in giving back to the people in the community who are most in need. Every tour, we contribute to our chosen charity project, usually focused on helping individual children who cannot afford an education and are living in poverty. Together we can change the lives of people who have little chance and even less hope. We will pay for their education and give them the tools they need to live a fulfilled life. We are dedicated to their cause and are fully transparent in showing you how a percentage of the cost of every tour and every donation gets to the people we have chosen. We have included a page on this website listing everyone who has contributed, giving full exposure to what our charity does with the money that you spend.’
Shopping at the local markets
After a brief bus introduction and the choosing of today’s menu we jumped off the air con bus to sticky Vietnamese heat and wander to a fresh produce stall where the lady is smiling ear to ear at our arrival. Here Dat offers up knowledge of how local product becomes medicine and what herbs and plants are good for digestion, congestion, cold and flu and anti-aging. These practices and plants have been used for centuries, the lady nods on in agreeance as Dat explains.
We walk the streets and stumble upon our next traditional stall. A bakery! And one unlike I have ever seen before. It is closed, Dat says the baker has finished for the morning. We open up the doors anyways and then the baker appears out of nowhere. He doesn’t speak English but gives us a demo of the process he uses to bake over 2500 baguettes daily.
Ever wondered how rice noodles are made?
It’s a long process that takes skill and patience. The same method that was used 100’s of years ago is still used today.
Using broken rice the process starts by soaking it in water for up to a day to soften before it is ground up.
The ground rice is then mixed with the tapioca starch for flexibility to create a white paste-like batter. The paste is then heated over a large skillet much like cooking crepes.
Once hardened the sheet is removed and placed on racks for drying. It is then placed on the roof in the sun to dry for a day. The final step sees the rice paper being put in cutting machine to create the noodles.
There is nothing I like more than a good exploration amongst the locals as they swarm the markets for fresh produce.
Here we pick up the majority of ingredients for today’s cook. There is everything here including vegetables, fruits, seafood, meats, herbs and spices, sauces and even flowers. It’s an array of colours, overwhelming smells and something interesting to look at on every corner.
In between our shopping expedition, we stopped at Dat’s favourite coffee shop for a bit of a break and to try the traditional Vietnamese coffee.
Next to the cafe is a mat weaving artist who is putting together their latest creation. Someone of us give this old-school practice a go whilst other enjoy getting out of the heat and cooling down with an ice-coffee.
What makes Vietnamese Coffee special?
If you have tried Vietnamese coffee before you will know that it’s pretty bloody decent, in fact, it is a little addictive which makes sense since Vietnam is the second largest coffee growers in the world. The special preparation process, as well as Robusta beans, helps give Vietnamese coffee its particular full taste.
Coarsely ground beans go into a Phin which is a low-tech device that mimics the combination of a French Press and drip filter. The Phin sits on top of the cup and the beans are weighted down resulting in a strong brew. This is then topped with sweet condensed milk a practice that began because when the French occupied Vietnam fresh cows milk wasn’t readily available for their coffee or tea.
In Northern Vietnam, this is called ca phe nau (brown coffee), while in the South it’s called ca phe sua (milk coffee).
Course 1- Morning Glory
The readily available vegetable Morning glory is very popular Vietnam. This inexpensive water spinach can be enjoyed stir fried with sauces or served fresh as a salad. The day of our arrival to the Anam we were hosted for lunch at Lang Viet and served a glorious morning glory salad, when Dat asked what we wanted to cook the vote was unanimous to replicate that yummy starter.
At the market, the lady used a double ended blade to shred the morning glory into thin strands. We then make the dressing which is a combination of garlic, chilli, sugar, lime and fish sauce. We put the garlic, chilli and sugar together in a mortar and use a pestle to crush and pound until it starts to resemble a paste, the dressing is finished with a big squeeze of lime and fish sauce.
We then use a traditional woven pan to remove the skins from peanuts and chop small to sprinkle on top of our salad for some crunch and extra texture.
Course 2- Chicken with Lemongrass and chilli
Next up we cook one of Dat’s favourites, juicy chicken that has been marinated and then served with turmeric rice. The flavour combination of hot, salty, sweet and fresh from the lemongrass make this dish a winner. It was also incredibly easy!
– 200 gram skinless, boneless chicken breast or chicken thighs
– 2 lemongrass stalks (slice and finely chop)
– 2 spoon of fish sauce
– 1tbsp superfine sugar, to taste
– tbsp of pepper
– 2 red chiles, halved, seeded, and shredded, chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, crushed
– 1 tbsp ground peanut
– Serve with a pickle and turmeric steamed rice.
Trim any fat from the thighs and cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces. Remove the tough outer layers of the lemongrass and trim the top and base. Mince the rest—the softer part of the lemongrass—as finely as you can. Put half of this into a bowl with the fish sauce, sugar, half of the chiles, half of the garlic, and the chopped chicken. Mix together with your hands, cover with plastic wrap, and put into the fridge. Let marinate for at least 1/2 hours.
Heat the oil in a wide-based saucepan or a wok set over medium heat. Add remained garlic till smell good, add the chicken and cook on all sides, getting a really good colour all over it. Add the reserved chiles, reserved lemongrass, and the onion and stir-fry until the onion starts to soften. Be careful not to burn the chiles or the lemongrass. Pour in the coconut juice, reduce the heat, and cover. Cook the chicken for about 5 minutes.
Remove the lid, increase the heat, and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced. You want a mixture that is wetter than a stir-fry but drier than a braise. Check for seasoning to balance, adjusting with sugar and fish sauce. Scatter with cilantro leaves and ground peanut, if using, and serve with steamed rice.
Course 3- Bánh Xèo
Bánh xèo is something everyone should try when visiting Vietnam! The xèo literally refers to the sizzling sounds it makes when you cook the batter, the whole name can be loosely translated to ‘sizzling cake’.
Bánh xèo is a great snack or street food that’s meant to be eaten with your hands. Inside our crispy savoury crepe was seafood, chicken, bean sprouts and shallots and served with lettuce, herbs and special dipping sauce.
Nha Trang Cooking Class
‘The ‘A Day in the Life’ Cultural Cooking Tour is the latest initiative from The Anam property to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to supporting the local population and its businesses. ‘
The ‘A Day in the Life’ Cultural Cooking Tour is offered daily from 9am from The Anam and includes transfers by car, tour guide, entrance fees, coffee, a three-course meal including soft drinks and local beer, recipes and insurance. It is priced from 1,360,000 VND (USD 59) per person based on a family or group of 5-6 guests. Prices for smaller groups and families are available on request.’
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