Hobby cooking is one of the world’s new leisure activities, be it a team building event, occasional evening class at a local cooking school, or a gourmet holiday coupled with cooking lessons. In Singapore for example, it is so popular that most community centres run subsidised classes at night. In South Africa the more popular cooking schools struggle to meet the demand for corporate events. At Wickedfood Cooking School in Johannesburg for example, although a variety of cooking genres is offered, Southeast Asian classes, and especially Thai classes, are the most popular with corporate and individual clients. With this in mind, we embarked on an eight-week culinary journey through Southeast Asia.
Red Bridge Cooking School • Hoi An • Vietnam
“Firstly I would like to know who is vegetarian – zat means you don’t like meat, you don’t like fish, you don’t like zis, you don’t like zat, anybody?” A nervous wave of laughter drifted through the classroom.
“So what you don’t like?”
“Dog!” someone shouted out.
“Don’t worry, I don’t like it also,” replied our good-humoured instructor.
This is our introduction to the Red Bridge Cooking School just outside Hoi An on the coast of central Vietnam. The setting is magnificent. The classroom is built on the riverbanks, overlooking the water, while fishing boats ply up and down the river. On the opposite bank farmers cultivate rice paddies and vegetable gardens. Our morning began at the school’s town restaurant Hai Scout Cafe in the old quarter of the city, a World Heritage Site of cobbled alleyways and terracotta painted buildings. After a steaming cup of filter coffee and condensed milk, it was off to the market for a guided tour of local ingredients and unique kitchen implements. From there we boarded a converted wooden fishing boat and headed downstream to the school.
Like most schools in Southeast Asia, Red Bridge Cooking School offers a combination of demonstrations and hands-on cooking. The first demonstration on how to make a warm squid salad included the simple art of cutting squid in different ways for a better visual finish. In Asia, texture and appearance are as important as flavour.
A highlight of the cooking class was creating fresh spring rolls from scratch. We began by making rice paper sheets. A ladle of batter – soaked rice liquidised with water – is spread onto a muslin cloth that has been stretched over a pot of boiling water, and then steamed for a minute or so. Once cooked, it is lifted off the cloth, spread onto a board and filled with a combination of salad leaves and prawns, before being rolled up and served with a sweet and sour sauce.
The batter is also used to make Hoi An pancakes. For these, turmeric is added to the batter to give it a lovely colour. A ladle of the mixture is poured into the crepe pan, topped with some julienned spring onion and bean sprouts, and fried until the base is crisp. These are then put onto a sheet of dry rice paper, topped with
fried pork, shrimps and shredded herbs, rolled up and served with peanut sauce. The trick of this dish lies in preparing the dry rice paper sheets. Stacks of five to 10 sheets are placed between two leaves of banana, cabbage, or lettuce, sealed in plastic packets and left to stand for at least four hours, which renders them pliable.
Great Asian recipes – Click here:
Kaeng kari ka – yellow curried chicken
Phanaeng Beef Curry in sweet peanut sauce
Warm squid salad in a pineapple
For other articles on South East Asia see:
Cooking schools in South East Asia
Thai House cooking school • Bangkok • Thailand
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School • Thailand
Red Bridge Cooking School • Hoi An • Vietnam
Books reviewed by Wickedfood on Asian food:
Sunninghill – (011) 234-3252 firstname.lastname@example.org
Wickedfood® Cooking School in Johannesburg runs cooking classes throughout the year at its purpose-built cooking studios. Cookery classes are run in the mornings and evenings 7 days a week (subject to a minimum of 12 people). This teambuilding venue is also popular for corporate events and private functions – team building cooking classes, birthdays, kitchen teas, and dinner parties with a difference.
Our classes are hands-on, where every person gets to participate in the preparation of the dishes. They are also a lot of fun where you not only learn new skills, but get to meet people with similar interests. For corporate groups and teambuilding cooking classes these classes are a novel way of creating staff interaction or entertaining clients.