Pho bo is a classic dish. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Students learn cooking techniques and how to make Vietnamese food. // © 2016 Dana Rebmann
There may have been scooter tours, stunning beaches, street festivals and plenty of bargain shopping in open-air markets, but ask my teenagers what they remember most about our family adventure in Vietnam, and the answer is simple: the food. From crispy pancakes and green mango salad to bun cha (Hanoi-style vermicelli noodles with grilled pork), we found that the best way to learn about Vietnam was by cooking and eating some of its signature dishes.
Hanoi was the last stop of a 10-day trek that also included time in Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Hue. More often than not, we ate extremely well. So, after finishing the best meal of the trip at Red Bean Restaurant — located inside Hanoi La Siesta Hotel & Spa and ranked No. 7 of Hanoi restaurants on TripAdvisor — we knew exactly how we would spend our last day in Vietnam. Before paying the dinner check, I had already excused myself to sign the family up for the restaurant’s twice-daily cooking class.
The next day, chef Tuan and his assistant didn’t waste any time getting us cooking. Dressed for the part in aprons and large, impossible-to-miss white chef hats, we learned about local meats, vegetables and spices, as well as how to chop quickly and correctly. Detailed, easy-to-read recipe cards offered plenty of room to scribble notes.
After getting the broth for the pho bo (rice noodle soup with beef) simmering, Tuan announced it was time to go shopping for more ingredients. We jumped in cyclos (three-wheel bicycle taxis) waiting outside the hotel and enjoyed the long, scenic route to Dong Xuan Market. After tasting our way through the market and meeting the chef’s favorite farmers, we stopped at one of his go-to spots for a snack and fresh-brewed beer before taking a quick walk back to the restaurant to finish cooking.
Three recipes and lots of mixing, stirring and chopping later, we sat down to eat with Tuan — because once you learn how to make Vietnamese food, you should also master the proper way to eat it.
“Making noises is a sign of deliciousness,” he told us, encouraging my teenage daughter to slurp away.