Nov 24 2011
There are so many cooking schools in Hoi An that choosing one can be as overwhelming as choosing where to have your suit made. Countless restaurants, no matter what their size or location, offer courses lasting from an hour to a day, at varying prices.
Advice as always is to shop around, but before you do, think about the following: How much time do you want to devote to the class? How much do you want to spend? How important is location / the venue? Do you want a one-to-one experience or are you happy in a big class? What do you want to cook? Do you want to go on a market visit?
Price and length
I’ve been quite surprised by the price of cookery courses in Vietnam generally, as they seem to be much more expensive than the equivalent in Thailand, and Hoi An is no exception: the more organised group classes are around US$25. If this is out of your budget then you have a couple of options: find a shorter course (Hai Cafe offers a one-hour, fifteen minutes’ evening course for $15) or go to your favourite restaurant and ask for an ad hoc class (many restaurants will charge the restaurant price for the dish with a surcharge of around US$5 for the class). Cafe 43 and Restaurant 96 are two such places offering this option and I’ve heard good things about both.
As for the venue… well that also links in with price. The Red Bridge – sister restaurant to Hai Cafe — runs courses at its out of town restaurant overlooking the river. It’s a great location and experience but you pay for it: its “Classic Half Day” course includes a guided tour of the central market, a boat trip to and from the restaurant, a herb garden walk, a two-hour cooking class and lunch, for US$26. You can upgrade to the “Deluxe Day” course for $42 which includes a trip to Tra Que village, a three-hour cooking class, a recipe booklet and an apron and use of its swimming pool.
Most of the organised classes include a visit to the market, but in my experience these visits can be hit and miss: with a good, informative guide novices will certainly pick up a few tips, but otherwise it’s no better than walking around yourself. Be sure to ask what the market visit includes and how long it takes if you’re thinking of spending a bit more for this. The Lighthouse assured me that their market visits were informative and considered, spending as much time there as the guests required.
If a market visit doesn’t float your boat but you want a bit more than just a chance to cook, some of the schools, such as Red Bridge and Morning Glory Cooking School offer other additions. Morning Glory is run by Ms Vy, founder of Mermaid Restaurant, an authority on Vietnamese cuisine and author of TasteVietnam, and offers four courses: Vietnamese Street Food; Herb Garden Bicycle Tour and Cooking Class; Hoi An Market Tour and Cooking Class; and Gourmet Class with Ms Vy. All the classes are informative, incorporating a talk as well as the practical session, and prices range from $20 to $55.
The Thuan Tinh Island Cookery Tour is another course that includes a few additional activities and gets highly rated. The day starts with a market visit, followed by a boat trip to Thuan Tinh Island — an ecological zone — and then it’s on to a local organic vegetable village and Mrs Hoa’s house for iced tea. Only then does the cooking in their open-air kitchen begin. The half-day course costs $27.
As well as their informed market visit, The Lighthouse also runs a course which is combined with a bike ride. How efficient!
Size of class
Classes range in size from one person to 10 (well, that’s what they promise). There are benefits in both: the larger classes can be more lively, additionally providing a good opportunity for meeting new people, while smaller classes, at least if they are ad hoc, may be more tailored to your needs (organised classes are likely to follow their plan regardless). The Lighthouse is one of the higher-end places that doesn’t do collective group classes — they run intimate classes for individuals or small groups.
Most classes will include instruction on making some form of roll, a stir-fry or grill, and a Vietnamese salad but there are some interesting variations, including crispy Hoi An pancakes and clay pot fish at Red Bridge, and soup with cabbage leaf and shrimp parcels at Morning Glory. Vegetarian options are offered at all the big names.
Hoi An is certainly a good place to do a cookery course in Vietnam: a huge range of places offer courses, which gives you the opportunity to shop around and find something that suits you. Plus — it’s an excuse to stay there another day.
Red Bridge Cooking School and Restaurant
Thon 4, Cam Thanh, Hoi An
T: (0510) 3933 222 / (0905) 452 092
111 Tran Phu Street or 98 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An
T: (0510) 386 3210 / (0905) 452 092
Morning Glory Cooking School Program
106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street, Hoi An
T: (0510) 2241 555 / (0510) 2241 556
Cam Nam Island, Xuyen Trung, Hoi An
T: (0510) 2241 503, (0905) 159 567 (Mrs Linh)
Thuan Tinh Island Cookery Tour
T: (0906) 477 770, (01229) 292 900
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