Thursday, September 8, 2011

Burgers, Pâté, and Phở in Vietnam

There are two types of food in Vietnam: local asian-style dishes, and French inspired cuisine. We ate lots of both, and found some really great new favorites!

As soon as Russ found out we were in Vietnam he asked if we tried phở. Phở (prounounced "fu", as in "fun") is a noodle dish invented in northern Vietnam. The broth is the main feature here, and is made by slowly simmering yummy goodies like oxtail, flank steak, charred ginger, and other spices. Here we are at Phở 24, a restaurant that serves phở 24 hours a day for just a few dong per bowl. Phở is served with bean sprouts, mint leaves, and fresh limes. I prefer the beef, or phở bo, but Craig enjoyed the chicken, or phở gà.

Mmmm! Yummy phở bo! This picture is for Russ, Leticia, Ben, Nathan, Aaron, and everyone else who enjoys slurping phở by the liter!

Jennifer and I also took a a cooking class at the Saigon Culinary Arts Center where we learned to make some local dishes, including tomato soup, spring rolls, and claypot fish. We started by learning to make a garnish out of a tomato peel. David, my brother the chef, has taught me a few tricks for carving garnishes over the years, so I did a fair job carving my tomato peel into a flower.

Jennifer really knows how to cook and cooks quite well. She doesn't need fancy cut vegetables to make her dishes taste better. But, despite being probably the most experienced student in the class, Jennifer struggled to cut her tomato and quickly became the "special" student and received extra attention for the rest of the day.

The first thing we made was the Vietnamese tomato soup. After simmering the tomatoes with green onions and other spices, we stirred in a beaten egg - with style!

Here is Jennifer with the finished product. This is a simple soup to make and is very delicately spiced. I'm usually not a huge fan of tomatoes, but I loved this soup!

Here we are rolling spring rolls. These spring rolls have sweet potato as an ingredient and are wrapped in rice paper. You eat them by wrapping the cooked spring roll in lettuce with vermicelli noodles and dipping them into a fish oil sauce. Don't be scared - fish oil is good if used properly.

Here are the finished products (except the spring rolls, which we promptly ate). The rice was cooked in its own little clay pot with pandan leaves, the soup was served with a palm wood spoon, and the claypot carmel fish was great!

Here is our culinary school graduation ceremony! Yes, even though Jennifer was the "special" student, she graduated too. Here we are with our certificates and the chef during our graduation ceremony. It's official - we are certified to cook a few simple Vietnamese dishes!

As I mentioned in the last post, the French had a major impact on Vietnam, especially with regards to cuisine. In other words, you can get wonderful French bread, exotic cheeses, prime meats, and creamy yoghurt in Vietnam. Here is Craig picking up one of his favorites, a hamburger. Although not French, this hamburger was better than most other burgers we've had in Penang.

We had a great time enjoying the unique selection of French and Vietnamese culinary delights. Craig liked the burgers. I liked the spring rolls. Jennifer liked the French bread and pâté roll ups with Vietnamese spices. We all left happy.


  1. Looks fun! How do you find the cooking classes? And what does Craigy do while you guys are learning to cook?

  2. Jennifer plans all of our travel, but we use two planing sources quite heavily. The first source is other people who have been there. The second is maps and guidebooks. We usually buy a Groovy Map for the city that we visit. You can get them on Amazon. There is a Groovy Map for almost every major city in Southeast Asia. In addition to being a great map, it also has a lot of information on things to do, like restaurants, cultural tours, museums, cooking classes, and spas.

    Craigy sits near us and spends quality time with his iPad while sipping a soda during our cooking.