So as you would expect, food is on my mind – and it’s a total heaven here. Pho is a staple Vietnamese item, it wouldn’t be a lunch or dinner without it. Right from the beginning, Petr and I were planning to book a cooking class so we get to see the magic happen.
9 am on Day 2 comes and we are knocking on Apron cooking school door. We pre-picked 5 meals from the menu ahead and were ready for a 4 hour adventure. Our menu was pho bo (Vietnamese soup with beef), pomelo salad with shrimp, fresh shrimp rolls, lemongrass chicken, steamed banana cake and egg coffee. Starving we were not going to be. .
We put on aprons and stood around a large table to cut, chop and listen. I won’t go through how to cook it as I don’t remember it all but here are my observations and things I didn’t know:
- Pho is all about the broth – cooking the bones is not as easy as throwing them in. Boiling, roasting, how long, which ones you use – all that matters. While the real broth takes 8 hours, we took a shortcut with 1.5 hours. The spices in it – black cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, coriander seeds – that surprised me. Clearly, the grocery store broth this is not. Given the whole country eats pho on every corner, there has to be something to it.
- There are few ingredients that make this cuisine what it is. Fish sauce, sugar, fresh spices, vinegar, lemongrass and oyster sauce. Without these, there is no Vietnamese food.
- Chilli peppers are not the chilli peppers we know. I love spicy and will order anything but this stuff was out of this world. I put one slice in the soup and the whole thing went on fire.
- Fresh greens/spices – the basil, the mint, the watercress, cilantro, and other things I don’t recognize make all the difference
- Egg coffee – this doesn’t sound super appealing but wait for it – it is more like a desert. Apparently, during the Indochina war in the 20s, there was a shortage of milk so creativity flourished. Whisked eggs together with sugar, add coffee – and that’s it. It is a little too overdone for me – I am more of a pure coffee girl so you taste the actual coffee – but get the uniqueness. Petr and I actually reminscened as we used to mix sugar and yolk together as a desert when we were kids – not far off.
- Steaming cake – this was also new to me – put the dough in a bowl and in hot water, cover it and voila!
Overall, a success – even though grandfathers didn’t go – one is a real chef who never wants to see a kitchen again – and another one has never seen a real kitchen so didn’t feel well due to the “smells”. Rest of us got some new skills under our belt and appreciation for how many ingredients and work it takes to make this food so awesome!