Hidden Hanoi Cooking School, Vietnam

posted on: Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Hidden Hanoi cooking school

Picking up fresh herbs at the 'Frog Markets', thankfully undisturbed by police

Van Anh has us chopping up all the ingredients

The pork belly and pork rissoles ready to hit the hot coals

Hanoi is famous for its pho, and rightly so - it's heavenly - but if I had to choose my ultimate Hanoian street food delicacy, it would be Bun Cha. But, this combination of smoky pork belly and vermicelli noodles in a sweet broth, topped with Vietnamese mint and fresh herbs, is almost impossible to find outside of Hanoi. So a friend and I booked ourselves into the Hidden Hanoi cooking school for a lesson in Bun Cha.

As we started to walk down the alleyway to the school - it definitely is hidden - Ms Thuy raced up to meet us. They'd forgotten a few ingredients, so we would start the lesson with a trip to the local frog markets. No, they don't sell frogs, but are given this name because they are 'not quite legal' and if the police turn up, the owners' stalls mysteriously hop away. But on the plus side, they don't pay tax and the savings are passed down to the buyer, making these an excellent place to get a bargain.

We bought fresh pork belly, unbelievably, for 50,000 VND (or $2.50) and pork mince for 10,000 VND (50 cents). We also got just-made rice paper, fresh mint, coriander, basil, chillies, garlic and spring onions. We were about to head back when we decided to do a little taste test of the market foods. We stopped to try a mangosteen, a glutinous sticky rice dessert, smell a whole section of medicinal herbs, and then my friend was persuaded to try a boiled egg of a duck foetus. I refrained.

Back in the gorgeous Hidden Hanoi kitchen we met our teacher Van Anh. I loved that she sat us down before we started to explain the elements of Vietnamese cooking. She emphasised the need to balance the ying and yang of each meal, for example, in Bun Cha the heaviness of the meat is balanced by the lightness of a broth. The freshness of the herbs counters the smokiness of the barbecue.

We chopped carrots and kohlrabi, seasoned the meat and barbecued them over the charcoal, stirred together the warm broth and prepared all the herbs and vermicelli noodles. And actually, once we were shown how: Bun Cha is not only delicious, but really easy! Here's the recipe.

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