What’s Cooking in Ho Chi Minh City

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 54 of the November 2010 issue.
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Chef Bao of the Vietnam Cookery Center, with interpreter.

by Sandra Scott

I love Vietnamese food, so when John and I were in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in February ’09, I searched the Internet for cooking schools and located the Vietnam Cookery Center (362/8 Ung Van Khiem St., Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; phone [84-8] 35121491 or mobile +84 [0] 903 160 783, www.vietnamcookery.com). It turned out to be a good choice and an excellent value.

John and I participated in one of their morning group classes; there were only two other participants. The afternoon class includes dinner.

 John Scott checking on the Caramel Pork in Clay Pot.

During the three-hour class, we learned about Vietnamese culture plus how to make several recipes, and it ended with a lunch of the food we cooked, all for $39 per person.

The class started out with Ms. Nhu, the interpreter, explaining the various ingredients, spices and fruits — such as dragon fruit and tamarind — typically used in preparing Vietnamese meals.

We learned about the Kitchen Gods, which are found in all traditional Vietnamese kitchens. It is believed that these gods observe everything that takes place during the year. At the end of the lunar year and during the Tet festival, which occurs in late January or early February, the gods depart to make their report to Ngoc Hoàng, the Jade Emperor, the supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven. During that time, the Kitchen Gods are offered the best food and spices and are presented with gifts of money and clothing.

During the class, we prepared several recipes, including Caramel Pork in a Clay Pot, an everyday dish in the south of Vietnam, and sweet green bean soup with seaweed, which is a typical dessert and, even though it may not sound so, is wonderful!

Caramel Pork in a Clay Pot

1 tsp chopped scallions

1-inch-long red or green chili, chopped

1 cup water

1 small whole green or red chili for garnish

1 tbsp chopped scallion greens for garnish

1½ lbs pork tenderloin, cut into one-inch cubes

1 tbsp cooking oil, divided

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tsp sugar

½ tsp powdered chicken bouillon

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp chopped shallots

Marinate pork in a mixture of ½ tbsp oil, fish sauce, two teaspoons of the sugar, chicken bouillon powder, pepper, shallots, scallions and chopped chili for 30 minutes. Soak a clay cooking pot in water for five minutes to avoid its breaking on the stove. (If you do not have a clay pot, any pot will do.) In a second pot, over medium heat, make a caramel syrup by combining ½ tbsp oil and the remaining teaspoon of sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is golden brown. Remove from heat. In the clay pot, add the marinated pork (discard the marinade) and one to two teaspoons of caramel syrup. Cook until the sauce is boiling, stirring frequently. Add the water into the pot and cook until the mixture is boiling again. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Remove from stove, and garnish with a chili and scallions. Serve with rice. Serves two to three.
Sweet Green Bean Soup and Seaweed

½ tsp salt

2 oz. dried seaweed, soaked for 30 minutes and julienned (can substitute dried wood-ear mushrooms, soaked and julienned)

2 oz. canned coconut milk

½ cup dried mung beans (can substitute soy beans, chickpeas or yellow lentils), soaked in water

1 cup water

1-2 tbsp sugar

After the beans have soaked for one hour, drain and cook them in one cup of water for 15-20 minutes until tender. Add salt and sugar to the pot, using them more or less to your preference. Add seaweed and stir one to two minutes. Remove from heat, pour into serving bowls, add 1-2 tbsps of coconut milk to each serving, and it is ready to enjoy. Another option is to serve it cold, pouring the mixture over crushed ice. Serves two.
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Chef Bao of the Vietnam Cookery Center, with interpreter.

by Sandra Scott

I love Vietnamese food, so when John and I were in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in February ’09, I searched the Internet for cooking schools and located the Vietnam Cookery Center (362/8 Ung Van Khiem St., Binh Thanh District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; phone [84-8] 35121491 or mobile +84 [0] 903 160 783, www.vietnamcookery.com). It turned out to be a good choice and an excellent value.

John and I participated in one of their morning group classes; there were only two other participants. The afternoon class includes dinner.

 John Scott checking on the Caramel Pork in Clay Pot.

During the three-hour class, we learned about Vietnamese culture plus how to make several recipes, and it ended with a lunch of the food we cooked, all for $39 per person.

The class started out with Ms. Nhu, the interpreter, explaining the various ingredients, spices and fruits — such as dragon fruit and tamarind — typically used in preparing Vietnamese meals.

We learned about the Kitchen Gods, which are found in all traditional Vietnamese kitchens. It is believed that these gods observe everything that takes place during the year. At the end of the lunar year and during the Tet festival, which occurs in late January or early February, the gods depart to make their report to Ngoc Hoàng, the Jade Emperor, the supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven. During that time, the Kitchen Gods are offered the best food and spices and are presented with gifts of money and clothing.

During the class, we prepared several recipes, including Caramel Pork in a Clay Pot, an everyday dish in the south of Vietnam, and sweet green bean soup with seaweed, which is a typical dessert and, even though it may not sound so, is wonderful!

Caramel Pork in a Clay Pot

1 tsp chopped scallions

1-inch-long red or green chili, chopped

1 cup water

1 small whole green or red chili for garnish

1 tbsp chopped scallion greens for garnish

1½ lbs pork tenderloin, cut into one-inch cubes

1 tbsp cooking oil, divided

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tsp sugar

½ tsp powdered chicken bouillon

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp chopped shallots

Marinate pork in a mixture of ½ tbsp oil, fish sauce, two teaspoons of the sugar, chicken bouillon powder, pepper, shallots, scallions and chopped chili for 30 minutes. Soak a clay cooking pot in water for five minutes to avoid its breaking on the stove. (If you do not have a clay pot, any pot will do.) In a second pot, over medium heat, make a caramel syrup by combining ½ tbsp oil and the remaining teaspoon of sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is golden brown. Remove from heat. In the clay pot, add the marinated pork (discard the marinade) and one to two teaspoons of caramel syrup. Cook until the sauce is boiling, stirring frequently. Add the water into the pot and cook until the mixture is boiling again. Reduce heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Remove from stove, and garnish with a chili and scallions. Serve with rice. Serves two to three.
Sweet Green Bean Soup and Seaweed

½ tsp salt

2 oz. dried seaweed, soaked for 30 minutes and julienned (can substitute dried wood-ear mushrooms, soaked and julienned)

2 oz. canned coconut milk

½ cup dried mung beans (can substitute soy beans, chickpeas or yellow lentils), soaked in water

1 cup water

1-2 tbsp sugar

After the beans have soaked for one hour, drain and cook them in one cup of water for 15-20 minutes until tender. Add salt and sugar to the pot, using them more or less to your preference. Add seaweed and stir one to two minutes. Remove from heat, pour into serving bowls, add 1-2 tbsps of coconut milk to each serving, and it is ready to enjoy. Another option is to serve it cold, pouring the mixture over crushed ice. Serves two.