Vietnamese cooking: just a bit more oil, please

10 Mar

Spoiled by our month in Thailand, Vietnamese food has so far been somewhat disappointing. Truthfully, it has been a bit bland and often greasy. But, while we may have slurped some noodles, we also appreciate that we may not have appreciated Vietnamese cuisine to its fullest.

So. We enrolled in two cooking classes in Hoi An. One where a rat lurked underneath the makeshift kitchen and where monosodium glutamate was liberally added to each dish, and one as taken out of an American cooking programme on TV.

Cooking class at Ms. Hoa

Walk across the small bridge from the old town of Hoi An, hold left and you find rows of cheap eateries.

Fried wontons

While his words said “add a tablespoon of oil to the pan”, the spoon Ms. Hoa’s son used was a ladle. So, to start you off with this dish, add the equivalent of four spoons of oil to a pan. Meanwhile, chop half an onion, a chunk pineapple and one tomato. The next step makes this dish tricky to recreate at home (not necessarily a bad thing). Cook ready-made wonton wrappers in the oil until slightly yellow. Add yet another “one tablespoon of oil” (four) into a new pan and cook three shrimps before you add the vegetables. Season with one topped tablespoon of ketchup, a large spoonful of monosodium glutamate, sugar and pepper. Place the shrimp and vegetable mixture on top of the wontons.

Cao Lau noodles with shrimp

Cao Lau noodles, similar to Japanese soba noodles, are a speciality of Hoi An. A pleasant meal, but you might want to leave out the MSG.

The dish is simple to make though: Grate and fry one carrot. Add and cook ten raw shrimps. Then add a handful of bean sprouts, some chopped spring onions, seasoning (monosodium glutamate, sugar and pepper) and at the end some pre-cooked noodles.

Banh Xeo

Ooohh….. this is simply an evil pancake. Its euphemism is a “crispy crepe”. It is tasty, but the crispiness comes from using about half a bottle of oil for each pancake.

Again, start by adding a ladle of oil to a pan. Add the pancake mix (normal batter, though add some saffron). You should at this point have so much oil in the pan that when the batter has sunk to the bottom, there is a nice one and a half centimeter layer of oil on top. Add even more oil at this point, and swirl the pancake around. Wait until all the oil has been absorbed. Fold the pancake over and, yes, add some more oil.

When cooked, place bean sprouts in the middle of the pancake. Leave this for a bit under a lid until the bean sprouts have softened.

To eat, place the pancake on a piece of rice paper, add some salad and herbs and then roll it as if it was a spring roll. Dunk in sweet chilli sauce and eat while you try to forget the amount of oil you are consuming.


Chicken cooked with lemongrass and chili

Now, this was very nice. My facial expression below has nothing to do with the plate in front of me. It was simply disbelief that I had to eat even more food after I had politely forced down the pancakes.

Fry chopped up garlic (three cloves) in a “tablespoon of oil”. Add thinly chopped up fresh lemongrass, half a chopped up onion, one spoon monosodium glutamate, a spoon sugar, and a spoon Maggi sauce. Add chicken cut into small pieces and stir until cooked. Lastly, add some chopped spring onions.

Cooking class at the Morning Glory restaurant

Thankfully, the food at the Morning Glory was absolutely glorious. Plus, the amount of oil was cut down to about two thirds of yesterday’s. Still tasty, and finally some Vietnamese food that would not add considerably to our already additional backpacking kilo.

So. The below is what I will be cooking when I´m back! Or, at least the mango salad.

Cabbage leaf parcels with shrimp mousse in broth

12 spring onions
1 litre vegetable stock, hot
8 carrot flowers, sliced finely
Sesame oil
1/2 cup spring onion curls
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper


Shrimp mousse
200 gr prawns, peeled
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup white spring onion and shallot, chopped finely
1 egg white


    • To make shrimp mousse, blend all ingredients.
    • Cut the cabbage leaves in half – discard the thick vein part. Bring a small pot of salted water to boil. Cook the leaves for 2 minutes and then set aside to cool. Cut the bottom white part of the 12 spring onions, then blanch the green part for 30 seconds in the same hot water. Set this aside as well.
    • Bring the vegetable stock to boil.
    • Make the shrimp dumplings by using two tablespoons. Make 12 – any left over mixture can be made into small balls that you add to the broth for flavour.
    • Poach the dumplings in the vegetable stock for about one minute, then remove.
    • Cut the cabbage leaves into small squares (10cm x 15 cm). Put the leftover cabbage in the broth.
    • Place the dumpling horizontally 2 cm from the edge of the cabbage square, fold over the sides (if the dumpling is too big, simply cut off a small piece on each side). Roll (as if you were making a spring roll), and then tie it together with the spring onion.
    • Place the cabbage parcels in the broth with the carrot slices.
    • (To make the soup even nicer, fry some garlic in a pan, add chopped up spring onion, and then some raw shrimps. Add this as well to the soup.)
    • Serve in bowls topped with spring onion curls, coriander leaves, a pinch of black pepper and a few drops of sesame oil.


Evil pancakes…again

What can I say? This time around, we carefully put the oil in our pans, trying to get away with using less than told. But within seconds, the instructor was there. And then that was it. Three good squirts with the bottle, and our pancakes were once again swimming in oil.


Mango salad

Oh glory. THIS! Now, this is the recipe I will make time and time again when I come home.

200 gr green mango, sliced finely. (The one I was given was however perfectly ripe and that is what I´ll use in the future)
1 cup onion, sliced finely
1 1/2 cups mint
1 tsp sesame seeds, roasted
1 tblsp vegetable oil
2 tblsp fried shallots (crispy onions from a bag should work just as well)
1 tblsp lime juice
1 tblsp white sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp mild red chilli and garlic, pounded

In a bowl, put mango, onion, one cup of mint, one teaspoon of sesame seeds, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chilli and garlic mix, as well as vegetable oil. Mix well. Serve on four small plates (as a starter) and garnish with remaining mint, sesame seeds and fried shallots.

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