When I woke up that day I had no idea that by mid morning I would being sampling pig brains (with cracked black pepper), snails, duck egg embryo and jellyfish salad (I put my foot down at silkworms.) These are some of the “weird and wonderful” foods you can try at Ms. Vy’s Market Restaurant in Hoi An. Although I have never met Ms. Vy, from what I gather she is a talented cook of many years, a child of a food family as well as being a gifted entrepreneur. Her work and recipes have been featured in many international publications and cooking articles.
Vietnamese food is very popular the world over for its fresh ingredients, light taste and interesting combination of flavors. Ms Vy wanted to get people out of the “pho” rut as well as educate people on preparation. I learned all this from Laura, a nice Vietnamese hostess at the Morning Glory Restaurant in downtown Hoi An, as well as tidbits mentioned in Ms Vy’s cookbook. Sadly, Ms Vy was not in the country when I was there because she was setting up a new restaurant in Melbourne, Australia.
Class began at 8:30am. But first a trip to the market. We were divided into small groups and put in a boat for the ten minute boat ride to the market place across the river. Our guide weaved us through the wet market, explaining the different types of seafood. Then we stopped by the produce and herbs. Herbs are key in Vietnamese cooking and almost no meal goes without a large plate of basils, corianders and mints. We ended by the homemade noodles and then it was back on the boat.
Frogs and brains weren’t the only things we tried at the market restaurant. We also sampled a lot of really delicious local foods such as dumplings, vegetarian dishes and grilled meats. The restaurant is set up as a market because that is how Vietnamese food is sold. Small stalls, carts and restaurants specialize. If you want bun cha, you go to the bun cha stall. If you want fruit juice you tend to find the little lady selling only juices from her street cart. People know their stuff.
In class we started off with “Mother-in-law” soup, which is traditionally made by new wives to impress their mother-in-law. Our teacher explained that when a couple gets married, the woman must move into the house with her in-laws. I take it this is her time to show off her domestic skills to her new family. I couldn’t help but be grateful that I was not born into a culture that did this. I’ve never been a very good brown-noser.
We also made crispy pancakes which are like small, oily pancakes made with egg batter and stuffed with bean sprouts as well as a green mango salad which is one of my favorite treats to get especially on a hot day.
By the end of the class I was stuffed physically and stuffed with new information on cooking and culture and how they are so intwined especially in a place like Vietnam. Like one of my classmates said to me “today I had a lot of firsts” , as did I. I think that I also had some lasts. Although I’m glad I tried it, I don’t think I’ll be eating pig brains again any time soon.