In Her Vietnamese Kitchen

Dried birds-eye chillies in a jar

I’ve been back in the classroom again, and whilst the cuisine is a close culinary neighbour of my last lesson [see the posts from my Cambodian experience] the schools concerned are over 6,000 miles apart as Uyen Luu runs her Vietnamese cookery class and her hugely successful supper club from her home in Hackney.

Uyen [pronounced Ewan, as in McGregor we’re told at the start] is multi-talented individual being a writer, photographer, food stylist, film maker, supper club host and – as when we visit – teacher. Her first recipe book has been published [available everywhere but also through her website, see below], the seemingly inevitable TV appearances have begun, and in today’s Observer Food Monthly you’ll find a seven page spread [or see it online].

The cover of "My Vietnamese Kitchen", a cookbook by Uyen Luu.

You are advised when attending the class not to have a hearty breakfast, advice I would urge you to heed! We prepared and ate over a dozen different dishes, and took samples of several home in a doggy bag. I won’t list them all [book your own class!] but highlights for me were:

  • Beef in Betel Leaves – will be on all my canapé menus from now on.
  • Beef Pho – which I now know to pronounce feu, as in pot au feu.
  • Chicken Salad with Banana Blossom – very similar to the Cambodian version.
  • Bánh Xéo – heavenly savoury crepe eaten with herbs, lettuce and dipping sauce.
  • Summer Rolls – learning to make them properly, rather than give up and serve the contents as a salad as I had the week before!

And you won’t just be learning to cook. We were taught what is eaten at different times of day; what constitutes a breakfast, a snack, a meal; what to eat to rebalance your yin and yang, and cool heatiness; which brands to buy [bamboo tree logo rice paper, cockerel logo sriracha chilli sauce, boy and woman fishing logo oyster sauce]; Vietnamese table etiquette; and tips like slicing and drying your own chillies to make chilli flakes if you find yourself with glut – I had, thanks to shopping for the summer rolls / salad the week before, so I did! [see photo at the top of this post]

Part way through the afternoon, and partly I suspect to allow us to digest the first half dozen dishes whilst Uyen’s mum finished preparation of the rest, we were taken shopping at a local Vietnamese supermarket where we could stock up on perilla, cockscomb mint, coconut caramel, black cardamom, etc. Another top tip – go with shopping bags and ready to carry home plenty of goodies!

Uyen generously and graciously shares such a wealth of information it’s hard to single out a highlight, but perhaps the biggest revelation of the day for me was an introduction to proper fish sauce [three crabs brand if you’re interested]. Made in traditional wooden vats, filtered multiple times, and allowed to mature properly, the best stuff loses any rancid overtones and you’re left with a deeply savoury, umami-rich, mushroomy, meaty aroma and flavour that’s as far removed from the usual rubbish as a bottle of supermarket plonk is from a Chassagne Montrachet Premier Cru. My bottle of cheap crap went straight in the bin and Uyen, I will be eternally grateful!

I’ll leave you with a look at my own attempt at Bánh Xéo. My pictures can’t hold a candle to the beautifully posed, strangely tranquil shots Uyen shares on her facebook page, but the dish disappeared pretty sharpish nonetheless.

Banh Xeo, a Vietnamese rice flour pancake coloured yellow with turmeric and filled with pork, prawn and bean sprouts. Traditionally eaten wrapped in herbs and lettuce, and dipped in a spicy sauce.

Fancy a go? Then book here!

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10 responses to “In Her Vietnamese Kitchen

  1.  V -Good!….Well – I would ‘like’ this and make a comment, but all my account details have gone tits up! 

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    David Harries

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  2. Thanks Fif. You’ve got my taste buds going now… A quick Google to find my local Vietnamese market threw up this Guardian article, in which your gracious mentor is specifically mentioned (note that she likes to buy on a Thursday as that’s when the deliveries are): http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/sep/05/londons-asian-supermarkets

  3. The Global Recipe Project at crowdedearthkitchen.com is seeking authentic Vietnamese recipes. I hope you will consider participating! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Crab Spag Nam Jim | What's for tea tonight dear?

  5. Pingback: Homemade Worcestershire Sauce – the 2014 edit | What's for tea tonight dear?

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