“ Address: Thon 4, Cam Thanh Hoi An, Viet Nam. „
The Hai Café is a charming and popular restaurant, café and bar in the small, old UNESCO town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam. It has two indoor restaurant parts (it goes all the way through to the next street), and one outside area. We had heard that it was a good place to take Vietnamese Cookery Classes, so wandered into the outside café area on Tran Phu St. They did full day, half day and evening classes, and due to time constraints and the draining humidity we had already decided we wanted an evening class. Unfortunately the 6pm class for the next day was full, but they had laid on a second class at 7.30 as it had been so popular. They limit the classes to eight people which I think is a good size. The evening class was US$15, and the longer day classes (which included market trips and boat trips) were $25 or $41 and I believe they were located out of town (hence the boat trip). The evening class lasts an hour and fifteen minutes plus dinner (which you cook mostly yourself) and you pay at booking. I was a vegetarian but this wasn't a problem apparently.
As a café, we found the outside courtyard area very pleasant to sit in and drinks were reasonably priced, although service was slow.
We arrived at Tran Phu St in good time in the evening, and were taken all the way through to the other side (where the entrance is on Nguyen Thai Hoc St) and the toilets were pointed out to us so that we could wash our hands. We were also handed a drinks list so we could order some drinks at an extra charge. There were seven in our group, a mix from England, Canada and Holland. Our local chef spoke good English and as well as being competent at explaining everything clearly, she also had a sense of humour ("You don't eat any meat or fish? What's wrong with you?!").
The first dish we were going to make was Grilled Fish in Banana Leaf. The chef explained all the ingredients used and set us to work chopping garlic, onion, coriander and lemongrass. At the table we each had a chopping knife and board and there were smaller bowls for our chopping and larger bowls for our peelings and any other stuff that needed to be thrown away. There was nearly always a waitress around who emptied these and cleaned cutlery and boards as required. They were obviously well versed in what happened as everything that was needed appeared at the right time. After we had chopped everything she mixed them up with some other ingredients (we were all given recipe sheets and info on Vietnamese herbs and spices, which we could take away, and a pen with which to make notes) and rubbed them on the local fish, explaining that I could also use aubergine equally effectively. Unfortunately both of us seem to have lost our recipe notes so am unsure of a lot of the ingredients from memory. The fish was wrapped in banana leaves and was taken away to be barbequed for later.
We next got to make our own Spring Rolls which I had been looking forward too. Again she went through the ingredients and set us to work chopping them, and mixed them up, she carefully separated enough for two portions as two of us didn't eat shellfish. She added the dressings and the prawns (to the appropriate dish) and demonstrated how to roll a spring roll. They use very thin rice paper which instead of being moistened with water (as you may have done normally - not that I had ever made them before) they place the rice paper discs between banana leaves. We were each given one six inch disc and one half disc. You place the half disc on the bottom half of the whole one and put your vegetables (and whatever) on the top and then roll, folding in the edges until you reach the end. Sadly my roll looked like it had been made by a four year old (you should see my gift-wrapping...), but everyone else managed to produce an elegant one. Our chef them demonstrated how to cook one in a hot pan. Then our rolls were taken away to be cooked for us (with the veggie ones being kept separate).
Our last dish was a beef salad in a bamboo basket. Again she went through the ingredients of the salad - peanuts, coriander, Thai basil (which is nothing like basil we are familiar with at home), mint etc and got us to do some chopping. You don't chop a bit of everything - you just get one ingredient to chop and they are mixed together. Again she tossed all the ingredients together and demonstrated how to marinate the beef (in a tamarind sauce), one of the guys in the group volunteered to cook the beef, and he went off to the kitchens. Our salad was prepared and distributed in the baskets, when the other guy came back with the beef, one of the staff brought out some fried tofu to add to my salad, and we were given sesame rice paper pieces to garnish - they look like thicker, crunchier poppadums.
After this we could eat our food, they brought out some steamed rice, the fish in banana leaves came out (I was brought out aubergine in a clay pot as an alternative), we got our spring rolls back (contrary to expectations, mine hadn't fallen apart) and we could tuck into our salad. In addition to our class meals we were supplied with two other local specialities which are made with secret recipes. One was a fried wonton (a little fried flat thing with a bump in it which contained pork and shrimp or vegetables) and a White Rose which is a shrimp and pork or vegetable steamed dumpling. I have had wontons and dumplings before, so am not sure why they are so secret, but they were nice enough, all very beautifully presented with a fresh, dressed salad garnish. I have to say I did enjoy the food we had prepared, my spring roll tasted much better than it looked, and the dressing and flavours used in the tofu/beef salad was excellent. I was disappointed that I didn't get to prepare something more that I could eat as they had advertised that veggies were given replacement ingredients - I had assumed that meant I would cook them too, not just be served them. Friends of mine did a different cookery class (they happen at many places around the town) and their ingredients were prepared for them, but they got cook them on little individual stoves. I think I would have preferred that rather than just chopping. After all, I have chopped an onion before, so I think I would have got more out of actually putting together the salad or dressing etc. Saying that we did have a good evening with a lovely meal and I do recommend giving a cookery class a go, be it here or elsewhere when staying in Vietnam. I believe you can do them anywhere, but it seemed there were more opportunities in Hoi An.