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Cooking like a Hanoian

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If you have at least 3 hours and are wondering what to do in Hanoi, “Cooking like a Hanoian” maybe not a bad choice

If you have at least 3 hours and are wondering what to do in Hanoi, “Cooking like a Hanoian” maybe not a bad choice. More than a cooking event, it is a culture exchange activity, where you can learn a dish while having an enjoyable time chatting with locals to know about local lifestyles and history.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi always seems crowded no matter if it’s the weekday or weekend. I struggle through the crowd, walking down from Hang Dao and then turning right to Hang Bac, a small but busy street to find Ga Hostel and Travel, where the “Cooking like a Hanoian” event takes place. I stop at Lane 50 and follow the arrows to the hostel, which is located at the end of the small alley.

The place is chill, quiet and homely even it is right in the center of the Old Quarter. All the ingredients for the cooking class are prepared on a large cooking table, including cardamom, star anise, onion, and some carrots. Can you guess what the theme dish of the cooking class is? It’s “Phở”, a traditional noodle soup, which is undoubtedly the most well-known Vietnamese dish overseas.

“It’s my first time in Vietnam. My aunt was in Vietnam and she said “Phở” was great and I thought “Ok, I will also go to Vietnam. I will try it”. Maybe I’ll love it too.” 

That’s what Simon Heldmayer from Germany said when being asked about how he knows about “Pho”. People often heard about “Pho”, from social media or their family or friends who once visited Vietnam, but many of them never tasted the dish, or know how it is made.

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Participants are taken to local markets around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and experience the buying and bargaining  necessary in acquiring the ingredients themselves 

The cooking class teaches the participants this famous dish in just 1 three hour-long class. The schedule for class is flexible so participants can join in whenever they have time.

Ho Hoai Thuong, or Alice, founder and CEO of Ga Hostel and Travel, said “We have 2 concepts. During the weekend, we cook some complicated dishes like Pho or Bun Cha. It takes more time and it should be organized in a big group. We want to make it more like a community event, not really for profit. It’s not only about the cooking skills, we also tell them the stories behind the dishes. In addition, we also have the daily concept, in which we teach them how to cook more normal everyday Vietnamese meals.”

The fee for each 3-hour class is US$11 for the weekend and US$15 for the daily cooking class. The most fun and interesting part is that participants will be taken to local markets around Hanoi’s Old Quarter and experience the buying and bargaining  necessary in acquiring the ingredients themselves. 

Mai Tran, manager of sales and marketing of Ga hostel and travel, and also the teacher in the class, said“Participants can join the whole activity from the first step like going to the market, learning how to buy fresh ingredients, and coming back home, preparing, and cooking the meal. And finally, we eat together and we talk about our day. Participants said that they really love the food and are positively surprised by the experience.”

In the class, everyone involves themselves in the cooking process. Some bakes the onion, cardamom, and star anise, which will be used in cooking the “Pho” broth while others cut radishes, carrots, and shallots. They chit chat and share the reasons why they came to Vietnam, and why they joined in this cooking class.

Ana Carolina Menezes is a Brazilian living in Bangkok. This is her first time in Vietnam. She loves Vietnamese food and is happy to join in the “Cooking like a Hanoian” event because it’s one of the opportunities for her to learn a little bit more about Vietnamese culture and cuisine. “I tried “Pho” the first time in Saigon but I didn’t try it in Hanoi yet. This is going to be the first time”, said Ana Carolina. 

Mai was explaining the history behind “Pho” and why it’s important in Hanoi and the differences between “Pho” here and in Sai Gon.

“We’ve just learned the basic steps in how to cook it, in the first hour. That’s really cool. I’m really happy to join in. I love the good vibes from the host. People are very nice in Asia in general and Vietnamese even more so, so I really like it”, said Mai. 

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To prepare an authentic bowl of “Pho” takes a lot of effort and time, up to 12 hours for making the broth only. As people are super busy with the hustle and bustle of life, thus spending 12 hours to learn how to cook “Phở” is an impossible task. To suit the customers’ demand, Ga hostel cooperated with chefs from Hoa Sua, a well-known cooking school, to change a bit in the recipe to shorten the cooking time, so anyone can recreate the dish at home after the 3-hour-class. The organizers also provide two versions of a dish, one for meat eaters and one for vegetarians.

“We try to simplify the food because our customers are young people. We talk with many western customers and we see that there’s a trend to be a vegan. Veganism is currently trending in a big way. We think that we can change the recipe to accommodate them. For example, the fish sauce can be made from caramelized sugar and salt. It has a pretty similar color and taste. For the vegetarian “Pho”, we use mushroom instead of chicken or pork. We really want to introduce Vietnamese food to our visitors and have tried many ways to get as close as possible to meeting their needs”, said Alice.  

With those changes, the dish takes less time and effort to prepare while still maintains a similar taste to the original. Beatriz Dias is a backpacker from Brazil. After joining the class, she got general ideas of what “Pho” is, and some basic steps on how recreate a bowl of “Pho” at home, which is not as hard as she thought it might be.  

“It’s awesome. The environment they created was unbelievable. You can meet a lot of people, cool people. I think it’s very nice to know how you prepare the different ingredients. Oh it’s really different from what I was thinking. I was thinking about something complicated but it was so simple. You can really do it at home”, said Beatriz Dias. 

Noortie Gremmen comes from the Netherlands. It’s just her first few days in Hanoi and she hasn’t had the chance to get used to Vietnamese food yet. One day before the event, her friend told her that when in Vietnam, she has to try “Pho” as it is so good. Thus, here she joins the event to learn more about Vietnamese cooking methods, which she’s so excited to try again when she returns to her home country. 

“Actually I was really surprised because my mom makes a lot of soup and then she does add onion and everything and then she boils it. Here, they bake onion and cook the outside of the onion. I’ve never seen things like that before. And they use cinnamon and star anise, which we would didn’t use it at home. They told me they will send me a recipe after class, so I will probably make it for my mom when I’m home. I do really like the food here, so it’s fun to see how they make it, not just eat it in the restaurant”, said Noortie Gremmen. 

The organizers always encourage their participants to share photos and videos from the class on social media, so that more and more people will know about Vietnamese cuisine. The hostel is now building an eco-farm trip model, in which participants will come and harvest the vegetables themselves and learn how to cook Vietnamese dishes there. At this farm, no plastic will be used, and the waste from farming then be collected to make fertilizer. Ga hostel believes that eco-farm trips and eco-tourism will promote responsibility from travelers in protecting the environment when visiting Vietnam.

Alice said “Eco tourism is a trend that emphasizes more care about the environment, especially for the young travelers. We think that we should promote that concept so we can attract more responsible customers. At Ga Hostel and travel, we don’t sell water in plastic bottles, but we have purified machines customers can get water from. When we go to the market, we bring our own market bags to put all vegetables inside, and we have a box to keep meat or fish.” 

By holding cooking classes introducing Vietnamese food and having activities raising visitors’ awareness on keeping the environment clean, Ga Hostel and travel hopes to attract more and more visitors coming to Vietnam and exploring the beauty of the country and its people. 

For more information, visit GA Hostel and Travel’s official Facebook at: www.facebook.com/gahostel