Hoi An Cooking Class Sabirama Cooking School via Cookly
Food tours and cooking classes have always been my thing. Actually, I tend to lean more on the eating side — Tina is the one with the kitchen talent, and she makes real good use of it. Traveling often, and every once in a while, I prefer booking Airbnb’s or houses where we could cook in the kitchen. Food, after all, is not just a biological need but an important part of a locale’s history. I remember that at the end of the tour which I’m about to describe here, Tina was noting how she appreciated Vietnamese food more right after we saw firsthand the preparation that goes into it.
I had a very eventful experience with the Sabirama cooking school. We booked it via Cookly, and it wasn’t the first cooking class we took with cookly, we did a cooking class in Bangkok too last February and we enjoyed very much.
Heading into Sabirama
The day before the tour, we were asked to confirm our pickup time and location. They were very prompt, and picked us up at the hotel lobby. That day, we were also in between hotels and they were kind enough to allow us to take our luggage and keep it in the van in the meanwhile. From our hotel, we then proceeded to Kiman Hotel and Spa.
At the Market
Many of the food tours and cooking classes I have joined in the past included a tour through the local market. It makes good sense, because then you can see just how the locals obtain and deal with their food. It’s an insight into the daily Vietnamese life. As usual, market mornings are pretty busy and there were many people shopping around. There were also those having breakfast in this very colorful place. Our guide showed us the different tools used for food preparation, which included a few cool things. There was one that was used to shred morning glory and beans, and another one that lets you make carrot flowers (for plating and decoration) more easily.
She also had us try various kinds of coconut products. All of them were really good! These kinds of tours bring out my adventurous side when it comes to food tasting, as I am generally more reserved when it comes to trying new things. But hey, this is how I discover new things which I normally wouldn’t buy off the shelves. Once I get to like them, though, that’s a different story!
The River Cruise
After the lively market, we took to the Thu Bồn River for 40 minutes of cruising! We were greeted by the fresh and gentle river breeze, as we sought out the sights of the city. Around us, people went about their daily business. We saw the humongous fishing nets, and the many bridges that spanned the water. It was fun and relaxing!
We later learned that this was more of a bonus, as the Hội An cooking class can be easily reached through the main road to town. The river cruise was more to let us experience a different side of what the city has to offer. We later discovered just how well this played into the overall goal of the Hội An cooking class.
The Basket Boat Ride
I have to admit — one of the reasons I chose this tour was because of these cute little basket boats! I wanted to experience riding in them, since it seemed quite cool. I was not disappointed! Our boatman even spun us around several times, apparently in an attempt to scare us. Instead, we loved it! I only wish we could have spent more time in the ride.
The basket boats allowed us to see the ingenuity of the Vietnamese people. These little boats were originally made to evade the taxes the French colonists levied on boat owners. Since these crafts were really just large baskets repurposed into boats, the fishermen who owned them could get away with it! The “Thung Chai”, as called in Vietnamese, survived both as an actual vehicle and a tourist attraction.
The Carabao Cart
We call them carabaos, but they’re better known around the world as water buffaloes. We spent about 5 minutes riding the cart, trudging behind the sure steps of this beast of burden. It was fun, though it wasn’t something entirely new. We already had this experience at Villa Escudero in the past, though for other members of the group this is something they would really appreciate.
Winding down at the spa
When we got to the school itself, we were greeted with some fresh fruit juice and a relaxing time at the spa! I absolutely loved this part. There was a foot spa session waiting for us, and though it was quick (lasting about 10-15 minutes) it was really good! It was also perfect after all the walking we did to this Hội An cooking class.
Be warned, though, the only thing that is free is the massage and the oil they use. The girl attending to me asked if I wanted a scrub, and since she can’t speak fluent English she just pointed to the scrub and asked “do you want?”. Thinking it was part of the tour, I said yes. It was only afterwards that I realized I had to pay for it! I mean, I had one leg already covered in the scrub, and it would be nuts not to have it on the other as well… I ended up shelling out 7,000 Dong (a little over USD 3). It wasn’t expensive, and that was the lucky thing. To be sure, though, I made a mental note to ask “Is it free?” the next time I get similar offers. It would have also been better if we were told of the price before the scrub started, but then again we were just made to sit down so we naturally assumed it was free.
Aside from that little experience, the whole foot spa thing was very invigorating. The massage was great, and we were soon ready for our cooking lessons!
We made 4 dishes:
- Mango Salad with Seafood (Gỏi Xoài), and fish sauce
- Fresh Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
- Vietnamese Pancakes (Bánh Khọt)
- Chili Chicken
Mango Salad with Seafood. We started by cooking the seafood, adding onions and sesame in the pan. We cooked it for a few minutes and set it aside.
Next, we worked on shredding the carrots and mangoes. The class was split here, some were assigned to work on mangoes while I and a few others were assigned to the carrots.
After shredding, we were taught some beautiful plating techniques with cucumbers! Plating isn’t just all about making the food Instagram-worthy — it’s more like finding a way to translate the “essence” of the food into something visual. The salad was very fresh, and the seafood tossed in were meant to give it a dash of flavour and body. We were taught how to make flowers (2 different kinds) and butterflies out of cucumber to garnish the meal, and to emphasize its fresh aspects. We also learned how to make a flower out of a tomato.
I realised that I was poor at this whole decorating thing, since I’m not so good with fine motor skills. Maybe after some more practice? I did make a valiant attempt, and it was a really cool experience. I’m just glad our guide was happy to help a lot with us struggling folks!
After this little road bump, we mixed the mangoes and carrots with the seafood and are ready for our first meal. It was really good and balanced, and it worked well with a splash of fish sauce!
By the way, we prepared the fish sauce ourselves! It was initially just the basic salty flavor, but then we mixed a spoonful of sugar, some chili, and garlic. This made the sauce salty and sweet at the same time. As Filipinos, we are big on condiments, so I’m pretty sure I could use this one back home. It’s like the condiments I learned from the Vespa Adventure food tour!
After this, our guide asked if we want to go through all the remaining 3 dishes first before eating, or if we want to eat each dish as we finished it. We picked the former! We’ve already had the salad to sustain us through the upcoming string of Vietnamese cuisine.
Fresh Spring Rolls. We started off by mixing the pork, mushrooms, and carrots. We had to do it quickly, though, since this time around there was only one pan and we had to take turns. The rest of the group wanted to just watch, so I had my share of trying it out.
The cool part was learning how to make the fresh wrap. It was quite difficult, since you lay it atop a pan like pancakes then wait for a full 45 minutes! You then take some water to prevent it from sticking to the pan. It was cool, but then fine motor skills are needed so as not to tear the wraps apart. The guide was ready to help, as usual.
After cooking, all the contents are mixed together into the wrap. It’s then rolled, sliced into 4, and sprinkled with spring onions and vegetable oil sauce (which is super good, by the way!). There’s also the fish sauce we made earlier. Other toppings include garlic, pork floss, and beef floss. Really delicious!
Vietnamese Pancakes. This one is quite easy, since we just had to mix the seafood and white coconut powder with the turmeric. This was made into a pancake-like dough, and cooked the usual way. The best part came when we had to flip it — I was pretty nervous (fine motor skills, remember?) but hey, I did it! It was fun, and the fact that I did it really well made the experience much better!
Chili Chicken. This was just delicious! The chicken came with lemongrass and chili, which made for a very hearty meal. We had steamed rice with it, too. Coming from the Philippines where we are really big on rice, I was expecting a cup of rice. What came instead was a round compact mound that looked like sticky rice. Apparently, it was the Vietnamese version but I had no complains — it was really good, and it worked marvelously with the meal!
At the end, we ate the fruits of our labor and had our delicious fill!
As I’ve said, this isn’t the first cooking class I joined, with Cookly or with others. However, this one offered a lot of new experiences. As a plus, we got to take home the recipes for ourselves! How cool is that?
We finally bid our goodbyes, and they dropped us off in our new hotel. We were there in 10 minutes, further emphasizing just how much trouble they went through just to make this a one-of-a-kind experience. I loved that they made this effort!
After a short rest, we were stoked enough to go out again and explore Hội An. It was a lovely morning well-spent.
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