I didn’t hesitate when my Fulbright friend, Jeff, texted me about taking a cooking class in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. After all these Vietnamese classes, I was ready for another kind of class.
Navigating through the narrow streets of the Old Quarter on Jeff’s motorbike, we found the alley with the sign for the Ga Hostel, the location of the class. Another few narrow alleys later, deep into the block and away from the noise of the street, we arrived at the entrance.
It turns out Jeff and I were the only two in the class. This was the first such class being offered by the hostel and they were excited to have us. The chef, a recent graduate from a culinary school here in Hanoi, works at a French restaurant nearby. She was accompanied by the hostel owner and two of her friends – four teachers for a class of two.
Today’s recipe would be one of Vietnam’s most famous dishes, phở gà , or chicken noodle soup. But it never sounds right to me to translate phở gà (or phở bò) as chicken noodle or beef noodle soup, because it’s so much more than that. Phở is a staple here. It is eaten at all times of day, often for breakfast. Restaurants and street stalls often advertise one type or the other and serve it exclusively. With each taste, you soak up a bit of Vietnamese history and culture and feel closer to experiencing the real Vietnam. And it’s delicious. I’m sorry to say that chicken noodle soup will never again be the same for me, but at least I have an idea of how to make phở now.
Our cooking class started with coffee and tea, sitting on the floor around the hostel’s sole dining table. The process of making phở takes several hours (which is why you can hardly walk down a street without a sidewalk phở restaurant) and had been started before we arrived.
A live chicken had been bought at the market that morning and was already simmering in the pot. The next step was to go to the market to buy the fresh ingredients for the soup. Over the next several hours, Jeff and I learned how to pick out the right herbs and vegetables, helped chop, slice, and season the ingredients, and mostly just enjoyed the company of our hosts as we got to know each other. By the end of the class, we both felt we had just spent the morning with friends and not at a class. We also decided we would go back again.
By the way, don’t pronounce phở the way it looks in English (foe). It’s got its own unique Vietnamese pronunciation as dictated by the special letter ở and the symbol above it. I can’t really explain how to pronounce it, but there are lots of funny YouTube videos devoted to just this one word. It’s taken me three months to get close enough in pronunciation so that I no longer get a confused look when I ask for a bowl of phở.
December 10, 2016 at 11:53
Food looks amazing. I can’t wait to taste some of the food, when you get back, now that your a professional! Haha.
December 11, 2016 at 18:30
I don’t know if I can work the magic, but I’ll try.
December 10, 2016 at 11:58
How fun, Tim!!!! I agree with Brandon…….would you like to cater a PMS luncheon????? Enjoy!
December 11, 2016 at 18:31
One class and so many food requests! Don’t they feed anyone there anymore?
December 10, 2016 at 15:37
This looks wonderful and so healthy. Puts my chicken soup to shame. You must be loving all the healthy eating and knowing you will bring that home with you. Maybe we can find a Vietnamese restaurant in New York or Boston that comes close to this-or maybe not. At least I know what to order-looks yummy! Miss seeing you.
December 11, 2016 at 18:32
I know of one in East Hartford, and I hear one just opened up in Westerly. I’ll be there!
December 10, 2016 at 16:39
Good enough to eat! Fun too!
December 11, 2016 at 18:32
December 10, 2016 at 20:05
Such fun and delicious! Thanks.
December 11, 2016 at 18:37
It took a long time to make, but being homemade made it special.
December 11, 2016 at 12:45
Yum!! That looks amazing! I love Vietnamese food. Yes, PMS lunch and/or cooking class when you get back????
We actually have a 6th grader at PMS whose family just opened a Vietnamese restaurant in the plaza with Case della Luce. It is very good…..but you’ll have to try it when you get back to see how it compares!
December 11, 2016 at 18:38
Can’t wait to try it! (Maybe I can get a job there.)
December 11, 2016 at 16:36
A blog about food…right up my alley! Now don’t you think for a second that I’m not expecting a cooking class myself (taught by you!) or at the least a huge pot of it! I’ve heard it’s delicious…there was actually a TV show on a few weeks ago exclusively dedicated to pho! (Kevin Can Wait – starring Kevin James). I continue to live vicariously through your adventures and journeys. Bon Appetit!!
December 11, 2016 at 18:39
Wish I could learn how to make everything, but I’m spending too much time eating. I had three breakfasts yesterday here in Bangkok. (I’m here for a quick trip to renew my visa.)
December 11, 2016 at 22:43
Hi Tim, I just started reading your blog! What an amazing experience! I love pho (sorry, don’t know how to get the accent)! I used to work with Vietnamese students who tried to teach me the correct way to say it as well. I love how you describe it, and yes, it is nothing like chicken noodle soup!!
December 16, 2016 at 06:35
I know I’ll miss it when I leave!
December 14, 2016 at 19:12
The fresh produce is amazing. I would love to have this experience. I want to try this soup!!!
December 16, 2016 at 06:37
If I ever make it, I’ll be sure to have enough for you!