As 8:00am approached, we were finally arriving in Hanoi, over an hour after our scheduled arrival time. Upon entering town, we noticed that this city seemed to have even more motorbikes than Saigon! As we were packing up and preparing to get off the bus, I learned that John (seated in the seat right in front of me) was quite stressed. He wouldn’t tell me what was wrong at first and insisted that we wait until we were off the bus to discuss. I agreed and then we got stuck in hoards of motorbike traffic, so our departure from the bus was delayed. It was then that John announced he had his laptop bag on the corner of a shelf in front of him and the bumps in the road had caused his laptop to snap in half. He was obviously pretty upset and I was mostly really confused but he felt the back of the bag and showed me the odd shape of the item inside. We quickly made ourselves feel better by saying ‘that is what travel insurance is for’ and John was even a little happy that the weight of his bag would decrease dramatically until it was fixed. A few minutes later, John turned around with a big smile on his face and told me his laptop was still intact, the foam in the backpack behind it was just making it feel as though a ninja chopped his laptop in twain. Silly Johnny! We both were hugely relieved and got off the bus, our moods dramatically improved.
Our next task was to find a taxi to the Blue Butterfly restaurant where we would take a Vietnamese cooking class, starting at 9am! Nothing like getting right into the tourist mode immediately upon entering a new city. We were allowed to keep our backpacks at the restaurant and the staff gave us some coffee and green tea to enjoy while we waited for our instructor. We were soon greeted by a really nice, young Vietnamese guy named Tinh. He was our course translator and would be explaining everything from the chef into English for us. We were super lucky because we were the only two people who booked the course for the day, so we were going to have a private class for the cheaper group rate. The class started off with a trip to the market with Tinh. He walked us through the streets and showed us where we could buy the freshest local ingredients. We grated some green papaya and some carrots from one of the vendors and continued on to learn about all the herbs and spices used in Vietnamese dishes. Tinh explained that all the food in Vietnam, even the street food, is really fresh and he even showed us some spices used only for dog curry… Our favorite stop was the fruit stand where he let us try every single local fruit. This included dragon fruit and star fruit among others. The only two fruits at the whole stand that we didn’t try were watermelon and apple because Vietnam imports some of these fruits from China and Tinh told us it is best to stay away from them, just in case.
We were already having such a great time and the actual cooking hadn’t even started yet. We walked back to the restaurant and washed our hands before heading to the upstairs part of the restaurant to meet the chef. The first dish we learned to cook was papaya salad. It was a very simple dish, albeit extremely tasty. We first soaked the carrots and green papaya in salty mineral water to clean them and then made a very simple dressing with sugar, oil, fish sauce, and red peppers. We mixed it all together and topped the salad off with peanuts and an amazing Vietnamese beef jerky. Oh yea, we can’t forget the flower carrots! The chef taught us how to make a decorative carrot to make our dish look extra fancy. We practiced on several and enjoyed them laughing at our lack of skill. We can’t wait to make this dish at home for you all, we just hope we can find that tasty jerky to top it off (no, we will not use Jerky from 7-eleven)!
One delicious dish down and two to go! We learned to make Hanoi spring rolls, which are the fried version. We mixed together ground pork, vegetables, and herbs and “mastered” the art of rolling them in rice paper and sealing them with a tiny bit of egg white. We sat those aside and prepared the main course of stir fried lemongrass chicken. This was another simple but ridiculously flavorful dish! Before making it, we learned how to make a new food decoration – a tomato flower! It took us a few to get the hang of it, but we were happy with our progress when we were finished. To create the main dish, we combined peppers and onions, lemongrass and other spices and chicken and stir fried them together in a wok. While this was cooking, we heated up some oil in a separate wok and began frying our spring rolls. As if we were professional chefs, everything finished cooking at the same time and we prepared the final plates, decorations and all.
The best part came when we got to enjoy all three dishes on the balcony of the restaurant. The food was soo good, we ate and ate until we couldn’t eat any more. It was the best meal we had in Vietnam and it was one of the only times we were actually overly full from a meal since we entered the country. Portions are generally very reasonable but not quite the in-your-face sizes we are used to in American restaurants.
We really loved the cooking class and would recommend Blue Butterfly to anyone! It was half the cost of most of the major cooking classes in town (around $35) and the quality was on point! Not to mention the staff was really friendly, fun, and extremely sanitary.
After stuffing ourselves, we investigated train journeys to Sapa while waiting for a 50 minute water puppet show to start in the theater nearby. It is difficult to describe a water puppet show but I’ll give it a shot. Basically, imagine a small movie theater with a pool of water for a stage and a curtain as the backdrop. Then imagine a small live orchestra on the left hand side playing traditional Vietnamese music while puppets are synchronized swimming in the water next to them. OK, maybe it was easy to explain. We had very low expectations but thought we should experience one of these shows while in Vietnam and we were pleasantly surprised at how entertained we were.
We stuck with our usual theme of making plans for our next destination at the last minute and negotiated a good price for a two day, three night trekking trip with homestay to Sapa, Vietnam only an hour or so before our scheduled train departure. We subsequently hurried off to board our train for the first night of our Sapa journey!