Our class began with a walking tour of the local market, which was crowded, stimulating and not overly hygienic, exactly like other markets I've seen in Vietnam:
After being shown how to choose fresh mackerel, lemongrass, and turmeric, we went back to the shiny demonstration kitchen where Miss Lu gave us a 2-hour lesson in preparing restaurant-quality Vietnamese food. Miss Lu, who is 29, has worked in restaurants since she was twelve and she knows how to carve a perfect rose out of a tomato.
I didn't pick up that particular trick, but did discover this brilliant tool for julienning green papaya -- or anything!
It's like a very wide, sharp lemon zester, much less cumbersome than a mandoline.
We also learned that the Vietnamese roast peanuts by submerging them in hot sand, a process that supposedly renders them extra-delicious, and we learned to make bahn xeo, a crispy rice flour/coconut crepe that I once ate at a restaurant in San Jose, California, but have never seen on a menu again:
As soon as I get home I'm going to try cooking these myself. Lu's bahn xeo was one of the best things I've eaten since we got here.
We also made a world-beating grilled chicken, the marinade for which included all 13 pastes, powders, and condiments you see in this photograph:
The chicken was my father's favorite dish.
Or was that Miss Lu? Ewww. I can't believe I just typed that. But she WAS very charming and funny and smart.
I also made my own (fairly) professional-looking spring roll:
I didn't eat it, though. Lu said the raw vegetables were washed in "mineral water," but I'm extremely -- perhaps overly -- cautious about the food. It's a complete drag, picking every sprig of cilantro off of my soup. I'm looking forward to eating a salad and drinking a giant glass of tap water when I get home.