Tucked away in the heart of Hanoi lies the Hanoi Cooking Centre. Located in 44 Chau Long Street, nestled on the edge of Hanoi’s old quarter and close to Truc Bach and West Lake, Hanoi Cooking Centre is a cooking school, and cafe. The centre offers hands-on cooking classes and short courses in a relaxed atmosphere, designed by chef Tracey Lister, co-author of KOTO – A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam and Vietnamese Street Food. We were lucky to discover the school before we departed for Vietnam and had a tour set up before we left.
While we were there, I met Tracey in person and I was enchanted by her gumption and enthusiasm to not only help the people who walk through her door but also help the women and children living in poverty on the boarders of Vietnam and all over the country. She works closely with a charity called KOTO which helps street kids through vocational training in cooking and serving and gets them off the streets and into lucrative careers as chefs.
But we showed up at the centre in search of only one thing: STREET FOOD. To say the street food in Vietnam is out of this world is an understatement. After being in Vietnam for one week, we decided to turn to the experts and it was the best decision we could have made.
Everywhere you look in the city of Hanoi, there is some kind of food that you want to dare to try. After the several wars that Vietnam endured against the French and the U.S. caused major changes in the way people live, there has been a shift to curbside dining, mainly due to economics but also due to necessity of making a living and doing what the Vietnamese people know best. The people of Hanoi bring everything but their kitchen sink and set up shop all over the streets of the Old Quarter and the aromas are mind-boggling.
Hung, the centre’s head chef, was our tour guide. It is definitely a treat to be taken around a city by a chef who knows food inside/out.
We started with a bowl of “pho, glorious pho”. It’s basically a bowl of noodle soup, this one created by Nguyen Thanh Huyen at the Pho Ga Stall. We ordered the soup at a cart in front of the establishment – with choices of chicken, pork, pho noodles, red shallots and limes. Then we sat on a bench inside and devoured our soup, adding chili sauce. Located right near the Lo Duc Street market, the ingredients are fresh and out of this world. We were introduced to the owner, who has been running the stall for the past decade with her husband.
We then made our way to Banh Cuon Stall, an establishment that makes delicious stuffed rice-paper pancakes, filled with either chicken or pork and drizzled in fish sauce and ca cuong, produced by a giant water bug. When Hung showed us a bottle of water bugs, which came as a shock, but as he lightly poured some fluid into our sauce, it tastefully made so much sense. We were then introduced to Tran Thi Van, the owner, who has been in the pancake business since the age of 13. She works with her husband and children in this family-run business and you can tell that’s one they are proud of.
As we wandered through the Old Quarter, Hung introduced us to the magic of street food. We were introduced to food we never would have stopped to eat and our senses became enlivened. Sticky rice, donuts, quail eggs, bean cakes and a delicious dessert made of fruit, jello, beans and milk. We ended with the best iced coffee we’ve both ever had at Ca Phe Duc Tri. By that point, we were full, satisfied and positively gleaming. The tastes and smells we’d experienced that morning were beyond description.
After the tour, we both picked up a copy of the owner’s cook book called Vietnamese Street Food. which I urge you to pick up a copy of. If you love Vietnamese food and what to get down to the basics of the history and passion behind it, this is the book for you.
Coming back to the U.S. has been a slight downer in terms of my culinary adventures. We need to teach our American chefs about Vietnamese cuisine and the magic behind its creation!
By the way, I did not have my kids with me – I’m sure I was able to be more adventurous on my own. In fact, I am positive.
I’m so glad we took this tour – it was worth every penny of the $55 American dollars that it cost.
On your next trip to Hanoi, because of course you are going there, visit the Hanoi Cooking Centre.
Disclosure: I was not compensated nor requested to write this article. It was a PLEASURE and all opinions are my own.