Xin Chao! It is the simplest way of saying “hello” in Vietnam. I never thought that I would have an instant trip to this country last Saturday. My port of entry? Hanoi? No. Guess what? Culinary Institute of Cagayan de Oro (CIC).
Last May 4, a cooking demonstration of Vietnamese Cuisine was held at CIC. When I entered their kitchen, I was welcomed by a celebrity who has appeared in numerous shows on national TV… Chef Hasset Go. Initially, he gave us an orientation about Vietnam and he also shared his experiences there. I learned that Vietnamese are very particular with their ingredients. Herbs and spices that are used as garnishes only in other international cuisines are considered vegetables and eaten in Vietnamese recipes. Yes, that’s how healthy they are. But, the only not so pleasant thing about Vietnamese is they are a fan of monosodium glutamate or “vetsin,” something that is not practiced at CIC. Instead, they made use of spices. Aside from vetsin, everything else is eaten fresh and healthy in Vietnam.
Then, what’s next? The cooking demo proper. Chef Hasset Go was assisted by CIC’s Apprentice Chef Van Jearyk Catalan Aljas. I was one of the audience together with a pool of CIC students. If my memory serves me right, I think Chef Hasset presented five Vietnamese recipes. All of them represented the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine which has a little Chinese influence.
The first dish is what they call Banh Xeo. It is a Vietnamese Savory Crepe. At first, I was thinking it was something sweet like the usual thing that we have here in the Philippines. But, I was wrong for it was a crepe stuffed with herbs, veggies, and spices. Once you eat it, you wrap the crepe with lettuce leaves and dip in a carrot sauce or what they call Nuoc Cham. Of all the recipes prepared, this one was the most memorable and delicious that I had tasted. I loved the crispiness of the thin crepe and the crunchiness of the stuffed vegetables and spices inside. The sauce gave it a sweet and sour twist. Perfect!
After that, the spring rolls followed. There were two varieties prepared. One was stuffed with shrimp, Wansoy which is a herb that is a common ingredient to all Vietnamese recipe, and varieties of vegetables. The other spring roll had an added pork to it. They were wrapped with rice paper. We dipped them in a creamy peanut sauce before eating. There were lots of dipping made. That is why, if you want to be a good Vietnamese cook, you need to master their concoction of dipping sauces.
Then , we had the Pho, a Vietnamese rice noodle soup. It is made of beef broth with spices like cinnamon, topped with beef, veggies and herbs. It tasted so light and the beef was just perfectly cooked, thinly sliced, and juicy. What a great soup especially now that the rainy season is coming.
Lastly, Chef Hasset prepared Vietnamese Sandwich. It is made of sliced meats topped with usual Vietnamese herbs like Wansoy, liver spread, and Vietnamese Chilli Sauce. This recipe is a product of French Colonialism in Indochina.
It was one enriching Vietnamese experience. The great thing about it was the audience especially the CIC students had a return demonstration of the recipes made. I myself had learned so many things and had eaten so many foods. Burp! Excuse me.