After reviewing several cooking school options one clearly stood out. The Cylco Resto Company offered a real cooking and cultural experience that by happen-stance was priced better as well. The course began with a cyclo pick-up at our hotel and headed directly to the local market. A cyclo is a pedi-cab for one, but the passenger is in front of the cycler, and is very Vietnamese. As luck would have it, I was the only one who signed up for the morning cooking class and scored a private lesson! The cyclo was accompanied by a very nice girl named Jenh who led me through the market buying most of the ingredients used in the class and explaining most of the exotic local produce. Once at the restaurant ice tea and a cold towel were served while the chef made final preparations for the class. The Chef was a typical Vietnamese man, about 5’5”, 30 years old, very friendly, spoke good English, and had a big smile, his name was Vue. Both Jenh and Vue were amazingly nice and gracious. Chef Vue has been cooking most of his life and was able to teach me many tips and techniques when cooking Asia cuisine. Being the only student I was able to choose the menu from six different menu sets. Shrimp spring rolls, green melon soup, lemon grass chicken, and Vietnamese pancakes were on my chosen menu.
First, was the preparation, which I love most. Vue taught me the proper way to breakdown lemon grass and green melon, and the Vietnamese way to chop shallots and garlic. Once the prep was done we started with the spring rolls which as very easy once you have the proper technique. Next, we marinated the chicken with lemon grass, pork and shrimp for the pancake. While those were marinating we started the green melon soup. While the soup was simmering Vue showed me how to slice a tomato very thinly many times to in turn make a rose, make a heart from a cucumber and a swan from a tomato, green onion, and chili pepper. Once the fancy stuff was done we got back to cooking and started the lemon grass chicken and then the Vietnamese pancake.
It is called a pancake, but is not even close to a breakfast pancake. The pan is oiled by rendering fat from a slice of pork lard (right then I new it was going to be good) then sautéed the marinated lean pork and shrimp. Next, a thin pancake batter was added made of wheat and rice flour then swirled around the pan making it as thin as a crepe. It is then cooked on low heat for 10-12 minutes. Once the pancake was finished it is filled with bean sprouts, cilantro (coriander to the rest of the world), and green onion. The pancake is served with whole lettuce leaves and a fish sauce based dipping sauce. After wrapping a portion of the pancake in lettuce it is dipped in the sauce and enjoyed. No maple syrup needed! Once the dishes were finished we had a shot of rice wine, relaxed and enjoyed my work. The pancake and green melon soup were my favorite. Such a wonderful experience at Cyclo Resto was had, so much so that Katie and I came back for a six-course dinner that evening.