Many other reviewers have (rightly) praised Van and the Green Bamboo market tour and cooking class as a highlight of their culinary experiences in Vietnam. We've been blessed to take cooking classes in a variety of exotic places, but what sets the experience with Van and her famiy apart is the personal touch. You will be cooking in her breezy home kitchen, meeting her children as they come in from school, and may even be picked up from your hotel by her husband. But even more importantly, Van has a special knack for adjusting the experience to meet various participants needs while still making the experience special for everyone. My friend and I are foodie omnivores, but our group for the day included two pure vegetarians (nothing with eyes) and two pescaterians, and it would have been no fun to make dishes that couldn't be shared. So, between the six of us, we ended up making a total of 8 dishes, 6 of which were vegetarian, one of which (delicious savory tumeric-infused pancakes) was made two ways (with shrimp and vegetarian) the 8th, fish in a claypot, which was enjoyed by five of us (including Van) The gracious way Van handled a group with divergent culinary skills and preferences was a sight to behold, and we loved that she ate all the dishes with us, and shared the leftovers with her prep helpers. Another thing people don't mention is the benefit of being with Van at the market. Because Van's purchases at the market are a great support to these small business owners, we never felt awkward about being there "just to look", pressured to make purchases, or guilty about taking photos of the vendors and their impossibly fresh produce. Finally, if you want to buy some of the local cooking tools and ingredients used in Vietnamese dishes without having to worry about haggling, the tour is relaxzed enough to include ample opportunities. We bought a beautiful and functional hand held mandolin that will just get better with age, a very clever metal-wrapped wooden coconut scraper, and some tra dau van (roasted snow pea husks) to make tea, spending less than $5 for all three items. And we left Van's with a goodie bag of extras including the recipes, chopsticks, a decorative grater, and stalks of lemongrass to act as stirrers for our evening gin & tonics. So, all in all, it was, as others have said, a very special day. Just remember that you will be shopping and cooking for several hours in a tropical climate and dress accordingly. And if you are worried that you will be too full to taste 8 to 10 dishes in one setting, just take tasting-sized helpings of each. You won't want to be so full that you miss out on the surprise sweet at the end of the class.
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