I booked a cooking course for three friends and myself at Heaven Garden in Hoi An in November 2013.
I had been looking forward to learning some Vietnamese recipes in Hoi An because of its reputation for excellent food, but when we arrived the town was flooded and the cooking school I has planned to go to was under water. We stopped in at the Heaven Garden for lunch somewhere dry on our first day, and as I flicked through the menu I found a tiny advert for cookery classes. We asked a bit more, and found that the set-up is far better than the better-known schools, because we could choose any 4 dishes from the restaurant menu to learn - not just the 2 or 3 standard options at the bigger establishments.
Our lunch had included an amazing dish of barbecued pork with chilli and lemongrass which we all wanted to try again, so we picked that as one of the four. Spring rolls were a must, and seafood noodles - two dishes we ate almost every day during our trip in Vietnam. Then for the last dish we chose fish barbecued in banana leaves, which was marinated in the same chilli and lemongrass sauce. We booked for the next morning and went away salivating.
When we arrived the following day, an area at the side of the restaurant had been cleared and a big table-top burner set up. The surface around it was piled high with prepared vegetables, a huge piece of pork loin, a whole fish, squid and lots of prawns. At the table next to it, 4 chopping boards made from slices of tree were waiting, with 4 huge knives and some luminous orange aprons. The chef came out to greet us, and the owner of the restaurant translated. He spent over three hours with us, showing us how to cook the dishes and giving us all tasks so we all cooked together. Spring rolls first - we ate half of those as soon as they were done - then the seafood and then the pork and fish. Once everything was cooked bar the fish, we sat down to eat it all with a cocktail from the bar while the chef finished barbecuing the fish.
A wonderful morning, a great experience and lovely food. I learned so much, and will definitely be cooking all the recipes again. I would highly recommend the restaurant and the classes to anyone - just take your time and work out what you want to learn, and then go with the flow.
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