How to Learn Vietnamese Cuisine in a Fun Saigon Cooking Class

To better understand the elements of Vietnamese cuisine, we took a Saigon cooking class at The Vietnam Cookery Center. 

The abundant use of fresh herbs in Vietnamese cooking is one of the most striking observations we made while traveling through the country.

Used generously, in almost every meal, raw herbs are torn, tossed, rolled, and wrapped into soups, rice and noodle dishes, sandwiches, and more.

The herbs are exotic and go beyond the typical basil, tarragon, or parsley you easily find in other parts of the world. Unique herbs like knotgrass, pepper elder, fish mint, rice paddy herb, to name a few, intrigued and surprised us.

Join us behind the scenes at a traditional Vietnamese cooking class in Saigon as we learn more about the elements of Vietnamese cuisine.

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VietnamCookeryCenter_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestHistorical Building in the Golden Triangle, Saigon

Stories & Views in Saigon Cooking Class

The interesting part of the story is that the building was supposed to be for the Saigonese elite.

As the first concrete building in Asia, the French architect made a cultural mistake.

He built the building like in France where the space under the roof was divided into small rooms for the servants.

Well, in Asia, the tradition is to worship the Gods over your head, not the servants. As a result, none of the rich Vietnamese accepted to live there.

Situated on the top floor of the building, the Vietnam Cookery Center has a beautiful large terrace where we cooked some of our dishes.

It also offers a splendid view of the local area called the “Golden Triangle.”

This was the perfect location for our cooking class in Saigon.

ViewfromVietnamCookeryCenter_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestAmazing views from the terrace of The Vietnam Cookery Center

Saigon Cooking Classes for Professionals and Tourists

The Vietnam Cookery Center offers a variety of cooking classes in Saigon for tourist and professionals alike.

For tourists, they have classes everyday morning and afternoon. In the mornings, you have the choice to take a market visit as well.

We chose an afternoon class on a Saturday, which are less crowded making for a more intimate experience. And,  indeed on the day of our class, there were only 5 people participating.

The Vietnam Cookery center also offers extended programs with up to 3 cooking classes for Saigon residents. And there are in-depth courses for professional chefs. Both of these programs are one-on-one private cooking classes.

The Vietnam Cookery Center Saigon Cooking Class Experience

The transformation of raw ingredients into a plated feast is what makes taking a cooking class so immersive and fun.

In this cooking class in Saigon, the Vietnamese chef did not speak English and all instructions were translated by a guide.

Chefppreparinglotusstemsalad_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestChef preparing vegetables (including lotus stems) and guide translating in English

The approach is hands-on and helpful staff prepare and pre-measure the ingredients. Individual cooking stations are provided and all the cooking utensils and ingredients neatly laid out.

With the following multi-course menu to prepare, we were in for a treat!

  • Lotus Stem Salad with Pork and Shrimp
  • Grilled Pork Chop with Cooked Broken Rice
  • Steamed Pork Pie with Mushrooms and Glass Noodles
  • Grilled Bananas with Coconut Milk – Vietnamese Dessert

CookingStation_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestClaire at her cooking station making the marinated sauce for the pork chops

Saigon Cooking Class Highlights

Lotus Stem Salad with Pork and Shrimp (Gỏi ngó sen tôm thịt)

After having seen lotus flowers at many local markets, we were excited and looking forward to cooking with and tasting the stems.

Lotus stems at Bang Krachao Running in Bangkok Authentic Food Quest and Saigon Cooking ClassLotus pods and flowers

We began by cleaning, chopping and cutting the lotus stems, carrots and chili into julienne strips.

Into a bowl, we tossed in shrimps and pieces of pork tenderloin that had been boiled and marinated into a sauce made of lemon juice, vinegar, fish sauce, and more.

IngredientsCookingStation_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestAll the ingredients laid out at individual cooking station

Once everything was well mixed together, we transferred the salad onto a plate.

The salad was garnished with fried peanuts, shallots, and a chili flower on the top.

LotusStemSalad_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestBeautiful salad topped a with chili flower (not spicy)

Interesting and delicious is how we would describe the salad.  The unusual flavors with the fish sauce, pork, and chilis made for a difficult to describe combination of tastes.

Crunchy in texture, the lotus stems and any distinctive taste was overpowered by the fish sauce and other ingredients.

On the whole, a tasty and unique salad.

Grilled Pork Chops with Cooked Broken Rice (Cơm tấm sườn nướng)

Cooked Broken Rice or Cơm Tấm 

Rice in Vietnam is the basis of all meals. There are dozens of varieties of rice and they differ slightly not only in taste but also in texture, color, aroma, and gluten content.

Cơm Tấm is a popular Vietnamese dish made from broken rice which is fragment of rice grains. These rice grains have been broken either in the field during drying, transport, or by milling.

It is as nutritious as unbroken rice and has nothing wrong with it. However, broken rice is said to better absorb flavors and has a softer texture.

Broken rice was the preferred choice for poorer Vietnamese as it is less expensive. But today, it is now a popular ingredient of choice by chefs and used in many recipes.

We really enjoyed our first dish of broken rice when we were in Da Nang (Central Vietnam) and we were curious to learn more about it in our cooking class.

Broken rice actually cooks faster than unbroken rice, and the amount of water needed should be equal to the amount of rice, no more.

RosemaryBrokenRice_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestGuide describing Vietnamese cooking while Rosemary is serving Cơm Tấm or Broken Rice

Fish Sauce or Nuoc Mam 

With rice, the other major staple in Vietnamese cuisine is the Nuoc Mam, or fish sauce. It is used in practically all Vietnamese Dishes. It is made from the juice of fermented salty fish.

The darker the sauce the “purer” and more expensive the sauce.

We personally love Nuoc Mam or fish sauce and cook with it regularly. It does have a strong smell that might be off-putting to some, but it is a must for those wanting to savor authentic Vietnamese cooking.

We used it as a dipping sauce for our meal.

Grilled Pork Chops or Sườn Nướng 

Vietnamese typically eat broken rice with pork chop, shredded pork, or a pork loaf.

At the Saigon cooking class, we made grilled pork chops. After marinated the pork chops for 10-15mins in a shallot and soy sauce-based preparation, we put our pork chops on the charcoal grill outdoors.

After the pork chops turned golden brown in color, it was time to prepare our final plate.

In addition to the pork chops, we added cooked broken rice, slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, and oiled-scallions.

GrillingPorkChops_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestPork chops on the charcoal grill on the terrace of The Vietnam Cookery Center

Steamed Pork Pie with Mushrooms and Glass Noodles or Chả Chưng

To complete our meal, we made steamed pork pies. This surprising pie was made with duck eggs and stuffed with minced pork, mushroom, and glass noodles.

After mixing all the ingredients together, we placed the mixture into a bowl for steaming. The result was a pleasant surprise.

Visually, very attractive with a smooth golden top created as a result of basting it with egg yolk.

And the taste surprised us. The pie was very light and quite flavorful with the shallots and spring onions.

A really delightful pie and discovering in our Saigon cooking class.

SteamedEggPie_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestPork Pies in Steamer

Overall Experience in our Saigon Cooking Class

CookedMeal_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuestDelicious feast with everything we prepared!

We enjoyed a truly exceptional meal bursting with flavors. And even more importantly, learning about Vietnamese traditional dishes and the cultural heritage was enriching.

Even though the chef did not speak English, the culinary guide did a great job translating everything and making sure we all understood what to do.

Making the iconic Vietnamese and Saigon foods was a delicious experience. And, eating the tasty dishes after all the hard work was satisfying and rewarding.

Eating our meal and connecting with the other cooking class participants was the perfect end to a fun Saigon cooking class.

ClaireAndRosemary_SaigonCookingClass_AuthenticFoodQuest Internet AccessClaire and Rosemary eager to dig in!
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In Summary

Eating is one of the highlights of any visit to Vietnam. Taking a Saigon cooking class is a great way to engage all your senses and get a deeper understanding of the local culture.

This immersive experience gives you the opportunity to learn more about the food and unfamiliar herbs and ingredients.

In a fabulous airy space with high ceilings and great views, taking a cooking class at The Vietnam Cookery Center offers a wonderful introduction to Vietnamese cuisine.

Learn about the different Vietnamese sauces, spices, herbs, and cooking techniques in a personalized setting.

If your travel plans take you to Ho Chi Minh City, don’t hesitate to learn about Vietnamese cuisine in a fun Saigon cooking class.

Additionally, if Hoi An in Central Vietnam is one of your stops, consider a Hoi An cooking class as well.

The Vietnam Cookery Center Practical Information

Book your cooking class in Saigon at the Vietnam Cookery Center using this link

Address: Suite 45- 4th Fl # 26 Ly Tu Trong st. Dist. 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

Classes: Morning classes are offered starting at 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. The cooking class experience begins with a market visit to learn about Vietnamese herbs, fruits, and vegetables. After that, head back for a hands-on Saigon cooking class.

Cost: $46.00 per person

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22 comments

  1. I think cooking classes are the best way to get to know a local culture the quickest. There’s something about food that shows the culture and history of a place. When I get to Vietnam, I’ll look into this place in Saigon.

    Reply
  2. It looks like a feast and a fun way to spend a day. How wonderful that you got to try all those herbs and learn what they are. It’s the salad that really spoke to me. Yummy! I am definitely adding this to my list of things to do when we get to Saigon. Love the story about the building, and lucky for the cooking school.

    Reply
  3. This cooking class sounds incredible! Thank you for sharing your culinary adventures with us. I would absolutely LOVE to participate in a Vietnamese cooking class, and I am adding it to my bucket list. =) While traveling in Thailand and Indonesia, I took Balinese, Javanese, and Thai cooking courses, and they were life changing! I adore your blog, your quest to discover and share local cuisine. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much Aarika for your feedback on our blog and article about the cooking class in Saigon. We really appreciate it. Cooking classes are a wonderful way to learn more about a local culture. I hope you make it to Vietnam soon and take the class for yourself. Thanks again. Cheers!!

      Reply
    • You are right Stephanie, one of the best parts of taking the cooking class was getting to learn more about Vietnamese herbs and ingredients. Highly recommend the Vietnam Cookery Center if you travels take you to Saigon. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
    • Vietnamese cuisine is truly amazing and delicious. Do check out a Vietnamese restaurant in your area to give it a try. It is absolutely worth th experience. Let is know what and where you try the cuisine locally. Cheers.

      Reply
    • As one that loves cooking, this class would be up right your alley. You get to learn new ingredients and techniques and a recipe book with instructions on how to make them at home. Do check out the The Vietnam Cookery Center if your travels take you to Vietnam. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  4. I’m really looking forward to doing a cooking class one day in my travels. This one looks like an excellent choice.

    Reply

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