Photo of the day: Our finished Bun Bo Nam Bo @ Apron Up Cooking Class. Photo credit: Aaron.
Started the day off with a nice jog around the lake. It was nice to be out earlier in the day. The streets are a lot more lively with the locals enjoying their breakfasts at street stalls and doing stretches and dancing some morning rumba by the lake. I wanted a simple breakfast sandwich today but the hotel staff convinced me to “eat a large breakfast to start off the day with energy”. Aaron ordered a Pho Bo and it tasted really good so ordered a bowl of that too (on top of my sandwich!) Their fruit juices are also great and not too sweet.
We already had activities planned for this afternoon/evening so we decided to take it easy this morning and to check out the French Quarter of Hanoi. The architecture definitely gives a European vibe, most notably The Opera House. We hung out at Cong Cafe – a local franchise and got some work done. Unfortunately there was someone consistently smoking cigarettes so it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.
Aaron had been wanting to try the fried donuts that are sold on the streets here. It’s at almost every street corner. A lady was very adamant in getting us to try one so she ended up getting our business. There were two of them working together. When it came to paying, one started being really interested in chatting with me while the other one starting preying on innocent-looking Aaron. As I was wondering why she is so talkative suddenly I overheard the other lady asking Aaron for 150,000 VND (~$9 CAD) for a few small donuts. I immediately turned around and said “WHAT? TOO MUCH!!!” Then they laughed and said “No! 50,000! (~$3), which is definitely still a rip off but Aaron was happy to “contribute to the local economy”.
I meant to eat a huge breakfast so I don’t need lunch but that never works. For lunch, we decided to eat at the restaurant Anthony Bourdain took the former President Obama, Bun Cha Huong Lien. It wasn’t as packed as we thought it would be given the fame but they did have a few floors. We were asked to go upstairs where there are posters of Mr. Obama everywhere. There was even a “Combo Obama”, which we were one beer away from getting. We decided to each just get a Bun Cha (their BBQ pork in fish sauce dipping sauce along with a side of dry vermicelli and a big side of vegetables). The pork was very flavourful, but a little on the charred side for my taste. The dipping sauce was sour and sweet with little bits of char. It wasn’t my cup of tea and I think it would prefer it dry. Overall tasty noodle dish, if I had to choose between this or Bun Thit Nuong though, I would choose the Bun Thit Nuong. We also saw other people getting the seafood roll and decided we should get one too. It was very crunchy with a very nice seafood taste. Definitely would recommend! I saw some people dipping it in the dipping sauce, which is again weird to me since it’ll be soggy.
I also wanted to look into taking some Zumba classes since we’re in a big city again and I didn’t get to go in HCMC due to my illness. Unfortunately the gyms are mostly closed for the Tet holiday. Weird story while I was walking along looking for gyms. There was a strange man who just walked up to me and grabbed my glasses off my face! I immediately took it back from him and said “What was that?!?” Then he casually walked away. That was really strange. I’ve super careful with hanging on to my purse but didn’t know I had to hang on to my glasses as well!
It was time to head back to our hotel to be picked up for our cooking class we signed up for! It was an easy sign-up process. We found the most popular cooking class on TripAdvisor (Apron Up) and just sent them an email. They were very quick to respond and their pricing is reasonable ($32 USD per person). We also emailed another cooking class ran by a local restaurant who also had good reviews but I found out they have significantly inflated their price over the years to almost double usual rate so I decided against that one. Our instructor, Phoenix, met up with us at the hotel and then walked with us to a nearby local market. On the way there she showed us different local fruits and snacks. She also does a walking food tour as her other job so we benefited from her expertise in that area as well. We (mostly she) picked out some key ingredients needed for our meal tonight and then we headed to the kitchen! It was a small kitchen tucked in the back of an alley. It looked clean and cozy. Supposedly it can hold 12 people but we were lucky to be the only ones to sign up for the class this afternoon so we ended up having a private class! Phoenix was patient in showing us how to marinade the meat for the Bun Bo Nam Bo, cut the vegetables for the papaya salad, roll the spring rolls and Banh Gio’s and prepare the egg mixture for the egg coffee and the sauces for all the dishes. It was a fun-filled 3 hour of culinary joy and great cultural experience as well since our instructor was so chatty! It was a very hands-on class and it felt great at the end of the night when we got to eat the feast that we have helped to prepare. This was such an awesome way to spend the afternoon/evening and I am excited for our next cooking class!