“Easy, easy, don’t break the pancake, you’ll hurt it…” the young chef told a group of foreign learners who were trying their best to make Vietnamese pancake banh xeo at the Saigon Cooking Class, a place for expats who want to conquer Vietnamese foods.
Born in 2009, the Saigon Cooking Class located in District 1 in downtown Ho Chi Minh City is what French lady Ilda Briosca has devoted herself to. Living in Vietnam for almost 7 years, Ilda has had a crush on Vietnamese cuisine since 2008 when a friend of hers opened a Vietnamese restaurant where traditional and modern recipes were combined.
Getting inspiration from that, the woman who saw something special with Vietnamese cuisine went to numerous schools to learn about the foods she’s in love with. However, Ilda said she wasn’t satisfied with those schools so she came up with the idea to bring all knowledge she had acquired about Vietnamese foods into a place where she could inspire other people.
“I opened my cooking school, because I wanted to offer people what I wanted to seek for myself. I wanted to put everything I have learned in Vietnam about the cuisine at HCMC Hoa Tuc restaurant, local markets and traditional kitchen utensil, as well as everything I love from Vietnamese food in my cooking class so all tourists and expats can discover what I discovered in the past years without having to search for months,” Ilda, who can cook lots of Vietnamese dishes, shared.
According to Ilda, who called herself passionate with Vietnamese food, cooking is an important and fascinating way to bring Vietnamese culture to foreigners.
“What and how local eat revels much about their history and culture,” she expressed.
Not only offering hands-on cooking, each class of Saigon Cooking Class attaches a tour to Ben Thanh market where learners themselves can experience the local culture vividly as well as buy fresh ingredients for their dishes.
“Through the market tour, our chefs can show a lot of different ingredients, and talk about local traditions with learners,” Ilda said.
Vu Trong Khang, 23, a Saigon Cooking Class’ chef said he felt happy seeing excited faces of learners when he told them about local traditional things through the foods.
“We not only cook and show people how to cook, we also have to introduce the history of the dishes, local culture as well as the differences between cooking methods in Vietnam and their countries,” he expressed.
Vietnamese food is not only “phở”
According to Ilda, the famous Vietnamese beef noodle is not very preferable at her class because it takes a long time to be done though it’s not complicated. The successful dishes, as she said, are banh xeo, bo la lot (grilled beef rolled with betel leaves), fried spring rolls and bun thit nuong (grilled pork with noodles).
“In their imagination, Vietnamese food is historically represented by beef noodle soup. As soon as they discover something different, they prefer bo la lot, banh xeo, bun thit nuong more than pho,” Ilda talked about her learners.
“Vietnamese cuisine recipes are endless, from North to Central and South. Even in the South, people cook in different ways. You can continue to learn for all your life,” she added.
Learners of the class are mainly from Australia, America, Europe and Asian countries/territories such as Hong Kong and the Philippines. They include both short-time visitors and expats. To many of them, coming to the class is not only about learning cooking, but also for exchanging with people and relaxing. Some of them even admitted that they never cooked at home.
Asked about expanding the class, Ilda said she prefers a small place with around 10 learners for a class. “I don’t want to have the class too big, because when you have a very big cooking class, the quality is not ensured.”
To her, the best moment is hearing the laughter of learners and their sighs of contentment when eat what they have cooked.
“I like to see people’s faces when they’re surprised because they are able to do the food. I love to see people’s reaction when they look at their presentation then laugh and taste it,” she added.