Morning Glory Cooking Class Hoi An

17 November 2014

The Morning Glory cooking masterclass was one of things I most enjoyed during my trip to Vietnam.

There were a number of different cooking classes around the town and a lot of options available at Morning Glory but Pete and I decided on the master class as you got to go to the market and learn about the different produce available in Vietnam/Hoi An as well as learning how to cook the dishes. We also got the added benefit of having a free breakfast and the ability to test out lots of the food that the restaurant sells.

Overall the Masterclass is a really interesting and not-too-difficult course where you learn about Vietnamese food and also the Hoi An way of life with it being simple enough to give you the chance to actually make the food well and enjoy doing it.  I was so impressed at how well our food came out and how fancy it looked.

You start off at 8.00am at the Morning Glory Market Kitchen restaurant; where you meet the other people you are on the course with.  We borrowed the bicycles from our hotel and cycled the five or so minutes to the restaurant.  I somehow managed to bruise my bum with the bike, surely this doesn't happen to normal people?! What is up with me!

Once you're at the restaurant you get to go to all of the different mini kitchens around the perimeter of the restaurant where you can try all sorts of different breakfast dishes.  They all looked amazing but I stuck to one of the delicious Vietnamese baguettes (made with rice flour rather than wheat flour) and an egg. My poor tummy was not having a great time of it in Vietnam with the food (it tasted delicious but it just didn't make my tummy happy),  I didn’t want to be ill when I was on the market visit so I thought it best to have something plain.  Everyone else chomped through lots of food so it must have been amazing.  I had fresh passion fruit juice as well and it was really refreshing.

Boat Journey to Hoi An Market

After breakfast we were taken on a boat to the central market in Hoi An and had a guided tour where we were shown many fruits and vegetables that I had never seen before such as bitter melon and persimmon.  I really enjoyed seeing all of the local fruits, vegetables and seafood. It’s so different going to the market with a guide who knows what is going on and can really explain things to you; it makes things so much more interesting.

Central Market - Hoi An Vietnam

During the market visit we were shown a really cool grater, we didn't buy one as we were backpacking and all the space and weight counts and I was sure we could get them on eBay, you can get everything on eBay! I ordered two when I got home so once it arrives I will make a blog post about it, as they are really handy.  Had we not been backpacking I would have obviously purchased them locally, to support the local economy.

Dragon Fruit, Persimmons and Some sort of Plums

Once the market visit was over we all ambled back to the boat and travelled back to the cooking school.  We had an informative tour of the market restaurant itself and got to taste many lovely, and some rather ‘different’ types of foods. I even ate a silk worm! They make such a fuss on I’m a celebrity get me out of here, the bugs just tasted nutty, like crushed hazelnuts.

On to the cooking!  Ms Vy herself was our cooking teacher and is in the picture at the top of this blog post. She’s quite well known and has even cooked with Gordon Ramsey which I found quite exciting.  She was a very knowledgeable lady and her English was great, some people in the back of the class did have a bit of a problem hearing exactly what she was saying at some points so be sure to try and get a seat nearer the front.

We learnt to cook

  • Cabbage broth with cabbage parcels filled with shrimp mousse (I had no idea that such a simple sounding dish could taste so amazing, and I don’t even really like cabbage)!
  • Vietnamese pancake (Banh Xeo).  I was surprised how well these turned out, whenever I make a pancake at home the first one or two are normally hopeless! 

  • Barbequed chicken thigh with green mango salad (this was a slightly sad dish for me; I am intolerant to mango so I couldn’t eat the salad, but it smelled so good)!

We ate our soup and pancake immediately after making them, I thought it was really ingenious that we put the pancake on a bit of rice paper so our hands didn’t get greasy but also meant that we could eat the paper too, rather than using kitchen towel or something similar.

The instructions were really easy to follow throughout the course and you didn’t really need much cooking experience to be able to do it, and to enjoy it. The only problem I had was with the minute machete style peeler, I think that was because my hands are bizarrely small for someone my height as the mango kept slipping around in my hand and I was terrified of chopping off a digit!

We met some really nice people on the course and we went for a drink with the couple that shared our cooking station later in the evening where we got to share our (well mostly Pete’s from our side, since I haven’t been too many exciting places) stories of travels far and wide, and really loved the time chill and just get to know new people, it was such a shame that we had a cab coming at 4.30am the next morning to take us to the airport, as I am sure we could have stayed out longer chatting to them.  

The holiday in general but especially the cooking course made me think about travelling and making friends versus doing the same in normal everyday life.  Everyone we met was more friendly, chatty and just generally more amenable to having a conversation than in regular London life.  I wonder if this is because they are more carefree because they are either on holiday or have quit their jobs and are travelling the world or if people backpacking are just generally quite relaxed as it is an un-glamorous way to travel, and are up for new experiences and meeting new people.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both.  I imagined going on a course or similar in London, would anyone ask if you fancied a drink later, and if they did would you start to wonder if they were an axe murderer? Just because that isn't a thing that people normally do? Hmmm.

I really enjoyed going and it's a nice activity to do with someone else as well as on your own. Overall this is a must do in Hoi An, it only takes 8am to1pm of your time but it is one of the best days I had in Vietnam. Plus a free breakfast and lunch, a free cooking utensil, all for $32 us dollars each. Such a bargain!

Have you been on a cooking course anywhere?  Please let me know if you have any recommendations, I would love to do one in Thailand one day, perhaps even Brazil as I might be able to go there next year.

My Top Places to Eat in Hong Kong

13 November 2014

Hong Kong - Nighttime 

Eating Your Way Around

Food is definitely my favourite thing about travelling, trying new things and local dishes and giving things you would never normally eat a go.  There are many food tours in Hong Kong that you can book onto and get shown around different restaurants but I had a list of places that I wanted to go.  

Lung King Heen 
£££: Pricey
Location: Inside the Four Seasons Hotel, Central
3 Michelin Star

Central Hong Kong and the Four Seasons and IFC Mall in particular is a rather business-y, flashy, international place so it is the perfect setting for this glamorous restaurant.  Lung King Heen means view of the dragon, and while you might not get a view out of the window of a dragon, you do get a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour and the opposite ICC building over in Kowloon which lights up every night around 8.30pm.  Try and schedule your dinner to coincide with this.  Because of the beautiful decor and amazing views the ambiance in the restaurant is fabulous.

The food is just delicious, it's authentic Cantonese food but in a modern context, with smaller portions so you can try lots of different things without feeling too sickly full.  The menu is very extensive but the tasting menu is quite tame in it's selections so it's best to go a la carte but take someone Chinese with you, or who understands Chinese foods well enough to order the best things.

I went with my work colleague Rowina from our Hong Kong office and here is what she ordered us: 

  • Crispy suckling pig, barbecued pork with honey, some sort of shrimp...thingy?!
  • Steamed Star Grouper Fillet with Ginger and Spring Onions in Bamboo Basket
  • Steamed Hairy Crab Dumpling
  • Petit Fours - Green Tea Jelly and Lotus Paste Buns

It's difficult for me to say, having not tried many things on the menu, whether Lung King Heen deserves it's 3 Michelin stars and I didn't try any of the live seafood dishes that they are famous for. 

I would say the food that we had was very good, tasty, flavorful and well cooked and the service was exceptional and how you would expect from a fancy restaurant in the Four Seasons.  The highlights of my meal were the bbq pork with honey and the steamed hairy crab dumpling.  Overall I think this is the equivalent of a European 1 Michelin star restaurant and, while definitely somewhere I recommend going and worth a visit for anyone wanting quality Chinese food with a beautiful view, perhaps don't expect it to be the best place you have eaten in your life, as the 3 Michelin stars might suggest.  

I would give the restaurant 8/10

Inagiku (Japanese)
£££: Pricey
Location: Just outside the Four Seasons Hotel into the IFC Mall, Central

Inagiku HK is a chain of restaurants, with another one near Kowloon and another in Tokyo which is one of the oldest and well known restaurants in all of Japan.  The decor is absolutely beautiful and, whilst Lung King Heen is lovely,  I much preferred the dark and glamorous surroundings of the Inagiku restaurant.  The decor is a mixture of traditional and modern Japanese artwork, the private rooms have private teppenyaki stations and the main restaurant has the harbour views.  Service was good, which is pretty hard to find in Hong Kong and we sat at the tempura station on comfy seats.

The menu was so extensive I was baffled, so once again I left it to Rowina to pick the food for me, which, in hindsight, I perhaps shouldn't have done this time, but more of that later.

Here is what she ordered us: 

  • Australian Wagyu Beef (two ways)
  • Sashimi Platter with Salmon, Tuna, Sea Urchin, Abalone
  • Tempura Vegetables

The problem with the sashimi was more my expectations than the quality, I have had lots of sashimi in nice restaurants but never in Asia. I had no idea that Tuna in Asia is graded and the high scale, premium tuna is Otoro which is prized for it's rich oily flavour and is the pink fatty belly meat of the tuna, this is a very expensive and prized tuna and probably, for someone with this acquired taste and a palate for it, was absolutely delicious. I found it personally to be vile, and it left me with the taste and feel in my mouth and throat of guzzling and gargling with cod liver oil. Frankly this was the worst thing I think I have ever eaten.  So only attempt this if you have a palate for the fancier oilier things in life! It did give much hilarity to my colleagues from Asia as I went a bit green and had to go to the bathroom to throw up however, so there's always an upside if I am at least amusing people! 

The abalone was chewy and I cant say it really tasted of much, but I have no benchmark, having never had it before.   I can't say I would rush to have it again, along with the orange sea urchin, definitely a no no from me! It's all personal taste though.

The beef was the best beef I had eaten in my life, I have never had Wagyu before and now I see why it is so expensive, it was absolutely amazing. I must have more Wagyu in my life! 

Aside from the oily surprise of the tuna sashimi and the sea urchin which I am sure was done well, but I personally hated the taste of, it was a great meal with great wine.  It was nice to eat Japanese food and have a break from Chinese after a week in Hong Kong and, while it was on the pricey side, work were paying! So I couldn't complain.  There is another branch in Kowloon which is apparently cheaper so you might want to head there if you aren't bothered about the views, just the food.  

I would give this restaurant 7/10

Chee Kei (Chinese)

£: Cheap
Location: Central

Rowina took me to Chee Kei on my first night in HK and then I took Pete on his second night in HK as I thought it was cheap, cheerful and a good introduction to everyday Chinese food as his first night was a takeaway of fried rice and tempura from Inagiku in the hotel room! I think he got the better deal out of the Inagiku food after seeing it all, he loved it.

Chee Kei never came up in any internet searches for me prior to going to HK and so I am glad Ro took me there, they even have a Michelin HK and Macau sign on the door, very impressive for such a casual dining restaurant.  It's pretty hard in HK to know what is a good restaurant or a bad one from the menu or looking at it on the street, they all seem to look the same and have very similar menus.  I found that this might be because every area seems to specialise in a certain thing, all Jade is sold in one area, all the food markets are in one area, all the fancy shops are in one area and the cheap market style shops in another etc. 

Chee Kei is a very casual setting, everything is cozy and it's more of a diner/cafe style vibe. The menus are simple laminated lists and it is quite brightly lit, everything on the menu is in cantonese but there are English menus available, or you can use the age old point at something approach which is generally easier.  It was busy both times we went, with a mix of Chinese and international customers.

They are known for their wonton noodles and soup so we went for that both times, the first time Ro ordered me a barley drink as well which was very different to our barley water! She had noodles with brisket and Pete had fish balls and we shared some vegetables and rice as well as some beef tenders.

The wonton soup is delicious and a classic and well done dish, they excel at this.  The soup is very flavourful and the wontons are cooked to perfection with the shrimp tasting amazing. The barley drink was very sweet but also very refreshing, it was weird having 'bits' in my drink though!  The fish balls weren't to my liking as they just tasted like polystyrene but everything else was delicious especially the rice and the beef tenders. The service was good and friendly.  For the price I was very impressed.

I would give this restaurant 7/10

City Super (Supermarket)
 £: Cheap
Location: IFC Mall

The City Super is a food supermarket however I loved it here, I picked up sushi or sashimi for lunch every day when I was working and I nipped in again on my stopover from Vietnam before I came home to pick up some Japanese sweets and Asian dipping sauces to bring home.  The sushi and sashimi is fresh and delicious, the Little Mermaid bakery had some amazing breads and pastries and you can go and look at the live crabs near the back of the shop and wonder at the huge-ness of them! Overall this is a great stop to get some cheap and fresh healthy lunch if you are in IFC mall.


City Hall Maxim's Palace (Yum Cha/Dim Sum)

££: Mid Range
Location: Central

I absolutely had to go to this place while in HK and, whilst it's a total faff to find and even when you get to City Hall you still have to go down some stairs then up in a lift, it's totally worth it, it's so popular the whole place was rammed with people.

I wanted to experience a traditional Dim Sum restaurant and this is one of the only ones left where the Dim Sum comes around on a trolley and you pick what you want and get it immediately.  This is a true Hong Kong yum cha experience and I think it would be hard to beat.  The location is a huge ballroom with chandeliers and a great view of the HK harbour and waterfront.  The trolleys come around laden with baskets of dim sum but remember you might need to flag down one of them by waving if you are western as they realise that we do like to have a look, but might not be interested in eating a specific thing, so they just walk on past while we gawp.

The food was great, not 100% the best dim sum I have ever had apart from the custard tarts, but the egg custard dumplings and BBQ pork buns were sublime.  This place is a must if you are going to HK.

I would give this restaurant 8/10

Spring Deer  (Peking Cuisine)

££: Mid Range
Location: Mody Road, Kowloon

Pete was in need of crispy duck in a big way and it seemed very important to him to get some duck, being the best girlfriend ever (ahem, probably not) I hunted down online a well reviewed place with pictures of some amazing food and off we went, after what appeared to be a million years wandering around Kowloon park and buying a camera we were both starving.  It would have been better to have a reservation here so definitely get your hotel to do this for you, if you are planning in advance.

You had to order a whole duck, there was no half a duck option so we set ourself the challenge and went for it, the waiter looked at us like we were extremely fat, but oh well! When in Rome!  This duck probably normally feeds a family of four. In hindsight this would be a much better place to go in a group so you can have the duck and other options, plate after plate of absolutely amazing looking food was walked past our table by an army of waiters and I wanted to try everything, and I did get a bit bored of our duck only feast.

That being said the duck was the best duck I have ever eaten, so a duck coma and overload of grease was really worth it. We had the duck with sliced spring onion, cucumber, pancakes and plum sauce.

Spring Deer also make the pancakes and they are really fresh and delicious as was the sauce. The duck was quite fatty, but the Chinese was does seem to be to eat quite a lot of fat.  The duck was sliced at the table into perfect sized chunks by the skillful chef.  The meat melted in the mouth and was perfectly accompanied by the vegetables, pancakes and sauce.  This is a must-try place, the fried rice looks great as does the shrimp, so try and go for those too if there are more of you.

The restaurant is quite unassuming and the decor fairly plain, I don't think anyone is bothered though as you are there for the food, it is very popular and the place was jammed with locals having gatherings and family meals.

Overall I would give the food 9/10.  I did feel a bit greasy with a huge food baby afterwards! 

Wanya (Japanese)

££: Mid Range
Location: Inside the World Tower, Central 

Wanya is a typical Japanese restaurant where there is an a la carte menu and an all you can eat option. We arrived late for HK as everyone seems to eat early, so only had the option of the a la carte menu.

We had two plates of mixed sashimi and everything was delicious, they replaced one item they had sold out of with shrimp, but that was ok as we had never tried raw shrimp before.

The decor is quite plain but everything was clean and neutral and the staff were very friendly.  I would say the sashimi was very well presented, good quality and very tasty and the vinegar ed rice that accompanied one plate of sushi was very good, overall the food quality is good but not absolutely amazing. It's definitely somewhere to go though especially if you can't afford the price of Inagiku at the Four Seasons.

I would give this 6.5/10

We had an amazing time eating our way around HK. Please leave any recommendations you have in the comments as I would love to go back there some day.


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