Hayley McLarin heads into the kitchen to get hands-on experience cooking Hanoi street food.
Cooking with new ingredients is exciting. Discovering new flavours, new cuisines and new cooking techniques is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
At Sachie's Kitchen, I was totally in my element. My cooking companion? Not so much.
We had only just walked in to the Parnell-based cooking class and Clare was feeling totally out of her comfort zone.
Bamboo steamers sat atop a pan, while a big, flat, dried leaf neither of us had used before was among the unusual ingredients laid out on the stainless bench. And all those chillis!
On reflection, whenever we catch up we go out to eat. In that moment I realise Clare doesn't cook. Best we have a glass of wine to steady her nerves.
With the 14 people all seated on stools near her demo station, Chef Yuka puts us at ease as she shows us two of the three dishes we are going to cook: Vietnamese fried rice wrapped in lotus leaf and kaffir lime grilled chicken with Asian vegetables.
As she cooks, Japanese Yuka shares her insights into the nuances of Asian cuisine, including the use of soy in her culture, whereas for Cambodia and Vietnam the saltiness comes from fish sauce. There are tips for cooking rice too (wash several times before cooking). She makes it all look so easy.
Almost too soon, Yuka has served her rice in a lotus leaf, cut to resemble a lotus flower, and her chicken thighs are marinating. So it's our turn.
We head to our cooking stations to work in pairs. Clare and I split the dishes and, with the measuring all done beforehand, we fancy ourselves as MasterChef naturals.
Then suddenly my four-step recipe feels like we are preparing a 14-course degustation and we both wished we had paid more attention rather than chatting like naughty schoolgirls. (I recall pointing out all the Sachie's Kitchen make-at-home kits on the shelves and thinking that if all else fails, I can make that and still have an Instagram-worthy photo.)
We prepared our first dish and put the leaf-wrapped rice – which looks like a deflated beachball – into the steamer and left the chicken absorbing a tasty concoction with a real zing of kaffir lime leaves. Feeling confident, it was back to the demonstration area.
Sitting in rows are a real mix of people – a couple who regularly do cooking classes, a mother and daughter wanting some fun time together, two couples who have come as a group, a man who has come on his own as he wants to learn new skills.
Assistant chef Joe cooks the chicken and delicious smells waft our way. But it is all eyes on Yuka as she shows us how to make the most perfect-looking summer rolls and a piquant dipping sauce.
Summer rolls require pace – leave the rice paper wrapper in the water too long and it will be like rolling up a wet tissue. Disastrous. And filling these slippery blighters isn't easy either – there's an art to where you place the Thai basil and prawns for presentation, and when to tuck in the sides.
That is my excuse for being distracted and leaving out the carrot and coriander. And Clare's? Well, she filled hers with all the goods. But she didn't tuck, and I am far too lady-like to make comparisons as to what her summer roll looked like ... but it had us both in tears, we laughed so hard.
How thankful we are that it is not show and tell, we can sidle up to the shared benches and devour our spoils without being judged.
If George, Matt and Gary had seen my plate they would definitely have marked me down for my presentation. But the taste was sensational. It's incredible how a simple sauce can really enhance summer rolls. Tweak it a bit and you have a sensational sticky glaze for chicken that was served with crunchy, glossy steamed greens.
There were plastic containers to take home leftovers, but we didn't leave any. My take home is a recipe for a dipping sauce, marinade and dressing – all from the same level of sweet and salty and tang.
And Clare, who entered the class with all the fluster of Miranda, is keen to try the dishes at home. I will let you know if I get an invitation.
Verdict: As someone who doesn't cook a lot of Vietnamese food, my foray into the fast-food of the streets of Hanoi was definitely an enjoyable one. While the cooking techniques didn't push my boundaries, the flavours and ingredients did. The class is one of more than 12 Asia-themed classes. Now I am tempted to try other classes with dishes from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Japan all on the itinerary.
Sachie's Kitchen - Hanoi Street Food
Class duration: 2 hours
Class type: hands-on
Class cost: $89pp
Skill level: 2.5/5