I just returned from the trip of a lifetime in Southeast Asia, including some time in Vietnam. And let me tell you, Vietnam is totally a healthy eating nut's dream. There are the freshest of fruits and vegetables everywhere, and, even better, the Vietnamese are not shy about incorporating these ingredients into their dishes and street food. What's more, much of the cooking style is light, stir-fried and steamed instead of fried and creamy, making it super easy to eat healthy on vacation.
One of the most memorable things I did while in Vietnam was a cooking class in Hoi An. The class was through the restaurant Morning Glory, one of the many restaurants of Trinh Diem Vy, who actually opened the very first restaurant in the city. If you are ever in Hoi An, do yourself a favor and try any (or all) of this woman's restaurants. She is a food genius.
Cooking class began with a trip to the busy central market. I was immediately impressed by how clean and fresh everything there was. I've been to a lot of markets in my day, including on this trip, and it is certainly not a given that a market will be aromatically appealing or sandal advisable. In Vietnam, many women go to the market twice a day, the first time very early in the morning (think 5 am) to make breakfast and lunch for their families, and the second time for dinner ingredients. Sorry, honey, not happening. Ever.
We then made our way to one of Ms. Vy's restaurants, where chefs were busy preparing food for the lunch time rush: rice paper crackers, spring rolls, pork sausage with rice noodle, and candied ginger and coconut. Fortunately, this included a tasting of the different dishes (hey, we were just trying to be helpful, although I did pass on the sautéed silk worms). Let me tell you, lemon grass ice cream is delicious. And this is coming from someone who typically believes if it ain't chocolate, it ain't a worthwhile dessert.
Our cooking class was led by a delightful woman who explained, among many other things, the importance of cooking in Vietnam, particularly when dealing with one's mother-in-law. We made a mango and onion salad, using the most ingenious shredding knife I have ever seen (I now have three), BBQ chicken, the famous Hoi An pancake (banh xeo), and, perhaps my favorite dish from the entire trip, cabbage leaf parcels with shrimp mousse in broth. The Vietnamese are brilliant broth makers -- to use store bought stock would be an absolute crime -- and in the cabbage soup the broth was particularly exceptional. Plus, I loved the little cabbage stuffed shrimp envelopes (don't be turned off by "shrimp mousse"), which looked so exquisite yet were so easy to do. This is definitely a make again at home. Maybe the hubby and I will even have our own little Vietnam cooking class. And if you are interested, I'll be posting the recipe soon! In the meantime, here's some food porn from Vietnam: