At the end of great day of biking around Hoi An, Vietnam, we ended by stopping at Tra Que Vegetable Farm and Restaurant for lunch.
We started out with Vietnamese version of a grated green papaya salad with shrimp and peanuts. This is similar to the Thai version without the hot chilies and with no lime. It was very refreshing after our 20 minute bike ride in the tropical sun. Then we moved on to Banh Xeo, a Vietnamese savory rice and egg pancake, sometimes with seafood and fresh herbs, all hand wrapped into rice paper and dipped in sauce to eat.
Our last course was Ca Xao Ghua Ngot, a Sweet and Sour Fish, over rice. This was one of the best sweet and sour dishes I had ever had. It was not very sour and seemed to get all of its sour from pineapple and tomato sauce. Needless to say I began asking questions about it from our tour guide, who spoke a little English, but was obviously more knowledgeable about the fishing and boating in the area, than cooking. He didn’t know anything about cooking but he tried.
Luckily the manager came by and was able to actually tell me the ingredients, and then she asked if I wanted a little more to taste it again. At this point I was full, but I thought just a little to confirm the flavors, and that it was probably just a matter of dishing us up a little more that they had already prepared in the back…. Then she went back to the kitchen and they began to cook a whole new batch! Of course Lorenzo and I walked over to the kitchen and asked to watch. They said fine. At this point I noticed there was already a kitten licking all the dirty dishes on the floor, so I figured they would hardly care if we watched. They began making a whole fresh batch, and as I was trying to identify the sliced raw catfish, the head chef came in to ask what I was doing. I explained, and I managed to compliment his great food enough, that he put on an apron to show me how it was done.
Apparently the sous chef had not quite followed the recipe. He went through the breading of the fish, half rice four to keep the fish moist, and half wheat flour to brown nicely. Cooking it only 60% at first, then re-frying to finish. He showed how to add ginger to give it the secret tang that sweet and sour needs and then mixing tomato sauce, and chili sauce to get the correct amount of heat in your dish.
It turns out Chef Tu had co authored a cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine. He speaks French, for cooking and English for tourists. We had a great class with pictures and all! A great way to learn a few dishes though our shared passion in food.