Taking a Food & Wine Tour isn’t the only way to add a culinary spin to your travels. Travelers Margaret and Chris recently discovered this while traveling through Vietnam and Thailand, and getting a taste of the local culture along the way.
Discovering new culinary traditions
When they set out from the home in British Columbia to visit Southeast Asia, Margaret and Chris were pleasantly surprised by the role cuisine played in their experience. “We didn’t specifically pick Vietnam & Angkor Wat to be a food tour,” Chris said, “but we found some similarities to our previous Food & Wine Tour of Italy in that cuisine was a significant element.” Shared meals with fellow travelers, cooking classes, and even a home-hosted dinner gave this couple a chance to expand their palate.
“Our cooking lesson in Hôi An began with a market tour led by the chef instructor,” Margaret explained. “That was a phenomenal way to start, sourcing the local foods we’d later cook.” Then, the group headed to the kitchen to learn about various spices, herbs, and other ingredients, and how to combine them from scratch to create staples like fish sauce, peanut sauce, and rice paper for spring rolls. “These dishes were similar to what we’d find eating out in restaurants, so we’d recognize the flavor profiles,” she continued.
Margaret and Chris also tried their hand at Thai cooking during an excursion on the tour extension in Bangkok, crafting everything from papaya salad to pork curry to sticky rice with mango. “The rice was astoundingly good but simple,” Chris reflected. “These were authentic dishes.” At the end of both lessons, the duo shared a sit-down meal with their fellow travelers-turned-chefs.
Besides the delicious flavors, part of what made these cooking classes so memorable was the ambiance. The lessons took place in open-air environments. “The locations were amazing, and built for teaching,” Chris said. This was true for their tour of Italy too—the agriturismo they visited enhanced their experience. “All the classes also gave us ideas that were usable at home,” he added. “They weren’t ingredients you could only get abroad.”
Another unexpected highlight was a home-hosted meal with a family in Hanoi. “It was a unique avenue of seeing how food is prepared and how the locals do it there,” Margaret reflected. Paired with the sites and scenery they discovered each day, these culinary activities deepened this couple’s appreciation for their destinations.
Recipe: Vietnamese fresh shrimp rolls
Margaret and Chris made this tasty dish at the Red Bridge Cooking School in Hôi An during their tour. This recipe makes 4 servings. Ready to try making it for yourself?
For the pan/wok mixture:
- 10 medium shrimp, peeled
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- pinch sugar
- pinch salt
For the salad mixture:
- ½ cup green papaya, grated (green mango or bean sprouts can be substituted)
- ½ cup cucumber, grated
- ½ cup carrot, grated
- ½ teaspoon ginger, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lime juice
- pinch sugar
- pinch salt
- 10 medium-sized lettuce leaves, sliced
- 2 tablespoons coriander, mint & basil, chopped
- 4 pieces fresh rice paper (dried rice paper, available in packets, can be substituted)
To make the rice paper:
Soak 1 cup of white rice in fresh water for 7 to 10 hours.
Wash the rice at least three times, fully draining the water each time. Mix 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water, and add a pinch of salt. Place in a blender and blend for 7 minutes. Then, let the batter sit for 1 hour.
Cover a pot of boiling water with a sheet of thin white cotton and secure it using elastic.
Using a big soup spoon (about 2 tablespoons), scoop out the batter and pour it onto the cotton. With the bottom of the spoon, move the batter around to form a circle. Steam the batter for 1 minute. Then, use the bamboo stick to lift the rice paper from the cotton.
When removing the rice paper from the pot, flip it over so the top “dry side” faces down.
To make the fresh rolls:
Pour vegetable oil into a wok at medium heat. Add shrimp, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt, and cook for one minute.
In a separate bowl, add the papaya, cucumber, carrot, ginger, white vinegar or lime juice, and pinches of both sugar and salt. Mix well.
Prepare your rice paper sheets using the instructions above. If using dried rice paper, soften each sheet by immersing it in water for a few seconds. (Tip: Place a leaf of lettuce between each piece of paper to prevent them from sticking.)
Place a helping of wok contents, salad mixture, lettuce, and fresh herbs on the rice paper. Roll up each piece of paper, taking care to tuck the edges of the paper in as you go.
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