This visit was less about laying on the beaches of Nha Trang and more about getting down and dirty in a backyard kitchen (after a quick city tour on a Vespa).
You’d be forgiven if you thought the coastal town of Nha Trang was all about the beach bars, luxury resorts and glistening water. After all, it is known as the Riviera of the South China Sea!
Our trip to Nha Trang was going to take us beyond the beaches though and into the back streets of the town on a tour designed to give us more of a local insight into this charming city.
Whilst fresh, delicious and flavour-filled food is a constant during our time in Vietnam, we may have gotten a little too used to it being prepared for us. This was about to change in a major way on the From My Family to Yours tour with Chef Dat however.
The passionate Nha Trang local’s aim is not only to teach us how to cook three of our favourite dishes but to garner an understanding of where the produce comes from and how the local Vietnamese do their shopping on a daily basis.
I had a feeling we weren’t about to head into an air-conditioned supermarket either, this was going to be a completely new and authentic way of shopping for me.
First stop… a local bakery. This rustic hole in the wall establishment is chained up when we arrive and peppered with ash and woven baskets. Thanh, the baker, casually rides up on his moped to unlock his shop and pops some pre-moulded baguettes in the oven for us to sample. It’s like a little slice of home since most of the wheat in Vietnam is imported from Australia and the combination of rice flour and wheat results in some seriously light and fluffy bread.
Thanh works every day and produces 1500 baguettes every morning and 1000 every evening.
Hard work is something that these producers understand as a norm of their life but, regardless of the flies, the dust and the acrid heat, their smiles never waiver.
The next stallholder down the road, sits cross-legged, smile beaming in amongst a myriad fruit and vegetables, she hands Chef Dat the items he requests as he shares the medicinal properties of what we are purchasing.
Split fresh okra and place in water before bed and drink the next morning before breakfast to assist with the symptoms of diabetes. New mothers should boil and drink sweet potato leaves to increase milk production and lemongrass basil can aid with indigestion.
Who would have thought we would be witness to a veritable pharmacy underneath a shade cloth in the back streets of Nha Trang.
Chef Dat is quick to highlight that every part of the plant is used in Vietnam. There is no wastage. From roofing to eating to mulch to help the plants grow, sustainability is something very important to the Vietnamese.
It’s not just produce we purchase for our meal that afternoon, but also the freshly woven placemats our dishes will sit upon. We join a mother and daughter who, regardless of sitting on a hard, low wooden bench, seem to be in a pleasant meditative state as they work in collaboration to meet their daily quota of beach, sleeping and placemats… and those smiles. Happy, happy smiles.
The Chợ Vĩnh Ngọc are authentic, local markets at their best. Fragrant, humid, sticky and filled with everything you could possibly need to whip up a feast. It’s a different world though. No brightly lit refrigerated shelves to be found. The meat and poultry sit in the heat fresh from that very morning, with Chef Dat assuring us it is all perfectly safe to eat once it is cooked well.
Once we meander down another alleyway to purchase our fresh rice noodles and husked coconut flesh, it’s time to make our way to Chef Dat’s home to whip up a communal feast.
The custom-built outdoor kitchen is set up behind Chef Dat’s house which he invites us into to meet his family.
Whilst a fan provides the only cooling, the heat only adds to the authentic experience of learning from a true local culinary expert.
We are each given tasks throughout the afternoon to truly be a part of cooking our three chosen dishes; a chicken morning glory salad (my personal favourite Vietnamese dish), Vietnamese pancakes, pork and Vietnamese lemongrass chicken.
As his dedicated team helps to prepare the ingredients and equipment, Dat meticulously guides us through each step of creating these masterpieces, offering tips we can take home with us along the way.
Surprisingly enough, the biggest challenge of the day was not actually the cooking or the heat, but finishing all the delectable food we whipped up as a team.
With tummies full and enough leftovers for his family, we bid tạm biệt (goodbye) to Dat, a man who in sharing his passion, shared a side of Nha Trang with us that truly warmed our hearts.
- READ: Experiencing Vietnam’s coastal city from a Vespa
- READ: Hotel Review of The Saujana Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
- READ: 4 things to do in Kuala Lumpur, besides shopping
What Vietnamese dish would you have selected to cook?
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