The first day of my honeymoon was in Hanoi, Vietnam. Definitely one of the coolest cities I have traveled to. My travel agent set us up with an amazing tour through Trails of Indochina. We really enjoyed our guide too. She spoke decent English, which was not easy to find in Hanoi (I’m serious, even at the Sofitel, a five star hotel, many of the employees struggled). Throughout the day our guide took us off the itinerary a few times to show us some local shops and restaurants that she thought were some of the best in the city. We really appreciated and enjoyed her suggestions, especially our authentic lunch that was less than $3 USD for two people! So when our guide suggested that we sign up for a cooking class by a renowned chef Anh Tuyet, praised by Anthony Bourdain, we thought we had struck gold. Vietnamese cuisine is some of mine and my husband’s favorite so I thought, perfect, I will get to do a cooking class like I wanted and my husband will be excited because I will learn how to make Vietnamese delicacies for him (even if he too has to bear a cooking class). We agreed right away to sign up and conveniently, our guide explained, we were only one block away so we were able to leave our deposit right then and there. At the time this didn’t seem as contrived to me as it does now. It was just a little too convenient though looking back…
Anh Tuyet’s cooking school and restaurant is located in her traditional Hanoi home. You have to go down an alley and up the back stairs to reach it. I was a little skeeved out but at this point it was my first day in Asia, I kind of sucked it up as culture shock. When we arrived and I looked around, I began to think we should run. Part of me sensed that I was being hustled but my fears were somewhat alleviated when I saw numerous medals on the wall and even read the review by Anthony Bourdain praising Madame Tuyet . I thought, how bad could it be?
After our Trails of Indochina tour ended, we returned to Anh Tuyet’s “cooking school.” I intentionally used quotes here because this so called school was basically a dingy living room. First on the agenda was a trip to the local market to shop for and learn about the ingredients we would be using–something I was really looking forward to. A young woman came down to greet us, she was friendly enough but I thought, hmm, that doesn’t look like the woman I saw in the photograph from the rave reviews. I chose to keep silent and we took off down the street toward the market. I thought, maybe this is just who accompanies us on the shopping portion of the class. When we reached our destination, our guide pointed out a few vegetables and fruits but did very little explaining. We were kind of left on our own while she shopped as I watched animal parts being hacked apart all around me. We made our way back to Ms. Tuyet’s home and trudged back down the alley and up the icky back entrance.
Once we were settled, the young woman fought with someone at the top of the stairs in Vietnamese for a bit and then came over and handed us aprons. She instructed us to chop up some vegetables and meat. We ASKED if there was somewhere we could wash our hands and with a look of confusion, pointed out the bathroom. Yuck! Cook before washing ALL of our hands. Strike one.
After we finished chopping, I asked about Ms. Tuyet and whether or not she would be joining us, at this point it was clear to me that our current instructor was likely the final instructor. At this point she pretended not to understand me and just shrugged her shoulders. I decided to just forget about it. We rolled up the chopped vegetables and meat into spring rolls. She then took them and deep fried them. At this point we were then told that our cooking class was over and we could sit down in the restaurant and wait for dinner. My husband and I looked at eachother in disbelief. We tried to question her but it was clear after five minutes that it was futile. We had paid $40 USD per person to chop some vegetables and watch her fry up some spring rolls. For those of you who haven’t been to Hanoi, that is insanely, I mean insanely expensive. (Emphasis added!) As mentioned above, we had lunch that day for two for under $3 USD.
Dinner (that we had no role in) was served. While the food happened to be delicious, (especially the roast chicken, which is the dish that Anthony Bourdain praised Ms. Tuyet for) I was quite freaked out by the possible lack of hand-washing. I could only imagine what sort of cleanliness measures took place, or did not take place for that matter, upstairs in the kitchen out of my view. As our dinner was served, a friend of our instructor popped by with her three children. Another child appeared from upstairs and the four began to run around like little maniacs, banging into our chairs and even at one point going under our table.
All I could think was get me the hell out of here! We ate our dinner as quickly as humanly possible and asked to settle the tab. She gave us a bill and we left money and b-lined it downstairs for a taxi. I highly suggest skipping a cooking class here seeing that I did not learn a thing about Vietnamese cooking or even meet my supposed gifted instructor. The entire experience was uncomfortable and I couldn’t wait to return to my hotel.
After a long day we had some cocktails and unwound after a less than ideal experience but it provided some good stories and gave us a good laugh. As we returned to our room, just as I thought the evening was behind me, the phone rang. My husband and I froze, no one would disturb us on our honeymoon unless it was an emergency. I hesitantly reached for the phone. I soon learned that our cooking instructor, if you can even call her that, accidentally charged us ten dollars less and they wanted us to return to the scene of the crime to settle our bill. I was in utter disbelief. After several minutes of arguing, since there was no way in hell we were returning to their restaurant, we agreed to leave the money with our hotel for them to pick up the next morning. It was afterall their mistake.
Vietnamese food has never left such a terrible taste in my mouth.