Charming in Ho Chi Minh: Saigon Cooking Class & Merci Nails

One of my favorite things to do when I'm in another country is to study their cuisine firsthand. Over the Christmas holidays, my family and I traveled for a few weeks in Vietnam and while we were in Ho Chi Minh City, I had the chance to spend a few hours at the lovely Saigon Cooking Class. I have to say that the meal we prepared was really one of the best I had in the entire country! Set in an airy and beautiful colonial building home to the well known Hoa Tuc Restaurant, the menu is a mix of the school's traditional recipes and the contemporary signature dishes from Hoa Tuc's kitchen. Everything is fresh and vibrant, and naturally they don't use MSG or Knorr powders! I really adore Vietnamese food! I guess being born in that country has something to do with why I pile an unusual heap of herbs on most of my plates. It's a pity I don't speak the language anymore, but my family is Korean-American, so I didn't practice it after we moved.

If you plan to be in Saigon and are staying in District 1, this is a lovely experience. I was in a group of 10 students from all around the world and it was great fun—as well as so delicious. And, I finally learned the proper way to roll those summer rolls without the wrapper tearing (I had always cheated by folding them in a half moon shape so they were sturdier!) It was also fun to use some of the unusual (at least for me) kitchen tools.

We started in the morning with a tour of the famous Ben Thanh Market with our chef. There, we picked up some of our ingredients, such as the freshly handmade rice paper sheets for the Vietnamese summer rolls and the fresh rice vermicelli. I’ve been making rice paper rolls and rice vermicelli noodle salad for years, but I’ve only ever bought the dried version of these foods, so this in itself was a great treat! Oh, and that I didn't have wash up dishes afterwards!

I hope you enjoy the photos of the Vietnamese market and the food I cooked. It's curious because we in the West spend so much money on pretty pastel duck eggs, but in Vietnam, they're not a gourmet food. Our guide told us that they're considered to be so delicious, but so ugly that they're eaten in the dark! Maybe this is different in the haute cuisine restaurants, but in the countryside, the people are almost ashamed to eat such "ugly" eggs. Oh and in case you didn't know, in the market pics above, the beautiful pink plant the lady is holding is banana flower, which is used to make banana blossom salad. Just gorgeous! I'm so crazy about banana blossom flower!

Sadly, I can’t share the recipes because it’s not fair to the Saigon Cooking Class, but trust me, upon finishing the class, you’ll receive a beautifully designed folder with all recipes. But, since I picked up a gorgeously photographed book Vietnamese Street Food, I'll be posting some Vietnamese recipes (especially as the weather warms), which I will probably give a Healthibella tweaking to, so please sign up for my newsletter to get the recipes right to your inbox!

Oh, and if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City District 1, the French owners of Hoa Tuc, also have a charming nail salon and cafe if your hot and tired feet need some pampering and you want a gorgeous manicure. Pop into Merci Nails & Bistro—one of the nicest salons I’ve been to in many years (and I’ve been to MANY in my mani-pedi life) and chat with the lovely staff about Vietnam and everything else. My family and I went several times while we were in town and really enjoyed our down time in between sight-seeing.

It’s also wonderful that they use the Parisian brand KURE BAZAAR ecological polishes, which are 4-free, but 85% natural ingredients, including unusual materials such as wood pulp, cotton, potatoes, and corn (so it's like a veggie buffet I guess!). These polishes have intense pigment, glide on smoothly, and are as shiny as they are resilient. I’m so happy I have a stash of my favorite KURE BAZAAR red—naturally, it's called Stiletto and other red polishes should probably turn green with envy at its absolute perfection.

If you've never been to Vietnam, I hope you will be blessed to visit this wonderful country one day!

To your health and happiness! xx, Juli