Baby Mustard Cooking Class in Hoi An, Vietnam
Tucked behind a sea of meandering rice fields you’ll encounter the small charming Baby Mustard Restaurant and Cooking School created and run by charming Nguyet. While off the beaten path, discovered by many via bike adventures, this intimate venue creates a delightful cultural debut into Vietnamese cuisine specific to the middle region of the country. In short, it’s the best cooking class in Hoi An.
Yes, Vietnamese food drastically varies as you migrate from north to south, or vice versa. Thanks to an incredibly educational Nguyet, we’re going to dive into that towards the end of the post.
First, let’s feast! Or better yet, learn how to make all these scrumptious dishes at home.
Finding the Best Cooking Class in Hoi An
As a fellow traveler, you know that the best finds are often recommendations from other meandering souls. This gem came highly recommend by an Irish couple we met in Da Lat, Vietnam. Reading through Baby Mustard’s reviews, word of mouth creates a fairly reliable marketing source. (Her reviews also came in with the highest marks, further endorsing our choice.) Compared to other, more commercialized, options, Baby Mustard gave the most value. Additionally, supporting micro entrepreneurs fits into ethos of the Positive Impact Journey brand.
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to finally arrive in Hoi An to dive into the cooking class.
Digging up Nguyet’s e-mail took some sleuthing. For a quicker route, I would recommend contacting her through her Facebook page. Once you do get ahold of her, the scheduling process is incredibly simple.
Baby Mustard Cooking School and Market Tour
Nguyet offers a private morning class with optional market tour or an afternoon session. Keeping things intimate – and manageable – she only offers private group lessons, ultimately a win for you. All the recipe options will be in your initial e-mail.
Eager to explore the market with a guide, we opted for the full experience.
Nguyet met us at our hotel at 8:30am on the dot. From there we taxied to a nearby market where we selected the wares for our dishes. I will never regret getting the full experience! Walking through the market, Nguyet explained about the history of the food, which items were not native to the region (there just to please “Westerners”), how to find the best produce and we watched as she negotiated with venders. I was shocked at all the “Western” food brought into dishes, and this helped pinpoint local cuisine against tourist food for the rest of our trip.
Hectic, lively and a full frontal assault for your senses, the market tour proved to be a highlight for Vietnam. If you have the time, and curiosity, book it.
Hoi An Specialty Dishes on Tap
When I first received the list of 20 or so menu options, needing to narrow down to three, I hit a patch of overwhelm. All the dishes are local cuisine with Baby Mustard’s unique flair and style of cooking. Thankfully they were broken down by meat with a special section for “Hoi An Food.”
Having read up a little on food from the region combined with dining out and frantic Google research, we selected these three:
Cao lầu | Hoi An special noodles with pork
Heo xào chua ngọt | Pork with sweet & Sour Sauce
Mực xiên nướng sả ớt | Grilled Calamari with Lemongrass & Chilli Served with Mint Leaves & Home Made Sauce
From the market, we taxied to Baby Mustard. This open-air restaurant sits right next to family farms. Before diving straight into the kitchen, we walked around the plots of land gathering a fresh few herbs.
Then, time to suit up. With aprons on, chopsticks handy and cutting boards at the ready, we started chopping up all the ingredients and creating the sauce mixtures. Not only did it make a great photo array, it helped streamline the cooking process.
Nguyet’s intense passion for food shone through, as well as her patience for teaching… shall we say… less experienced souls in the kitchen. We each had our cooking station in the school area. You can’t ask for a better setting to cook in.
Adapting to cooking with chopsticks over here!
Overall, Baby Mustard’s Cooking School experience (with the market tour) hit came out as one of our favorite experiences in Vietnam. While our dishes cooked, we chatted with her about family customs, cultural differences between the US and Vietnam,
We didn’t have time to dine at the Baby Mustard restaurant, but I’m confident that all the dishes would have well exceed expectations. After all, the food we made was superb and I’m no magic maker in the kitchen.
Hoi An Cuisine
Despite spending two months in southern Thailand, as well as exploring different cultural cuisines throughout the states, I have to admit I was still incredibly naive when it came to realizing that, yes, other counties dishes vary by region. Mind blown. It makes sense. Back in the states I don’t seek out authentic Mexican food in the Northern states.
Our realization came after religiously following Jodi’s Legal Nomad’s guide to street food in Saigon. If you’re new to the country, mainly the cuisine, and in the south, this is a lifesaver. Although, as we moved north we failed to find most of the dishes we savored in Saigon.
To help you, here is how Nguyet describes the differences by the regions:
- Northern Vietnamese food: light, not sweet;
- Middle Vietnamese food: strong, spicy, sweet and sour;
- Southern Vietnamese food: strong and sweet, fat;
She also commented that, “We should divide our country in 3 parts: North, South, and Middle.”
She also dove in deeper to describe the array of influences creating the delightful flavors:
“Hoi An is the small city in the middle of Viet Nam. Here we used to have a port where business boats from many countries visited and traded. That is the reason why Hoi An foods have mixed flavors. Some of the famous dishes from Chinese community are White rose, Wonton. The Vietnamese ones are My Quang, clay pot dishes, and some mix: Bun, Cao Lau, Xi ma (sesame soup).”
Behind the Scenes
“We are cookers not chef. At our place, you can eat what we think they are the best for people. I am sure not 100% people like our foods and I am sure we are the best. However, we stand on our hearts and always think about you during the time we cook. Believe us when you start your order.”
Despite what you may imagine after the phenomenal classroom experience, Nguyet wasn’t formally trained in cuisine.
“I did not go to school to learn cooking but I [grew up] in a family where all people can cook. Maybe, the food I ate from a kid until 23 years old helped me have good feeling about food. Addition, when I am 12 years old, I read all cooking books which my Dad bough to learn the food. I think the knowledge from the books is an important basic.”
Five years ago she opened the restaurant. The cooking school followed a year afterwards.
The restaurant and school has grown into an entire family affair – which adds to the charm. Nguyet and her husband have a little baby, who hangs out with different family members during the day.
The Impact of Supporting Micro Entrepreneurs
The more time we spend with Nguyet, the more I was incredibly impressed with her ambition and drive. Hearing her story on how she came to own this charming restaurant, I was inspired.
“I used to have a dream to change the world. But when I grew up, I knew that I couldn’t.
“Before opening Baby Mustard, I was a student in banking university. I realized that it is not my life when I graduated. I started to dream. I worked in some restaurants, a motorbike tour, as a waitress and driver where I learned a lots about the world.”
“After that I learned I could change my life.”
“I wanted to help my parents and all my family. I came back from Ho Chi Minh and planned to do motorbike tour and failed. In the beginning, I had no money, no relationships, and nothing in Hoi An but my heart and my brain. I cried every day to remind me to act. One day, on the news, I read about how a famous restaurant in the mountain got very busy. I decided to open my restaurant on that day.”
“After two months, Baby Mustard was born.”
When you choose to partner with micro entrepreneurs, you help fuel dreams like Nguyet’s to change her and her family’s lives.