Vietnamese Recipe: Grilled Fish in Banana Leaves

This is a delicious fish recipe I learned to cook in Hoi An, Vietnam. Mouthwatering goodness! If you can’t buy ingredients like turmeric and banana leaves at your local grocery store, seek out an Asian grocery store. You can ask them to order the ingredients you can’t find. If you absolutely cannot get banana leaves, try using corn husks (but you will need to soak them in water so they don’t burn on the grill). Wrapping the fish inside banana leaves or corn husks steams the fish and cooks it more evenly. At the bottom of this post I give a short review of the cooking class I attended in case you find yourself in Hoi An. I hope you enjoy the recipe. More to come!

Grilled Fish in Banana Leaves, serves 2

Grilled Fish in Banana Leaf

Delicious Vietnamese-style fish!

Ingredients:
2 pieces, 8 oz each fresh mackerel
2 tbsp lemongrass, chopped finely (tip: smash it first with the knife blade to make it easier to chop)
4 three-inch pieces of lemongrass, smashed with the knife blade
8 thin slices of carrot (optional)
2 tsp shallots, diced finely
2 tsp garlic, diced finely (tip: smash with knife blade first, then dice)
2 tbsp turmeric, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
4 pieces wood ear mushroom, chopped
2 oz dry Chinese vermicelli, hydrate with water per package instructions, then chop
4 tsp butter
4 pieces banana leaves

NOTE: When you choose banana leaves, pick the greenest ones you can find. You will most likely not be able to buy them wilted, so you must first wilt the banana leaves so they are flexible for folding. This is super simple. Just heat them up over your stovetop like this woman demonstrates. If they are too large or oddly shaped, you can use kitchen scissors to cut it down.

Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaf

Wrapped up and ready to grill!

Step 1: In a bowl large enough to fit a piece of fish, mix the chopped lemongrass with the shallots, garlic, turmeric, salt, pepper and sugar. Then mix in the soy sauce and rice vinegar. Last, add the mushrooms and vermicelli and mix well.

Step 2: Place one chunk of fish in the bowl with the mixture from step 1. Coat each side of the fish with the mixture, flipping it to make sure both sides have adequate toppings. Put one teaspoon of butter in the center of a banana leaf, then place the fish on top. Put one more teaspoon of butter in the center of the fish. Place two pieces of lemongrass and four carrot slices (if using) on top.

Step 3: Wrap the fish in the banana leaf. Then flip it over onto another piece of open banana leaf so the folds are on the bottom. Fold the second banana leaf to seal the package, then flip it over so the folds are securely on the bottom. (See picture at right.)

Step 4: Repeat steps 1-3 with the second piece of mackerel, using all of the mixture from step 1. Allow the fish sit for 30-60 minutes in order to marinate (longer the better).

Step 5: Grill both packages for seven and a half minutes on each side. Then let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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Review of Tam Tam Cafe cooking class:

Enjoying a Post-class Meal

Enjoying the food I cooked after class ended.

In Hoi An, Vietnam, I took a cooking class at Tam Tam Cafe. I chose this location for a few reasons. One, my top choice was double the price of all the others for what seemed like the same offerings. I had read enough reviews of basic cooking classes in Hoi An to know that paying more didn’t necessarily mean I was receiving more. Two, my second choice refused to accommodate my dietary needs. I’m not a picky person, but I cannot eat mango. I won’t go into why. The chef said he absolutely wouldn’t allow me to substitute another fruit for the dessert dish, so I opted out. Finally, I came upon Tam Tam’s cooking class, and it was within my price range and allowed me to choose the menu items I wanted to cook. Sold!

My Experience
I arrived a half hour early because the staff told me the wrong start time, so I hung out and read the newspaper. It ended up being me and two older Aussies. When the chef arrived, he didn’t greet us or introduce himself. He handed us conical hats and a shopping bag and started walking out the door, so we all assumed we should follow. We were on our way to the morning market for the usual market tour. The chef didn’t interact with us students en route to the market (15-ish minutes). After giving us some basic information, he told us to wander around and watch the activity and take photos. Then we regrouped to ask him questions and learn a little more about the local market and culture. It was a so-so experience, especially after the great class Mike and I took in Thailand.

Now with low expectations, we walked back to the cafe and upstairs to the private cooking class area. After all that time not knowing the chef’s name, I finally asked him (Vu). He began by enthusiastically talking about the ingredients (which were mostly pre-chopped by staff), the order in which we were going to cook our dishes and what makes Vietnamese food unique. Vu seemed like a whole new person. He was amicable and joking with us, which certainly made the rest of the class very enjoyable. Maybe he was just having a bad morning. He definitely made up for the lame beginning by making the actual cooking experience very informative and worthwhile. We students were able to focus and interact more by not having to take notes. The restaurant staff later emailed the recipes so we could focus on cooking.

All in all, besides the disappointments in the beginning, I’m glad I took the class at Tam Tam Cafe. The food was delicious and the class itself ended up being really fun!

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