If you have at least three hours and are looking for something to do in Hanoi, consider participating in the “Cooking like a Hanoian” experience. More than just a cooking event, it is a cultural exchange activity where you can learn to prepare a traditional dish while enjoying conversations with locals about their lifestyle and history.

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is always bustling with activity, whether it’s a weekday or the weekend. I navigate through the crowd, making my way from Hang Dao to Hang Bac, a small but lively street, in search of Ga Hostel and Travel. This is where the “Cooking like a Hanoian” event takes place. Following the arrows, I find myself at the end of a small alley, where the hostel is located.

Despite being situated in the heart of the Old Quarter, the hostel offers a calm and cozy atmosphere. The cooking class is conducted around a large cooking table, complete with all the necessary ingredients for the chosen dish. Today, the theme is “Phở,” a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup that is famous worldwide.

When asked how he knows about “Phở,” Simon Heldmayer from Germany explains, “It’s my first time in Vietnam. My aunt was here and she told me that ‘Phở’ is amazing, so I decided to come and try it for myself. Maybe I’ll love it too.”

Many people have heard of “Phở” through social media or recommendations from friends and family who have visited Vietnam, but not everyone has tasted the dish or knows how to make it.

The “Cooking like a Hanoian” class teaches participants how to prepare this famous dish in just three hours. The class schedule is flexible, allowing participants to join whenever they have the time.

Alice, the founder and CEO of Ga Hostel and Travel, explains the concept behind the class: “During the weekends, we focus on cooking more complex dishes like Phở or Bun Cha, which require more time and can be organized for larger groups. We want it to feel like a community event rather than a profit-oriented activity. It’s not just about learning cooking skills; we also share the stories behind these dishes. Additionally, we offer daily classes where we teach participants how to cook more typical Vietnamese meals.”

The fee for each three-hour class is US$11 for the weekend sessions and US$15 for the daily classes. The most exciting part is that participants get to visit local markets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter and experience the process of buying and bargaining for the ingredients themselves.

Mai Tran, the manager of sales and marketing at Ga Hostel and Travel, as well as the class teacher, explains, “Participants can join the entire activity, starting from going to the market and learning how to select fresh ingredients. Then, we return to the hostel to prepare and cook the meal together. Finally, we sit down to eat and share our experiences of the day. Participants often express their love for the food and how pleasantly surprised they are by the whole experience.”

Throughout the class, everyone actively participates in the cooking process. Some bake onions, cardamom, and star anise for the Phở broth, while others chop radishes, carrots, and shallots. Amidst the preparation, participants chat and share their reasons for coming to Vietnam and joining the cooking class.

Ana Carolina Menezes, a Brazilian living in Bangkok, is attending the “Cooking like a Hanoian” event for the first time. She loves Vietnamese cuisine and sees this as an opportunity to learn more about Vietnamese culture and cooking. “I tried Phở for the first time in Saigon, but I haven’t had it in Hanoi yet. This will be my first time,” says Ana Carolina.

Mai takes the time to explain the history and significance of Phở in Hanoi, as well as the differences between Phở in Hanoi and in Saigon.

Preparing an authentic bowl of Phở requires a lot of effort and time, with the broth alone taking up to 12 hours to make. Recognizing that people are often busy with their fast-paced lives, Ga Hostel collaborated with chefs from Hoa Sua, a renowned cooking school, to modify the recipe and reduce the cooking time. This way, even busy individuals can recreate the dish at home after attending the three-hour class. The organizers also offer two versions of Phở: one for meat eaters and one for vegetarians.

“We aim to simplify the cooking process because many of our customers are young people. We have noticed a trend of more people adopting a vegan lifestyle. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular. Therefore, we adjusted our recipe to accommodate their needs. For example, we replaced fish sauce with a mixture of caramelized sugar and salt, which has a similar color and taste. For the vegetarian version of Phở, we use mushrooms instead of chicken or pork. Our goal is to introduce Vietnamese food in a way that meets our visitors’ needs,” explains Alice.

These changes make the dish easier and faster to prepare while still maintaining its authentic taste. Beatriz Dias, a backpacker from Brazil, learned about Phở’s general characteristics and the basic steps to recreate it at home through the cooking class. “It’s awesome. The atmosphere they created was incredible. You can meet cool people and learn how to prepare the different ingredients. It’s much simpler than I expected. You can easily make it at home,” she says excitedly.

Noortie Gremmen, who hails from the Netherlands, has just arrived in Hanoi and hasn’t had the chance to get accustomed to Vietnamese food yet. A friend recommended trying Phở while in Vietnam, so Noortie decided to join the “Cooking like a Hanoian” class to learn more about Vietnamese cooking methods. She is eager to try making Phở again when she returns to her home country.

During the class, the organizers encourage participants to share photos and videos on social media, spreading the word about Vietnamese cuisine. Additionally, Ga Hostel is developing an eco-farm trip model, where participants can harvest vegetables themselves and learn how to cook Vietnamese dishes using sustainable practices. This farm avoids using plastic and collects farming waste to create fertilizer. Ga Hostel firmly believes that eco-farm trips and eco-tourism will encourage responsible tourism and environmental preservation in Vietnam.

Alice explains, “Eco-tourism is a growing trend that emphasizes environmental care, especially among young travelers. We want to promote this concept to attract more responsible customers. At Ga Hostel and Travel, we don’t sell water in plastic bottles; instead, we provide purified water machines for our customers. When we go to the market, we bring our own bags to carry vegetables, and we have a container for meat and fish.”

By offering cooking classes that introduce Vietnamese food and organizing activities to raise awareness about environmental protection, Ga Hostel and Travel hopes to attract more visitors to Vietnam. They want to showcase the beauty of the country and its people.

For more information, visit Ga Hostel and Travel’s official Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/gahostel