Week 1

It’s 9:40 at Fellows Court Community Centre and the first participant has already arrived, 20 minutes early, to this week’s Mamas to Market session, number 1 of 10. Project Leader Sarah and myself are still decorating the market stall in the lunch room with homemade bunting and getting the ingredients ready for this week’s recipe, Bánh mì. Bánh mì is Vietnamese baguette, which the group will be filling with pork cooked in three different ways, fresh salad, and lots of fragrant herbs.


The rest of the group is arriving in quick succession, eager to start preparing the food. Before the cooking begins, however, we’re going through a food safety session so the women can gain the skills needed in a professional kitchen. Today we talk about the basics of wearing clean clothes, washing hands, and tying back hair before starting. The women nod, they already know all of this – now can we start cooking?


The aprons come on and we go into the kitchen. There are lots of different jobs to do – preparing herbs, slicing vegetables very thinly, and seasoning and marinating meat in three different ways – and the women get stuck in immediately, they are the experts here and instruct us as well as each other on the different tasks. I’m given a demonstration in neat cucumber slicing and get to work.


One of the meats is a pork sausage cooked in banana leaf. It’s called chả lụa and it takes a strong blender and special skill to prepare it the right way. The meat needs to be ground to a fine paste, which proves difficult for our blender. After wrapping it tightly and expertly in banana leaf and boiling for about an hour we come to the moment of truth: the taste test. Not perfect is the experts’ verdict. We’ll need to get a better blender.


To an outsider, however, it’s extremely delicious. As is the marinated, chargrilled pork, the pork belly, and all the fresh veg. We form a long queue by the market stall and the group practise their serving skills working as fast as they can. It’s difficult not to get hungry during this session and we’re all eager to have lunch by now.


The bánh mì gets the thumbs up from the Vietnamese group who are attending an ESOL course in the community centre. It’s a winner as takeaway food for a market stall – but we will need that powerful blender to get the chả lụa just right. As our first session concludes with repetition of the food safety rules and discussion of next week’s recipe, I am definitely looking forward to next time, and I think the group is too.