Friday, 2 September 2011

Hoi An Happiness

Sept 2nd, 2011; 17:05
Location: Hoi An, Vietnam
Why: No suits made here but a scrumptious experience instead.

My first two weeks in Vietnam tasted somewhat bitter. But sweetness came upon my arrival in Hoi An in the last week of August. Firstly, the bus arrived at Hop Yen Hostel where I discovered 5 bucks a night for a dorm with lockers and A/C would do my pocketbook quite nicely.

Nicely...finely. The Vietnamese in this part of the country were....nice! After Hanoi and Hue's less than friendly disposition, I was ecstatic to find Hoi An's people easy going, smiling and all around genuinely happy. This, I found evidence in the amount of pregnant women around town and playful children hanging out in their parent's shops.

My week in Hoi An found me hiring a bicycle daily and pedaling under the sun's dry hotness. Taking shade wherever a tree afforded me the break, I enjoyed bottles of 7Up and glasses of sugar cane juice, a local delight it seems. And when I needed a real cool off, I buggered to the town's two main beaches - An Bang Beach and Cua Dai Beach. An Bang was by far my favourite since there were no touts trying to sell me overpriced souvenirs.

A sketchy snapshot of An Bang Beach:

And when I wasn't busy frolicking in the warm waters, I was immersed in this amazing novel:

After lazy days burning it up in the sands, I enjoyed copious amounts of delicious food from street stalls and restaurants alike. One dish I am particularly fond of is Banh Xeo. You can imagine to my delight when one night along the riverfront amongst the food stalls, I came across one stall that sold it for 20, 000VND - less than $1!!

Banh Xeo - street food style. A must try for anyone passing through Vietnam:

One of the great things I love about Vietnamese cuisine is how interactive it is. Many dishes require hand assembly such as banh xeo and fresh spring rolls. For banh xeo, which is essentially a Vietnamese crispy pancake, is placed on a thin rice paper (white sheet in the above pic). This is followed by placing several different types of herbs such as coriander, mint, basil and bean sprout leaves. It is finally topped with star fruit or cucumber. Once all ingredients are together, just wrap her up or fold her like a taco and dip it in some fish sauce. Deee-licious!! I am salivating just writing this.

So tasty the cuisine is here in Hoi An that I signed up for a cooking course at the Morning Glory Cooking School. Ran by Ms. Vy, this was by far the BEST thing I've done in Vietnam thus far. For $25, this half day course sees you on a trip to the very local market where most restaurants get their produce, meat and wares for the day. Here, we learned about the different areas of the market: the spices section, herbs, meat and fruits and veggies section. All with distinct aromas and colours.

Ever seen a custard apple? Check it out:

After our field trip to the market, we all headed back to the restaurant and up the stairs to the cooking school classroom overlooking the river. Here we were greeted by the warm and passionate Ms. Vy, the first chef in Hoi An to cater to foreigners back in 1992 when Vietnam began opening it's doors to foreign tourism.

Ms. Vy demonstrating some of the incredible ingredients we will be using to make our five dishes:

This very hands on and social course saw us foreigners giddy with happiness as we wrapped, marinated, and fried our way to dishes enjoyed immediately afterwards - instant gratification.

Cabbage soup with cabbage tofu parcel and veggies. The best part was wrapping the parcel with green onions. Gawd, it was good:

Next up was fresh spring roll. It was a combination of vermicelli noodles, shrimp (tofu for me), a crispy rice paper roll and herbs, topped with lemongrass (for presentation as well as flavour).

She was a beauty to dip and devour:

And then came my favourite dish - Banh Xeo!!! Ms. Vy's version is, dare I say it, better than my mom's (sorry mumma!).

I could have eaten a dozen of these:

For the bbq meat, my substitute was tofu. The marinade though was the same for both.

It was so fun getting our hands dirty as we rub all the spices on them:

And here is my bbq'd tofu in all her fragrant glory:

Lastly, the final dish was a fresh mango salad, complete with all the different flavourings including sweet, sour, salty and bitter. We learned how to score the mango to produce lovely thin slices that melted in my mouth.

This was accompanied with my tofu:

Asmin, if you're reading this post, look for these dishes in the cook book coming your way. Give it a try as it will be a while before I can make it for you!

As I finish up this post, my dinner will be served to me at the secret paradise that is Jungle Beach, 60km north of Nha Trang. The timing is great because I've just started drooling on my netbook.

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