Saturday, September 24, 2016

Food, glorious food.

It's actually hard to believe how much food we've eaten today!
We started early, at 6.30, with the breakfast buffet. The chef here does the best eggs benedict- so far our only concession to western food - and then there's the dumplings, the noodles and the fruit and Vietnamese yoghurt and today Geoff even tried the congee, a rice dish that our waitress told us is sure to fix any health problems that you have. There's so much to choose from that we have to have a game plan before we go down each morning!
Its not going to be a good day for these chickens
At 8.15 we were picked up for our cooking tour. We sat on a corner at the market waiting for our guide and watched all the stall holders managing their day. The traffic intersections in Hoi an are amazing. There are no lights and no rules. Everyone beeps their horn as they approach the intersection and then they just weave seamlessly, like a choreographed dance, from one side to another. Although we've seen a few people fall off their bikes on the bridge, we've seen no crashes in the town, no road rage and remarkably, no squished pedestrians.
Ride sharing - helmets worn by some adults but rarely by children
Our guide, another delightful girl called Nhi, took us to the market to buy the ingredients for our lunch. We all donned traditional cone hats and as we moved from stall to stall she gave us a lesson on Vietnamese ingredients. I struggled to concentrate because I was too busy counting the diseases we could get from the unrefrigerated meat (it was already 32C), the flies gathering in the shrimp bowls and the salad being washed in river water. Geoff was more gung ho, happy to be getting his money's worth from the horrendously expensive typhoid and hepatitis shots but I've already counted the lack of public toilets in Hoi an and we still have 5 days to go! In any event I needn't have stressed because the shopping trip was a bit of a sham. The baskets were left at the market and the food we cooked came directly from a pristinely clean fridge tucked away behind a screen at the cooking school.
Nothing screams 'tourist' like foreigners in cone hats!
With our shopping lesson completed we hopped on a boat for a trip down the river. At the sea mouth we transferred to some traditional bowl boats to travel through the coconut groves to the cooking school.
Driver looks thrilled but at least the siblings are being nice to each other
There, our chef, Mr Happy, showed us how to make four traditional Vietnamese dishes; Goi Cuon (spring rolls), Banh Xeo (crepes) with Nuoc Leo dipping sauce, Sea food fried noodles and Grilled pork with noodles. And then we ate, and ate, and ate. All of this was washed down with endless glasses of passionfruit juice. Passionfruit is about $1 per kilo, so it is served with everything.

Fanning the BBQ - as if wasn't hot enough already

Looking very pleased with his creation. I hope the thermie can reproduce this!
After the banquet we tried our hand at traditional fishing, in this case, hand lines thrown into a very small and enclosed pond of pretty tame fish. Everyone caught one and then we threw them back.
What a whopper!

Even Mr Happy tried his hand with a rod
By the time we bussed back to our hotel we were full of food and exhausted from the heat so we had a nanna nap and caught up on the disappointing news from home that the Nth Warrnambool Eagles had lost the Grand Final.

It was beyond us to imagine walking into town for our tailor's fittings so we lashed out and caught a taxi. Thankfully it was Sophie's shout because it cost $24 000 dong - about $1.40!

After a few days here I'm still lost but the others seem to be able to navigate from one seemingly identical street to the next so we were able to get from the Peace Tailor's to Little Angel fairly efficiently. We also found some free wifi to tap into so we could follow the last exciting quarter of the AFL Preliminary Final - Go Doggies! Hoi an is a labyrinth of streets and alleys all brimming with little shops and while we were looking for our planned dinner stop, we found a whole new part of the Old Town that we hadn't seen before. We crossed the Japanese covered bridge into a much more upmarket part of the city. The 'real' shops here sold exactly the same items as the ones that come out of cardboard boxes in the market but with higher price tags and less ambience, so we bought nothing.

As the night falls, the whole of Hoi an transforms into a party atmosphere with colourful lanterns swinging from the shops and the trees and families lining the riverbanks eating street food on plastic chairs and tables. The boats on the river are also lit by lanterns to create fairytale scene of light, accentuated by the tinkling sounds of the Vietnamese language.

Riverside dining
Even though we couldn't possibly have been hungry, we stopped at the Citronella to rest our feet and drink beer. And because we were there we ate dinner as well, (what's a few more calories?). It was a bit disappointing because the menu was clearly 'dumbed down' to cater for western taste buds. It was all a bit bland and uninteresting - but we ate it anyway.
And then, because I have been craving chocolate, we found a shop selling Belgian chocolate and better still, because of the chocolate, the inside was beautifully, wonderfully , refreshingly cool, so we sat and ate fondue.
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