And after Part 1 and Part 2 we have now reached Part 3, the final part of my Tribute to Vietnamese food!
Ready? Let’s go!
The hotpot in the header image was served in a budget restaurant in Da Lat. The pot was placed at the centre of the table and kept simmering while the ingredients were cooking. Not being familiar with the cooking technique, I kept staring at the pot wondering when it would be ready and safe to eat. I must say, it tasted very good.
The rolls and dumplings above are from Hoi An, a town whose reputation as the ultimate gourmet getaway is steadily growing. Great food and lovely composition on the plate for this dish!
Cao lau is one of the most popular Hoi An specialties, and its ingredients are noodles, slabs of pork, bean sprouts and fresh vegetables. The noodles are quite different from any other Vietnamese dish: thicker, quite chewy and with a firmer texture. The dish tastes delicious!
Last but not least, here’s the highlight of my food experiences in Vietnam: a fully homemade meal which I helped preparing when in Hanoi! Noodles, vegetables, and rice paper rolls. Very tasty.
See also this post for the full experience.
And this is the end (for now) of my Vietnamese food memoirs.
I hope you enjoyed it!
When they invited me to have “egg coffee” with them, I followed them with no hesitation. But when we walked into the back of a shop and up dodgy-looking stairs in very dim light, I started doubting my instinct and my trust in people.
There was no need to panic, though. Instead I was about to embark on a journey of discovery off the beaten track!
I had met these two students at the Hoan Kiem lake park, where University students in Hanoi go to meet foreigners and practice English. After several weeks in Vietnam I was totally familiar with the scenario and quite enjoyed chatting to whoever approached me.
After the egg coffee – which was delicious – we promised to keep in touch. And when I was back in Hanoi 10 days later I contacted them.
“Would you like to see our University?”. Why not, I thought. And we got on a local bus full of students for our long ride to the campus. Once we got there, I soon realised that there were no other foreigners around. Everyone seemed to be staring at me with surprise and curiosity. Celebrity of the day!
“Now we are taking bicycles and going to my room so we can cook lunch”. Cool! We first stopped to buy some food from a tiny grocery shop in the street, then two more students joined us and the five of us rode our bicycles through the countryside to reach the area where these students live.
Compared to the standards of students digs in my own city, these Hanoi ones appeared pretty “scruffy” and very basic. But they indeed do the job, and have everything we needed.
So we started preparing lunch. After washing and chopping the vegetables, I joined in the “rolling phase” of the nam (rice paper rolls) making. I broke the first one but soon mastered the art :-).
Our “masterchef” skillfully pan-fried all rolls while her “assistant” made a nice sauce, and the rest of us prepared the table. The resulting meal was a five-star!
“Do you want to see an artisan village?” I was asked after lunch.
Why not, I thought. And this time we hopped on motorbikes and drove (me as passenger) to Bat Trang village, which is famous for its ceramic/pottery production. We walked around the shops taking a lot of silly photos, then when I thought we were about to leave another surprise came.
We entered a small shop full of little plastic chairs and wheels with lumps of clay on top. We sat and were shown the basic technique for making a small vase. Then it was our turn! I have to say that none of us appeared a natural pottery maker, but we had lots of fun messing around with the clay. And after a while some of our production didn’t look too bad!
I had so much fun and loved the whole experience that day, and I am sure that other tourists would love it too! My student friends could even create a “tour package” based on my day with them (guinea pig!) and offer it to others, in exchange for their time and some English practice. I will suggest it :-).
My first impression of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, was not good. Just another crowded and noisy city.
Admittedly, after spending two days in the Ninh Binh countryside in the middle of nowhere, anything louder than complete silence was likely to annoy me.
My first night in Hanoi. KFC for dinner (argh!), as I could not be asked looking for a “proper” place to eat. Too many people around (it was Saturday night and the weekend market was on). And I had not studied the city map yet so I had no clear idea of where I was and how to move around. I hated it.
But then Hanoi started growing on me. It is actually a very nice city!
The Hoan Kiem lake in the city centre is a great place to stretch your legs and watch people, at any time of the day. There are always dance classes going on, people jogging, doing push-ups or practising tai-chi!
The Old Quarter is a madness of street vendors, little shops displaying their stuff on the pavement, street kitchens, motorbikes and people everywhere. But it’s fun and full of photo opportunities. The buildings themselves are quite interesting too.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
Street vendor in the Old Quarter
And then you have the museums! They will keep you busy for a day or two, and they deserve a visit. I skipped the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum because of the never ending queue, but went into the Ho Chi Minh Museum (a surreal experience…) instead. Nearby also the One Pillar Pagoda is a sight not to be missed.
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
The Vietnam National Museum of History (with two buildings across the road from each other) has interesting displays that reflect the history of the country from prehistory to contemporary times.
But the highlight of the day was my visit to Van Mieu (the Temple of Literature, Vietnam’s historical centre of learning): a large group of University students was there to take photos in their graduation gowns and in áo dài, and all us tourists joined in the events, either as photographers or photo subjects or both!
Stelae at Van Mieu
Students in their graduation gowns
We have graduated!
This student took a photo with me on her iPad too!
Three days after my first experience on the Reunification Express (read here), I decided to give it another go.
This time SE8 from Ninh Binh to Hanoi. Less than three hours, afternoon journey.
Did I book my ticket online this time? Nah. Last minute decision, plus Ninh Binh doesn’t seem enabled for online bookings.
So I turned up at the station 20 minutes before train departure time, only to find out that the ticket office wouldn’t open until 1pm.
Hold on! The train departs at 12:52 but the ticket office opens at 13:00??? How is that going to work?!
“No worry madam” a local man told me “you can buy ticket before train. Sit please”.
Mmmmmm, does he know that the train is very late and all will be fine? No idea, I was not convinced and he wouldn’t explain. I had no choice. Sit and wait.
Not that I managed to do that for more than five minutes! I was completely restless and kept moaning so I decided to start the queue at the ticket window.
I. Am. First. In. Line.
Well, I was. Until some locals decided to arrive from the sides and push to the front. Heeeey! There’s a damn queue here! I live in England, the land of orderly queuing, do not mess around with me! After a few minutes of me moaning at them very loudly (and everyone watching me) they all backed off. Yay!
When the ticket lady finally decided to grace us with her presence at 1:30pm (and still no sign of the train, luckily), I only managed to buy a ticket for a hard seat coach. No soft seats available. Oh well. For 58,000 dong (less than US$2) I can surely sit on a wooden bench in a crowded coach for just over 2.5 hours!
And so I did.
It was crowded (but not as bad as it could have been). Loud. Dirty. Smelly. Very hot. Luggage everywhere. People everywhere. Food everywhere (mainly on the floor). And I was surrounded by a group of very loud ladies who kept shouting on their phones and at each other. Deaf now.
But it was all part of the travelling experience (I am a spoilt Westerner, after all) and I regret nothing of it.
Also I met a superhelpful Vietnamese lady who – in great English – gave me lots of tips and info about Hanoi.