Ahhh... The French influence.
On my sunset boat ride.
November 24, 2006
I came to this city with a few things on my agenda…
I knew the very first thing I was going to do here: find somebody to issue me a plane ticket to Saigon. This was a priority as I had learned
that it would be either a 24-hour bus ride or an 18-hour train ride. My ever-so-friendly and helpful hotel told me it would be $58. This took
absolutely no thinking at all (especially since this was only $20 more than the train ticket).
Time to check off the first thing on my list.
The second stop was a café to sign up for the Red Bridge Cooking School that I had read about. I paid my $15 and now all I have to do is
report to duty at 8:30 tomorrow morning.
Time to check off the second thing on my list.
My third stop was a bit more impromptu. It was almost 1:00pm and I was getting a bit hungry. My American bus peeps from my Halong
Bay bus ride had raved about a café near the water where they ate. They had given me the name and directions and I had managed to
retain the information. I decided I would give it a shot. I found it. When I walked up, I saw a sign with those two little words that I love so
much: Cooking Class. I asked when it was offered. The man (whose name turned out to be ‘Bup’) told me 1:00pm. It was now 12:57pm. Sold.
There were two other girls, Ingrid and Irina, who had signed up as well after eating a delish meal at the restaurant yesterday. While
preparing our little fishy to get seasoned before getting wrapped in a banana leaf, Bup decided that the rum was not just going to be used for
the recipe – it was also going to be used to take shots. No protesters.
Ingrid and Irene were both from the Netherlands and they were great to spend the time with. They told me a funny story that they learned
how to say one thing in Vietnamese that they could remember. It was something along the lines of “Hi, I am a Dutch lady…” One of them
had messed up on the fluctuation on the accent of one of the words and had actually said “Hi, I am a Dutch chicken…” Gotta love learning
foreign languages, huh?
It also turned out that Ingrid lived in San Francisco for six months. She’s a lawyer in the Netherlands and did a semester at UC Hastings.
She asked me if I had ever eaten in any of the divey Vietnamese restaurants out there. Sadly, I haven’t. I have driven by them more times
than I can count as I used to have to drive through ‘Little Saigon’ on my way from the freeway to my apartment. But since it was basically in
the ‘Loin I was never rushing to park my car or walk in that area. Ingrid made me aware of the great food that exists there. Kind of funny
that this Dutch girl knew more about certain places to eat in a city that I am from than I knew!
By the end of our course, we learned how to make the fish (with lemongrass, garlic, etc.), steamed and fried veggie spring rolls and my
beloved papaya and shrimp salad. And all of this for $6! How can a person not love Vietnam?
November 25, 2006
The things I do for cooking classes…such as set my alarm for 7:00am.
I got to the Hai Scout Café at 8:15am where we sat and had drinks before heading off to our market visit. We mostly learned about the
fruits, fish and herbs of the area. We also watched the Vietnamese women who were working in the market making their lips and teeth red
by chewing on their betelnuts. We learned that these people get a high off the betelnuts. Ahhh, no wonder why the people I have seen
along the way with the red/black teeth always have huge smiles on their faces.
We continued to walk around the market. Luckily the aisle of butchered meats wasn’t too long and our guide did not feel a need to stop to
talk about them. Ahhh. She was showing us the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of what to stock in a pantry. A ‘do’? A package of dried rice paper. A ‘don’
t’? A package of MSG (which stated on the bag that it was 99% pure – I got a kick out of that). I had never seen MSG – it turns out that it
looks just like salt in a bag. It is apparently used in a lot of Vietnamese cooking. Luckily I have been going to pretty quality places where no
MSG will be found on the premises.
We took a boat ride on the Hoi An River to get to the school. This was where we would spend the next four or so hours mastering a few
Vietnamese dishes. Well, ‘mastering’ isn’t really quite the right word. For me, it was more like ‘preparing food to look edible’ as my dishes
looked nowhere near as pretty as other people’s dishes. The good news is that everything tasted good. The bad news is that I still need a lot
of work before I can make these things for people and have them be impressed and say “Wow, you made that?!”
Once I was done with the cooking class, I had errands to run.
Errand #1: Go to my first fitting at the tailor shop.
Errand #2: Buy some new books. Well, they were actually new copied books. (For those who don’t know, out here in the developing world
books are actually reprinted and sold for really cheap.)
The next thing I wanted to do wasn’t an errand. I just knew I wanted to go out to the beach. I got a motorbike driver to take me. His name
was ‘Will’ and he was great. The ride out there was wonderful. He even stopped along the way to show me several picturesque scenes: boats
going down the river, workers in the fields, workers walking with their water buffaloes near the river. And of course I had to have Will stop
at another place that I thought was a picturesque moment: in front of a restaurant with a ‘My Dong’ sign (as that was the name of the
restaurant). I am just proof that people can get more immature as they get older…
Will waited around for me while I was at the beach and then he took me back into town. The sun was about to set so I headed out to the
river. A lady in her traditional boat was trying to get me to take a boat ride. I ended up thinking it would be a nice way to watch the sunset
and a fun little thing to do on my last night out here. It was $1 for a thirty minute ride. She was very smiley as her teeth were very dark –
ahhh, another happy woman high off of her betelnuts.
After picking up my clothes at the tailor shop, I needed to make a purchase of a new suitcase. Now that I had a brand new bag, I could also
go and buy the lacquerware that I had been in love with since I was in Hanoi. Sadly, I could not buy the amount I would have liked. But I got
a few great things to use for entertaining.
Hoi An was simply wonderful. I adored it for the tailors. I adored it for the shopping. I adored it for the restaurants. I adored it for the
beach. I adored it for the picturesque river area. I adored it for the ‘white roses’ (a Vietnamese dish only found in Hoi An). I adored it for the
cooking classes. I adored it for how cheap everything was. I adored it for the wonderful art galleries. All in all, I just adored it!
I will definitely be back.
Now I am sitting at a café and it breaks my heart that I have to leave tomorrow morning. It really does…