In my previous two posts recounting my experiences of travelling through Vietnam I told of my travelling and gastronomic explorations of Hanoi and Hue. You may have picked up from those posts that we hadn’t exactly been very lucky with the weather thusfar on our trip. So you can imagine our incredulity as we made our way towards our next destination – Hoi An – and saw a bright yellow ball in the sky; the sun had not forsaken us after all! Huzzah! This was a wonderfully positive portent for our time in Hoi An, which very quickly stole our hearts.
Hoi An is a much quieter and quainter town than the other places that we had visited in our trip. The streets, whilst still busy, lack the incessant drone of scooters that we had experienced elsewhere. The town has the feeling of the French Riviera to it and has many beautiful shops, cafés and restaurants to while away your time in – which we took full advantage of.
During the evening the locals light many lanterns which adorn the shops and restaurants and create a beautiful and unique atmosphere.
Hoi An is famous for being a centre of excellence for tailoring and we thought that we should take advantage of this and get some clothes made. We went for an exploratory visit to a shop that I had been recommended by several friends, Yaly Couture, and soon found ourselves being measured up and orders being taken. I ended up commissioning two three-piece suits, six shirts, a belt and a pair of shoes – all excellent quality and all for considerably less than I would have paid for just one tailored suit in London.
Over the space of two days we had three separate fittings to make sure that everything fitted exactly and then they posted it back to the UK for us so that we didn’t have to carry our purchases around with us. The service was exceptional (our particular sales assistants, Barbara and Denise, were phenomenal) and the quality of the goods is brilliant. We are thinking of returning to Hoi An specifically to get more clothes made!
We had been keen to do a cooking course ever since we’d arrived in Vietnam and we found the perfect place; we went to one of the premier restaurants in Hoi An – Green Mango – and cooked a five course tasting extravaganza (even if I do say so myself!).
We were guided by our chef, Pineapple (really!) who started our experience by taking us to a local market where we saw how the people of Hoi An purchased their food in this riverside market. The produce was incredibly fresh and the colours and smells as you walked around the market were exceedingly vivid.
After we’d bought a few bits and pieces we were ready to get started. We cooked our way through a number of dishes on their “Balancing Act” menu. What was very impressive is that this wasn’t run-of-the-mill Vietnamese food, the dishes that we cooked were elegant and refined. All the way through Pineapple guided us, rather than just cooking in front us, and she gave us many interesting cooking tips and techniques that I certainly found interesting. The dishes that we cooked were:
Green Mango Squid Salad: a Vietnamese Green Mango salad marinated in a zesty ginger and tamarind sauce. What was especially interesting about this course is that Pineapple showed us a really neat way to cook squid without letting it get to that rubbery texture that you so often get. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was the best squid that I have ever tried, so soft and succulent.
Chicken Coconut Soup: shredded chicken in a spicy lemongrass and coconut sour broth. I particularly liked the fact that for this dish we poached the chicken, a technique that I don’t use enough. This gave it a really moist texture and allowed it to take on the flavours that we created with the poaching liquor. Absolutely delicious!
Green Tea Smoked Duck Spring Rolls. This was probably the most memorable of the dishes for me as I learnt how to smoke the duck and I was blown away by how this technique imparted so much of a strong and delicious flavour on to the duck. This is certainly one that I will be trying again.
Turmeric Leaf Pan Roasted Seabass: served on a bed of long-bean and coconut and with a balsamic vinaigrette. I got a little artistic and cheffy with the dressing of the plate, I like to think that this was a design inspired by Jackson Pollock…
Mango Sticky Rice. This wasn’t originally meant to be on our menu, but my wife insisted that we add it on. She is a huge fan of mango sticky rice and did not want to leave Vietnam without learning the secrets to this dish!
After we had finished cooking up this extravaganza we sat down very pleased with our selves and started to tuck into all the delicious food. It tasted all the better knowing that we had cooked it! The restaurant have emailed us with a menu and recipes for each of the dishes so that we can (attempt to) recreate them in the UK.
Banh Mi Phuong
If you’re familiar with Vietnamese street food and you’ve been following these posts you’d probably be thinking “I can’t believe Tim hasn’t mentioned Banh Mi yet…” Well, fear not, I’m going to do so now! Banh Mi are one of the most famous types of street food in Vietnamese cuisine and are essentially Vietnamese baguettes. I had been assured by Christina from The Manor when I was sat at her pastry pass (see previous post), that the best place to get Banh Mi was at a small little shop called Banh Mi Phuong. As a dutiful gastronomic explorer I sought out this shop and was not surprised to find out that we weren’t the only ones who’d heard of this mecca for Banh Mi lovers.
The shop itself is a hustling and bustling place, packed full of locals and tourists alike (although mainly tourists…) We ordered a mixed meat Banh Mi, which arrived after a short wait. The picture doesn’t really do this dish any favours but it was truly delicious. The meat was like a kebab meat kind of style and it was packed full of other ingredients like salad and egg. It had a fair spice kick to it which augmented the flavours well. It puts the “sandwiches” from Subway well in their place!
After our previous travails, I think Hoi An was the first time that we started to feel really positive about our trip. In fact we wished that he had booked ourselves a little more time to explore this charming little town. We will certainly be heading back to Hoi An – not least to get some more clothes made.
The last stop on our trip was to an island in the south called Phu Quoc. This was mainly about allowing ourselves some well deserved R&R and was mainly spent as below…