Quite a lot actually.
I was picked up by Long for a cookery class, only this was much more than a cooking experience.
First stop… the market, to buy ingredients. As we wandered through looking at the ingredients, Long spoke to many of the stallholders and they all seemed very pleased to see him.
He told me about the different products, where they come from and answered a few questions I had about what I had been eating for the last few days. Banana flowers, it turns out have featured a great deal.
I love visiting produce markets when I travel. I live the smells of the fresh fruit, vegetables and spices. Coriander is a favourite.
I like to see unfamiliar herbs and vegetables as well. What I thought was mint was actually basil.
After Long bought four scallops as I had enthusiastically said how much I like them, he pointed out the skinned frogs and, while I will generally try anything… I thought I’d make it clear I really didn’t fancy that.
We drove to Long’s family restaurant through rice paddies where he pointed out that the water buffalo that I could see, surrounded by cranes, were mostly there because tourists expect to see them. Most of the work now is done by machine.
After hearing that the fishing villages I saw in Ha Long Bay were mostly there for tourism, I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear this.
“So, the farmers have a buffalo that just wanders around because tourists expect to see it?” I asked. “Sounds like a nice life for the buffalo – is it then eaten?”
“Yes, though not in Hoi An. The meat is sold elsewhere.”
We arrived at Long’s family restaurant overlooking the Thu Bon river, surrounded by coconut groves. I asked if the fishing boats went to sea or were just here for the benefit of the tourists.
Long laughed and said they were working boats.
I was put into a round bamboo bucket boat with an enthusiastic boatman who took me first across the water to try my luck at net fishing.
With my later failed attempt at crab fishing, it’s fortunate that lunch was not dependent upon my prowess. (Both Eric and Ernie, as I christened them got away, after scarfing half a prawn each).
I may have mentioned that karaoke continues to be as popular in Vietnam as it was in China.
Out in the river was a huge gathering of bucket boats – their passengers having a boogie to various karaoke performers. Gangnam Style featured heavily.
It was this guy who showed everyine what could really be done with a bucket boat. So, you think you’ve got moves?
Spinning the boat at high speed, he danced and twirled the oar around his head.
After all of this excitement, it was time to cook in the restaurant, and Long’s sister-in-law put me through my paces.
Vietnamese food is simple and tasty. For someone as effortlessly clumsy as me, whose hands could never be described as steady, the simplest processes did not end up with neat results.
How difficult it to roll a neat spring roll without spilling half of the contents? In my case… pretty difficult. Just as well appearance does not affect taste.
I made two types: fried, filled with pork, prawn, spring onions, lots of garlic, carrot and coriander; fresh, the same without the pork. Of the two, I preferred the fresh – it’s the smell of the coriander that does it for me.
Next, rice flour pancakes, filled with parsley, prawns and bean sprouts.
These would be placed on rice papers, filled with salad, wrapped and dunked in chilli sauce.
After grating and chopping vegetables, including banana flowers for salad that would be eaten on top of prawn crackers… that’s a new favourite discovery for me, no more just dipping in chilli sauce when I get home… it was time to make this:
Into boiling water went bok chou, shortly followed by the noodles. Once they were parboiled, they were lifted out and the water poured away.
Oil was added and into the pan went the bok chou, noodles, seafood (prawns, calamari and squid) in a stock. Fresh chilli was added – two, rather than one, at my request – and after a couple of minutes, it was ready to be served.
This, with the addition of the scallops, was all for me.
It was delicious. I told Long that I was surprised by the size of Vienamese meals. He told me that people here like a lot of variety in the tastes at each meal.
There is certainly that.
The food was delicious and I had great fun cooking with Long’s sister-in-law. A lengthy walk was required afterwards.
The company I used was Hoi An Eco Tour and Papa’s Cooking Class and I paid around £22 for an entire morning’s experience.