I’ve had the most wonderful day today chatting to the ladies in Hoi An market and learning about their way of life.
It all started with a trip to Banh Mi Phuong. I’m a big fan of the delicious food cooked by Van and Anh of Banh Mi 11 in London, so before we left I tweeted them to ask for some recommendations of where to eat in Vietnam and this was one of the places that they suggested, just on the edge of the market.
Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich. The basic ingredients are a crisp light baguette, lots of picked vegetables such as carrots and radish, a mayonnaise type spread, pâté, salad and a filling of your choice. Done right, as this one was, it’s the sort of sandwich that makes an awful lot of mess and has you licking your lips afterwards.
Today I went for pork and a smear of chilli sauce. It was absolutely delicious, really morish. I was tempted to order a second one when I’d finished but I didn’t want to look greedy. The textures were fantastic with the crunchy vegetables, crisp crust of the baguette, soft dough and succulent pork. The flavour was light and fresh, both sweet and spicy, with the meatiness of the pork coming through.
Street food in Vietnam is eaten on small plastic stools around a low table. There were two Vietnamese ladies sitting there when we arrived and we soon got chatting about where we were from and how good the food was and soon the owner of the stall pulled up a stool to join us.
We had a lot of fun, learning all about their lives and at the same time they were asking us questions. They were particularly surprised that we had been married for two years and didn’t have any children. Apparently in Vietnam it is obligatory to be pregnant within six months of being married. They were so concerned that they suggested that we should get to work immediately. When I signalled to my husband that we had to leave straight away they were in absolute stitches laughing.
We got carried away chatting for at least an hour. Every now and then, they would speak amongst themselves in Vietnamese, often one of them explaining to the others why they hadn’t understood our English properly. Other times they would all burst out in giggles at something we had said, such as when I asked whether the owner was rich and her two friends said that she was because she doesn’t buy anything, she just keeps all her riches under the bed! The other two said they didn’t have enough money to put under the bed, one of them had a shoe stall in the market and the other did manicures, threading and massage for passing tourists.
We had such a great time chatting that after I settled up (£1.80 for two banh mi and two cokes) I was persuaded to go and have a manicure, which turned into a manicure and an attack of the eyebrows! This left time for more chatting and I found out all about her children (three of them, all wonderful), her husband (very grumpy, never thinks he is wrong), the education system in Vietnam and the fees (£50 a year for secondary school), what she cooks at home (RICE!) and the fact that she wouldn’t dream of eating dog or snake.
After all of this we said our goodbyes and had a wander round the market until we found we were peckish again (or perhaps just greedy). We sought out another of Van and Anh’s recomendations, Cao Lau Ba Be. I mentioned this name in the tailors and they were highly amused that I pronounced be as we would in English and not beh as it ought to be pronounced in Vietnamese. Ba-beh, it reminded me of the way a Northern teenager might pronounce the word baby.
We found Cao Lau Ba Be inside the market. There were around eight ladies, each stationed at the end of a small row of tables, all serving something different, all trying to persuade you to try their stall.
Cao lau is a speciality of Hoi An. It consists of thick yellow rice and flour noodles, lean slices of pork, pork scratchings, herbs, bean sprouts, spring onion and a soy/lime sauce. You mix it all together and eat away. This one was served with some picked shallots and chilli in a sugar and vinegar sauce which was especially nice.
I absolutely loved Hoi An and would recommend it to anyone who was going to Vietnam. If I had to describe it in one work I would say ‘charming’. If I were allowed a few more I would add ‘peaceful’, ‘friendly’ and ‘beautiful’.
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