Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tom Cruise Wished Us Safe Travels

You didn't think I'd put Tom Cruise at the very top, did you?

Six days later, and I am almost caught up on rest from the southeast Asia trip.  At least, that is the only non-I-must-be-dying-from-some-exotic-disease excuse I can think of for falling asleep before 8:30pm for several days in a row recently.  (I feel better now, Mom!  Don't worry!)

I've told you of some of the joys of Laos and tastiness of Vietnam.  Now it is time for the Best of the Rest of our trip.

Hoi An = Tailors

We spent our last week in Hoi An, in southern Vietnam.

How can you fill a week in a small town, you ask?  Spend a lot of it at the tailor shop.  Let's just say my closet is much more stylish now than when I arrived.

Looking as sharp in my new trench coat as I can while jetlagged in Tokyo.

Motorbikes and Ellen Don't Mix

Care-free times before getting on the road and wondering things like "What does this button do?"

OK, OK - we also went to the beach on a couple of the days.  There are some lovely sandy strips a short bike ride from town.  It was hot enough and traffic light enough, that one day we decided to rent a motorbike from the hotel instead.

Now, this is Vietnam.  The hotel doesn't ask things like, "Do you know how to ride one of these?"  They just hand you the key.

That worked fine when Kristin drove us to the beach.

I drove on the way back.  And by drove, I mean that I crashed the bike (and me and my sister) into a soft fence in the first three feet of being at the wheel.  My bruises are still healing, and the ladies attending the parking area probably looked for our bodies on their way home that night.

The beach, however, was lovely.


Tea- and Pastry-Filled Days

Nothing to say that photos won't do justice to for the rest of our time in Hoi An.

Nom nom nom...
Tea time!

 

 Hanoi Isn't That Bad

I was not a fan of Hanoi, in the north, when we first arrived in Vietnam.  But we spent a day there on our way out of the country, and now I kinda like it.  Maybe by then I was more accustomed to the chaos and noise, but it seems ... cool in a way.  Even if it does have some odd installations at the Ho Chi Minh museum.

Why, that is an abstract volcano representing the rise of the Communist party in Vietnam!  How did you know?


I Love Japan
 Japan Loves Tom Cruise
and Maybe Tom Cruise Loves Me?

Now, about Tom Cruise.  Kristin and I had a long layover in Tokyo on our way back to North America.  We had a simple plan to take the train into town for a few hours ...

Er.  Simple...

And get some bubble tea from one of the very few shops in Tokyo that has it ...

Only took an hour and four people's help to find!

And then Kristin noticed there was a crowd gathering by the bubble tea stand.  We waited around, trying to look like harmless drink-consumers, and chatted with a Japanese man who told us Mr. Cruise himself would be making an appearance.  Forty-five minutes later...

Hi Tom!

And somewhere around Tom Cruise or Mt. Fuji or the Meiji shrine or Shibuya crossing ... we both declared our love for Tokyo.

Mt. Fuji from an observation deck in Toyko.
One of the gates for the Meiji shrine.

Shopping around Shibuya Crossing.
Enjoying rice balls on the train back to the airport.

I want to go back.  And that's the way you want to end a trip, eh? 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Baby Mustard - Best Meal of the Trip

I am not exactly a foodie, but I had heard so much about the deliciousness in Vietnam that I made local cuisine a priority on this trip. Fresh herbs and lime and chili, grilled meats, loads of veggies, great broths and sauces, noodles and rice paper everywhere - what's not to love? Well, my friends, I may have to stop eating Vietnamese food because two days ago, Kristin and I had a dining experience that I may never beat.

Nguyet: chef, restaurateur, host extraordinaire.

Note: All photos in this post are courtesy of Kristin, the class photographer.

Kristin and I signed up for a cooking class with the new restaurant Baby Mustard, which lies next to fields of herbs outside Hoi An. Nguyet (pronounced similar to Wet), the young owner and chef, met us at our hotel and took us first to the market to buy the meat and vegetables for our dinner. She taught me how to pick out good seafood, chicken, and pork, and told us all about the market and life in Hoi An.

That squid tasted excellent later on.

Before we left the market, Nguyet invited us to try a version of sweet and sour soup from one of the stalls. It was dark in there, and late afternoon, so fears of food poisoning almost held me back. But we went ahead and tried it, and I am so glad I did. The "soup" was an on-the-spot mix of several beans, corn, coconut milk, and some gelatinous, sweet syrup. It was quite tasty. I am craving it now.

Yummyness on the way.

From the market, we took a taxi to Nguyet's restaurant on the outskirts of Hoi An. Baby Mustard overlooks a massive herb garden that 300 families, including Nguyet's, maintain. Her family has worked in the garden for over 80 years.

We got to "work" on a tour of the garden, with Nguyet showing us all the different plants and how to care for them. Along the way she had us harvest some of the herbs for dinner. Now that is local eats!

The farmers fill these watering cans 100 times each morning to water their plots.

Learning how to replant spring onion.

Finally it was time to cook dinner. Nguyet guided us through each step, and it is a testament to her skills that the food, though prepared by our hands, was superior to any other meal we have had on the trip.

Making the first dish. Nguyet's grandma, far right, is grilling the squid we marinated.

First up: GỎI MỰC HẠT ĐIỀU. From work stations overlooking the garden, we made a julienned salad of grilled calamari, cucumber, green papaya, red pepper, onion, toasted cashews, mint and other herbs, and a lemon-based dressing.

Simply amazing.

Before the second course, Nguyet's mother gave us a traditional drink from the village. Sweet, iced ginger and lemon tea with lemon basil seeds.

Amazing again!

Second, BÁNH XÈO. These are a Hoi An specialty. Rice pancake with pork and shrimp, then add bean sprouts and greens, and roll in rice paper. Dip in fish sauce. Be happy.

All rolls will be measured against these ones at Baby Mustard.

Finally, GÀ XÀO SẢ ỚT. Chicken pan-fried with lemongrass and chili, with rice on the side.

Simple, tasty, wonderful.

After dinner, we had fresh fruit for dessert and Nguyet shared more about her life and plans for the restaurant. She hopes to open a cooking school one day. If the first few months of Baby Mustard are any indication, she will be a resounding success.

I, on the other hand, will probably not be a master chef. Despite my likeness to Ratatouille.

 

 

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