So the gastronomads have arrived, the Vietnamese culinary tour is well under way and the food and people are fabulous. C’est comme une letter à la poste (it’s as predictable as posting a letter) – the people will always be welcoming, happy and warm and the food will always be zingy and complex. As I write this my coffee is delivered to my room – 'I like your hair Madam... you born like that?' No, I’m a complete fake from top to bottom, even my toenails are not the colour God intended them. 'You very funny Madam, have a nice day'. Which brings me to my next compliment – the one I always wait for from the frank Vietnamese. It usually happens in the massage room and sure enough... 'you beautiful when you young Madam'.
I have 15 people on this tour which is a lot so I am exercising complete domination by making my manager Tom be my henchman. When we say 9am we mean 9am. When we say 7pm we go into the bar and drag them out. In Hanoi they close the central city streets to cars on Saturday nights and the ENTIRE population hits the street walking, singing, dancing, doing zumba, eating and generally being happy just to be together with 10,000 of their best friends. Into this madness I plunged the gastronomads as we walked from the fabulous Metropole Hotel to our restaurant in the old quarter. In the subsequent days we learned how to make very fine rice paper, eat the signature Hanoi dish Bun Cha (do-it-yourself mix of broth, handfuls of fresh herbs, rice noodles, grilled pork and meat balls washed down with gallons of cold Hanoi beer), and have a cooking lesson with my friend Madam Mai in her home (think pork marinated in caramel and spices and cooked in banana leaves in bamboo tubes).
A big highlight was our visit to Chula Fashion House where we learned there is no such thing as too much colour, watched the deaf sewers create gorgeous clothes, went through the shop with our credit cards like a swarm of locusts and even tried to be Chula groupies by hand blocking our own scarves.
The third day found us ensconced in the the art deco fabulousness of La Residence Hotel in the Imperial city of Hué in central Vietnam. Everyone went into the massage rooms and refused to come out except to jump on the back of vintage hondas to do a wild night tour of all the best street and family restaurant food in Hué. Yes we drank a lot of beer. It’s hot OK? Our least favourite thing was frogs legs and our most favourite Banh Xeo or happy crepes – an addictive crunchy crepe made from rice flour, eggs and turmeric, stuffed with vegetables, pork and shrimps and fried.
For my money, the best food in Hué is to be enjoyed at the Zen House, a Buddhist retreat in the countryside. We ate very refined vegetarian food, meditated and decided to change our lives, orchestrate world peace and be at one with the universe.