There is such joy to be a tourist in the in which you live and love. And when it is a beautiful, ancient city and bursting with colour and character, that makes it even more joyful.
We started our food tour ( my first, ever!) on one of the many by lanes in the old quarter. The afternoon was overcast and drizzly making it perfect weather to eat, walk and chat and, almost literally, soak it all in, for the next three hours. We started in a small street stall, which served freshly made double fried crab spring rolls. You need to know your fresh roll from your fried roll here in the Noi. There is almost every kind and variety you can imagine in this city and I have loved spring rolls from the day I arrived. I am partial to the fresh rolls, but it is very hard to say not to a freshly friend nem. The lady who owned the stall sat on a small green plastic stool in from of her glass box cum table top cum storage unit and expertly rolled the crab, pork, fresh herbs, finely cut spring onion and cucumber into neat rolls. The huge frying pan of boiling hot oil bubbled away to her left, hungrily awaiting whatever was to come its way. Just as quickly as she rolled the last one on her plate, she began dousing them in the oil, draining soaking and re frying for that extra crunch. We were served the rolls with fresh rice noodles, a bowl full of fresh herbs and of course, the all important dipping sauce.
Did we know how to use chopsticks? Yes? Good. How about a cold beer? Yes? Good choice.
The first dish of the afternoon set the tone for what was to come. It was scrumptious. A explosion of flavour and texture with beautifully crunchy fried rolls, an undeniable taste of crab, fresh herbs and the tang of the fish sauce and caramelized sugar syrup… We were instructed to go easy on the noodles as we had many dishes yet to sample. The cold beer washed it all down perfectly and before you knew it we were on our way again.
When walking my way down back alleys and by lanes, I am more than happy for someone else to take the lead. I have known to be geographically challenged and so I followed our tour guide blithely, sipping my beer, chatting and laughing and just loving that I could be out on Saturday afternoon as a tourist.
One thing that always strikes me about this city is how clean it is, so as we turned right and left and came to the stall at the head of the wet market, I was not surprised to see neat shops, small garbage pails and a noticible lack of trash. Our next snack was freshly fried cakes made with mandarin peel and dill… they were served wrapped in brown paper. I bit into a piping hot cake, soft in texture and again, an explosion of flavour. The delicate taste of the mandarin married with the dill made for a beautiful melody.
You don’t have to eat all of it. You can throw it as soon as we are away from the shop. This family has been here for many years. Everything made here is their family recipe. Why don’t you try the small mung balls? They are very delicious and slightly sweet.
Our wonderfully, characteristic guide was generous with his tales, knowledge and love of his city. We spent the afternoon laughing, eating and delighting in the beauty and wonder of the city. This was a food tour, with a difference.
The next stop was the Duong Dong wet market.