|A Paper Dragon in Hoi An|
Ok Ok. This was one of the best days yet. The waves are roaring high out my windowed terrace in the villa at The Nam Hai resort. The Chinese sea stretches to the horizon with fishing boats cantering up and down trying to haul in the catch. Palm trees loaded with coconuts are not disturbed by a needed breeze. Chewing on dried sugared mango and ginger pieces, a welcome treat, I’m jiving with a little luxury because I needed a break from being wet all day long and climbing rocks.
Scheduled on the to do list today was an early morning walk through the food market with a disciple of Mrs. V, who owns five restaurants in Hoi An and a cooking school that puts Martha Stewart to shame. Cooking schools are a “thing” here in Hoi An. About every restaurant offers a version of. But Mrs. V is the superstar and her’s are exclusive.
|Crabs upon crabs|
Just standing in the heat under my Vietnamese hat made me felt I had played 12 sets of tennis. That’s how hot it was at 8:45 a.m. Enthusiasm was not on my good side as we headed for the market. But the young assistant who went with us to teach us about Vietnamese foods was friendly, although the ingredients for our cooking class had already been purchased for the class and were waiting at the school.
|All kinds of rice noodles|
We learned about Chinese coriander, morning glory, various types of basil (including anise basel), Vietnamese peppermint (stronger than regular mint), lemon grass, Vietnamese watercress (no similarity to ours, smells like fish). And we did a tour of fruit - crazy stuff - one that smells like chocolate when cut called Vietnamese sambuchi; shocking pink and green Pitaya or sweet dragon fruit; and lots of strange looking things dubbed tropical; limes the size of Florida oranges; banana flower, and of course the huge pomelo which looks like a green oversized grapefruit, but it is much different once you can get inside. Then we had to squeeze through the fish market - crabs tied into shape, squid slithering if you picked it up, something in masses like fresh anchovies, snappers, great big tunas,. Snails. And we avoided the gross meat section (there is a penchant for eating “dog” here, although our guide said women don’t eat it, it’s a man’s thing.)
|Women are the marketers|
|Pomelo Salad by me|
Ok. I was ready to get out of there, after we smelt the spices. And took a long walk in the morning sun alongside the river (traffic didn’t get to bust through until 11 a.m. today) that about sucked up every hope I had of being pleasant. We crossed a bridge decorated with colored metal lights and dragon themes, and there the oasis of Mrs. V’s Magnolia Cooking School greeted us. We climbed up to the third floor for a private class with Chef Lulu. She had worked for Mrs. V for 14 years and was only 30.
We had been able to request the recipes we wanted to learn - primarily pomelo salad and green papaya salad - but also we were going to learn to make spring rolls (again), and the delicious crisp Vietnamese pancake that is also rolled up; and barbecue fish on a stick. What I wanted to learn most was how to get deep into the pomelo wedges without making a disaster. Grab the machete, a watered down version. The whole thing is a real challenge, cutting, pealing, and then digging your thumbs in to open the rind and then to get the pulp out of the white stuff. But, lo and behold, I was able to do it. Happy person am I.
|Lulu the teacher chef|
We learned about sauces and about the secrets of a cook. For instance, if your fingers burn from touching something too hot or messing with hot peppers, grab your earlobes with them and the hot goes away. It works. Also if cutting garlic, onions or peppers make you weepy, put your fingers in your hair and that will calm it. I’m serious. Lulu also told us if you don't have the many herbs required for the recipes you don't cook the food. It's just the way it is. And it's true that the special herbs grown in Vietnam lead taste buds into new havens.
|Massage oils - your choice|
The spring roll was easy, this time with rice noodles, shrimp, assorted herbs, grated carrot and jicama, all sitting on a rice noodle circle. Roll up and you got a spring roll. The pancake is made from a special powder (rice powder, and others) and coconut cream (no eggs) fried hot in oil in a tiny tiny fry pan that has a clay top. Lay 3 shrimp in it, and maybe add a bit more oil once it starts crisping, then put bean sprouts on top, cook more, and slide out onto a plate with a rice noodle circle on it (that helps not to burn fingers as you roll it up.) Then other herbs are added and the crispy pancake is rolled up with effort. All this was just a fantastic experience and we learned to make the sauces that make the salads sparkle with flavor. And how to use a special grater knife (not found in USA), to shred green papaya or mango, or even carrots into julienne pieces. Of course, out of courtesy, we had to eat all we had cooked. That was a task. But the experience with Lulu was unforgettable and the results admirable.
|4 Pools to the sea at Nam Hai|
Deciding to take advantage of the resort, the ocean, the pools and the spa offerings, we returned to the Nam Hai Resort absolutely stuffed and feeling extra heavy from the heat. I got brave, walked a kilometer in spots of shade and went for the 150 minute Nam Hai Oriental Ritual which included aromatherapy foot polish, the Nam Hai Jade Massage, organic Naturelle D’orient facial, Thai-style foot reflexology, Himalayan Crystal Body polish and Oriental bathing ceremony (in scented bath oil and water where frangipani leaves float. These body therapies were all done by two girls working on you simultaneously in a private little villa (they have ten of them) completely devoted to privacy but wide open to the pools and gardens in which they sit. Well, it’s a life. And having completed it, I’m ready to ride again. Tomorrow, Hanoi.