Kandis and Kate’s cooking adventure: We are delivered an envelope to our hotel and find our itinerary. We are to meet our guide at 6.30pm at our hotel where he will then escort us by taxi to one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Hanoi for dinner. Mr Tuan speaks English quite well and he has learnt a few slang pieces which makes conversation a little amusing. He is however taken aback (or offended) when we inform him that I don’t eat seafood and that Kate does not eat red meat. We manage to have only one unliked dish between us and we change the pork to veggies for our set meal. We are served small plates (enough for two) of prawns, beef, chicken, rice and a great vegetable soup for starters. They are all very tasty. I know that we have paid for our tour up front but as we pay no physical money here it feels like we are being taken out to dinner. We don’t spend long at the restaurant and we are dropped back to our hotel to meet again tomorrow. Initiation over; weird but interesting.
We meet early at 7.45am and head to the Old Quarter to meet the man who will take us to the market. He is not a chef but a cook and we are told this is quite a discernable difference. In actual fact he is just the guide and our translator. Even though I have walked through this market before it is good to stop with a local and be shown a few things without being screamed at to what I assume equates to: move on. The turtle is the most eye-opening or disheartening thing for me as he tries his hardest to get out of his cage – I am sure he will be tasty for some local. The guide buys some things for our class and we truck off to restaurant Highway 4 to meet the chef. Chef is a middle aged man who does not speak very good English but we manage to get through our dishes without too much trouble and enjoy the fresh tastes and flavours. We have tapioca coated chicken and cashews, banana flower salad and spring rolls. Yum! Cutting is shown by short demonstration as is cooking’ they are all very easy dishes; simple and flavoursome. We cook each dish then eat itAfter our class we are taken back to the hotel for three hours of free time. We decide to head out to a shopping centre to see what is there… summary of nothing much.
We are taken to the Old Quarter again and given a xiclo (cyclo) tour of town – however there is no instruction or guidance and it is more like a ride. Before we board we are informed that our guide will pay then men after our trip and that we should tip. After speaking with a local ex-pat the other day he had informed me that it is not actually custom to tip in Vietnam and if asked by a guide to tip someone then they are usually getting a cut. So we get off and walk into another water puppet show (this is not a bad thing as I did fall asleep for some of the last one); as we step off we are chased inside by the guide and asked why we didn’t tip, we tell him it wasn’t our custom and he walks away to explain. Besides that we are not given our full hour and if don’t know how much a tour is then how much am I suppose to tip?
You could cut the air with a knife after the show with the guide; I think he is angry not to receive his commission from our non-existent tip. We go to a restaurant and he tells us that he is not eating with us but will wait until he goes home to eat with his family. I note the uncomfortable feeling and offer him to go home as long as he sends back his driver. I am not accustomed to having people watching me eat. Agreeably he accepts ad leaves us to our own devices. So far my opinion of local guides is fading to be non-favourble. Mr Liu, our driver picks us up at our agreed time and he takes us to our hotel.
Breakfast today is at Koto. Kate and I have eaten here on two previous occasions and we know the food is fresh and tasty. Our guide leaves us a message and says he will not be joining us due to being flooded in and it is taking longer than expected to get to us so we enjoy a quiet buffet on our own. I have a freshly made omelete, banana bread and a croissant – all great.
The guide arrives and t is still pouring rain but we head out to So Village anyway. The village is run by the Gian people – reknowned for their vermicelli noodles but our trip is cut short due to the roads being cut so we spend our time taking photos of the flood and the people in it. Cars and bikes are stopped in the middle of roads, people are fishing in the street and wading through to who knows where. It is almost nice to be in the car and sightseeing as it were but I do feel for the unfortunate folk who have to sand bag their houses and shops.
We make our way back to the cooking school and arrange to cook two hours earlier than expected. We are even earlier and have a quick drink and I try a mulberry shot. It is more like a port which was unexpected but I love the glass it is served in and buy some of them too. I don’t have port glasses – well I do now.
My dishes today are ginger rolled beef, fried rice and tofu summer rolls – I think that I will have to try this at home. At the end of the class chef teaches us how to make decorative vegie art and as I try my hand at it think that this is best left to the experts. We are given the recipe cards and a take home gift of cooking utensils (made from coconut of course). I think that our tour was hindered by the weather but I also think that our guide has been doing this far too long and has a no-care factor now. I enjoyed my time cooking – being in the kitchen itself with chef – but the rest of it, well, take it or leave it. I recommend a full day cooking class over a multi day tour anyday.