Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Central Vietnam: Part II

Hoi An by the Sea
What's in a Name? To the locals, everything! A view from above the South Vietnam (China) Sea.

This enchanted little town stole our hearts. A thriving port city from the 15th-19th centuries, Hoi An is comfortably nestled on the south central coast of what Google Maps calls the South China Sea, but to set the record straight, we were informed by locals it is technically the South Vietnam Sea (since it is in fact southern Vietnam, not southern China). More about the Vietnamese/Chinese relationship to come. Hoi An Ancient Town is recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and its charm has been perfectly preserved. The cobblestone streets, colorful lanterns, busy fishing boats, ancient pagodas, temples and churches, and even the nose-scrunching smells share in the amazing and unique tapestry of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Champa, French, and Vietnamese culture that is Hoi An.

The Japanese Covered Bridge connects the Chinese and Japanese areas of town. Twas constructed once upon a time in 1593, the year of the dog. 

After two weeks of hustling from place to place, Hoi An's easy-going nature is a much-welcomed treat. The 21st-century traffic and pollution that plagues most other cities has thankfully skipped Hoi An. We loved strolling around the old city and people watching.

Will Work for Food
Water Wheel is a happy little herb farm that is family-operated and part of a thriving 150-hectare farming commune that has been feeding Hoi An for hundreds of years. Water Wheel's specialty is growing lemon basil. The smell and taste are unforgettable. We spent an evening at the farm with Lilly and Hien and tried our luck with the land. Our lack of Vietnamese was no hinderance thanks to our excellent charade skills. We laughed so hard we cried! Here are our 5 easy steps to a real happy meal :)

1.) Fertilize the soil with river sea weed. Smelly!
2.) Add a little water here and little water there.
3.) Harvest and prepare. This is Peter making rice paper the good ol' fashion way.
4.) Aprons on, let's get cookin'.
5.) Kiss the chef and enjoy!

We cooked up some tam huu (three-friends spring rolls), banh xeo (a Hoi An specialty pancake), sticky rice, veggie soup, fresh mackerel in a banana leaf, and an array of dipping sauces. Ngon! That means delicious in Vietnamese.

Tam Tam and Cargo Cuisine
Daily life revolves around food in SE Asia and it's no exception in Hoi An, where a meal is nothing short of a religious experience. Food is locally grown, carefully prepared, and always served with a flair. Vu, a local chef we met at Tam Tam, passionately described Vietnamese cuisine and explained the fragile balance of yin and yang in everything -- including food. He said a meal is not a meal if it does not have yin AND yang: sweet & salty, spicy & bland, hot & cold, crunchy & smooth. To that we say, Amen!

Relaxation Station

We spent four nights here and it was the best home away from home. EVER. This was truly paradise!

We Will See You Later
There was definitely a lot to do and see in this little town by the sea. We only scratched the surface and already dream of going back. One of the things we looked forward to the most prior to visiting was the world famous tailors of Hoi An, and boy did the fun exceed every expectation! This is us collecting our back-to-school-shopping loot from our friends Dong and Chen on a ghetto-fabulous motorbike we borrowed from our new friend Mr. Thuong. By the end of our 5-day stay we felt so connected to this quaint community. Shortly after speeding off on our motorbike, we bumped into Chef Vu (remember him from above?) at a stop light down the street. Friends everywhere. He wished us well and off we went!