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You thought our Hoi An food crawl was over, didn’t you? Well clearly you’ve underestimated the power of our appetites.
Actually, Scott said he was full from the gigantic bahn mi and bowl of Cao Lau but I convinced him to soldier on (in the name of research, of course). I was so happy with my powers of persuasion that I neglected to realize one thing: making food decisions when you’re already in a food coma is generally not a good idea.
But two stops does not a food crawl make, so we headed toward the Hoi An food market, wandering under a mosaic of overlapping green and blue tarps while looking for something enticing. Word on the street was that the food there was good, and we eventually saddled up to a stand and ordered two specials:
A crispy stuffed pancake called bahn xeo was the Vietnamese equivalent of the taquito: greasy with a little bit of a crunch, and not as flavorful as you’d think.
Next up is the noodle dish bahn cuo, for which I had high hopes. Thinly shredded herbs and carrots make the long, flat noodles look like they’re filled with confetti, and they fall prettily as they’re hand-cut with a pair of shiny scissors.
But they’re served cool—and I’m never been one for anything that tastes like leftovers the first time around. I forced a few slimy noodles down before giving in. Luckily, at $1.50 for the whole shebang, I don’t feel so bad about leaving food on the plate.
Plus, I didn’t have time to feel bad. I had a $1 manicure to attend to. Oh Hoi An, you make life so hard.
8 years of finding increasingly goofy ways to make each other laugh; 4 years of doing it with rings on our fingers. Happy anniversary Scott! I hope our kitchen dances get only crazier, our car singing gets only louder and our nicknames get even more embarrassing (if that’s even possible).
You rock my world. xo
If there is one rule that governs travel food, it is this: the worse the seating, the better the eating. To get the true essence of a country’s cuisine, one must eat on as many plastic stools, lawn chairs, and street curbs as possible. So when we saw dozens of locals sitting down at the plastic kiddie tables at this Cao Lau stand, we knew we wanted to eat there.
Cao Lau is special soup with a lot of stuff in it. Technically it’s special because it can only be made using water from one well; but what really makes it special is all the stuff that goes on top. The earthy-rich broth is laden with thick noodles, salty pork loin, crunchy rice crackers and fresh greens. Holy texture combination heaven.
The owner agrees: the stuff makes it special. We can’t communicate through words but she won’t let us touch our chopsticks until we add condiments that she presents to us like Christmas gifts. She nods as we load the bowl with chopped pickled peppers, dried peppers, fresh peppers and pickled onions. I’ve never been so glad to like peppers.
But even if I didn’t like peppers—even if I thought they were terrible—I’d add them for her. Because she hauled that soup water out of a specific well on the outskirts of town just to make her famous Cao Lau, and she’s not about to let someone eat her masterpiece wrong.
A masterpiece it is. $1.25.
It was less than two days into our Hoi An stay when Scott and I started getting soft. I’m not sure if it was the tropical air or the king-like service at the Ha An Hotel, but we were spending far too much of our time lying in hammocks drinking tequila-laced mango juices. If we were ever going to make it to Saigon, we had to earn our traveler street cred back, and there was only one way to do it: the Hoi An Food Crawl.
We devised a plan, readied our stomachs, and set out on a pair of rusted beach cruisers. The first stop? A cluttered sandwich stand that we had spied locals crowded around the evening before.
$3.25 for two bahn mi with the works, plus a coke and a water to wash it all down. It set the bar high.
Layers of pork, cilantro, peppers, cucumber and tomato are stuffed inside crusty French bread doused with just enough earthy au jus to make your jaw happy But the hearty portions came at a heavy price: it was our first stop and our stomachs were starting to feel full. More seasoned travelers would’ve known to save their stomachs by splitting just one sandwich amongst themselves.
Next up: Cao Lao.
I just realized I never told you about the traffic in Saigon…or the jackfruits in the Mekong Delta…or the sea urchins in Phu Quoc!
So, while I promise I won’t make it long (or turn this into a travel blog), over the next few weeks I do want to share some snippets from the rest of my trip, in case you’d like to see 🙂 First up, our food crawl in Hoi An…
Scott and I learned an important lesson at our anniversary dinner this weekend: “gorgonzola picante” is actually fancy restaurant talk for toe cheese.
This particular toe cheese was aged for 200 days, and when it arrived at our table each and every hour of that fermentation process hit my olfactory nerve and gave a hardy hello.
My anniversary gift to Scott was pretending not to gag as I forced a piece of it down.
When you look up the word “weenie” in the dictionary, you’ll find a smiling photo of me, hands up, with a “What can I say, you got me!” expression on my face. I have no problem jumping out of a plane or riding a motorbike in Vietnam, but sleeping alone in my own home gives me butterflies. Walking alone in the dark to my car parked just outside my house? Who do you think I am, Catwoman??
So you can only imagine the Depends I should’ve been wearing when I walked out of my house at dawn yesterday, dressed in my running clothes and bathing in my self-satisfied morning-person glory, to look across the street and see a hooded figure meandering in the exact direction of my jog. At 6:15 in the morning. In 70 degree weather. Without a dog or any other sane reason for being outside at that hour.
Our eyes met from across the street—or at least I think they did, considering the huge dark hood blocking his face—and I can only imagine that my expression resembled that of a squirrel caught with a nut. “Oh hey! I wasn’t doing anything here! I’m clearly sleepwalking (err, jogging?) and didn’t mean to disturb you violating my neighborhood with your terrifying early-morning hooded sulk! Please, continue on your way to frighten other neighbors!”
I crept back inside as nonchalantly as one can in that situation, then did what anyone would do: watched him ramble down the street until a safe distance away, then ran to my car holding my keys like a weapon, locked my doors immediately and held my breath until I got to the gym.
An hour later, I come back from the gym having nearly forgotten about the whole thing, until I see him. Standing in front of my neighbor’s house. Trying to look nonchalant while admiring her rose bush. Up close. For 15 minutes straight.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be huddled inside the closet, posing for Webster’s.
I’m the first to admit that even an endless summer wouldn’t be long enough for me, but can we just all go ahead and agree that this one went by too fast? I feel like I made my summer to-do list, and in an instant the season was gone. It’s like it knew I had an agenda and so it rebelled against it. Well, summer: I hate to break it to you but I still crossed some of the most important things off of that agenda:
First (and most obviously), lie on the beach as much as possible. Extra points for seeing dolphins and/or reading whole books in a weekend. Apologies to anyone who is ever around me while I’m reading a good book; I swear I’m normally only half that antisocial.
Next, try out paddleboarding. Much easier than it looks and comes with the added sensation of walking on water. I’m pretty sure having daily access to a paddleboard is one of the secrets to a happy life.
Eat at a food truck. Picture this: you’re biking around a small island with no cars. There’s huge sculptures everywhere, and you’re riding around for hours taking pictures when you realize you’re starving. So, you stop at the Kimchi Taco truck for Korean BBQ tacos, which you eat while sitting in the grass listening to a poetry reading. On a day like that, anything you eat tastes like heaven.
Oh summer 2012, you were fast but you were good. Let’s do it again; same time, same place, next year?