Tag Archives: beach

Unruffling our feathers in Nha Trang

The countdown to returning home is nearly over; just two more sleeps and we will be back in Blighty.

I can’t help but think of the chickens my pal Marcia keeps in Christchurch (bear with me, there is a connection).

We learnt that when you collect freshly laid eggs, it is important to leave at least three eggs behind in the nest (or golf balls, which the chickens hilariously mistake for the fruit of their loins). Apparently, chicken counting goes “one… two… many”; they can’t quantify numbers larger than three.

I can relate; when we had several days before the flight to LHR, I was able to convince myself that there was still loads of time left on our travels. Now the number has ceased to be “many”, I am a squawking, clucking, freaked out chook.

Nothing better to unruffle our proverbial feathers than some downtime in the beach resort of Nha Trang, south central Vietnam.

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While it was a great place to relax, the beach was not particularly remarkable save for the surprising number of Russian holidaymakers there; even TV channels, shop signs, menu translations etc are in Russian in this “little Russia”. It seems Nha Trang is to Russia what the Costa del Sol is to Britain.

Anyway, we ignored the restaurants pushing blinis and borscht and sought out a couple of local specialities, following tips picked up from Vietnamese foodies in the know The Ravenous Couple and my buddy Anh from Banh Mi 11.

First was nem nướng, barbecued pork meat and crunchy crackling. You make a fat cigar by smoothing out a sheet of rice paper, topping with pork, a forest of herbs, as many chillies you can handle and whatever condiments you fancy before rolling up and dunking in some sauce between bites.

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Nem chua (fermented sour pork wrapped in pretty parcels of banana leaves) got the same treatment.

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Then it was time to move on to another street joint to sample what may now qualify as the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten: sứa (jellyfish).

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Before this, the weirdest thing I had ever eaten were deep fried locusts, which were a struggle to force down. Happily, jellyfish is actually really good! It has a mild, fresh flavour and isn’t slimy or rubbery as I thought it may be – it was a crunchy and refreshing topping for my seafood pho. And no sting! I could even imagine it adding some interesting texture to something like paella.

Mark eschewed the jellyfish option, although he experimented with a local vegetable drink which tasted healthy/medicinal, not unlike wheatgrass.

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Knowing our travelling days are numbered (in chicken-friendly quantities), we splashed out on our last day in Nha Trang with a couple of scuba dives. I certainly regarded jellyfish with a fresh perspective!

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In many ways however we are looking forward to coming home. It will be wonderful to be reunited with family and friends. Not to mention a proper cup of tea…

Learning to cook Vietnamese dishes in Hoi An

In the hope of being able to recreate some of the extraordinary food we’ve eaten in Vietnam when we’re back in Blighty (very soon! – sob!), Mark and I signed up for a cookery class in Hoi An.

The lesson at the Morning Glory Cookery School began early at the market – we were given the traditional conical hats to protect us from the fierce sun, and to help our teacher find us more easily in the hustle and bustle.

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This lady wears hers with far more attitude.

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Morning glory (no tittering at the back please; morning glory is a leafy green vegetable also known as water spinach, delicious stir fried with garlic and popular all over Vietnam) has hollow stems which can be split into fine strands for salads etc with this nifty tool.

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It was great having a local guide to answer all my questions in the market and point out details like the many types of noodle available.

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Bean sprout ladies

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Vegetables & fruit

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Different kinds of rice flour pancakes

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It was all too much for some…

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After an hour or so, before we too felt the need for a nap, it was back to the classroom to watch a master demonstration and then try our hand at some recipes. It felt a little like The Generation Game at times but we managed to keep up (modesty aside, we were star pupils…)

First, canh su (cabbage leaf parcels with shrimp mousse in broth)

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Then banh xeo (crispy pancake with pork, prawns and beansprouts rolled up with rice paper, green banana and herbs)

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And goi xoai (spicy green mango salad)

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I hear that the UK has had a bit of a heatwave so I’ll share the recipe for this refreshing mango salad at the end of the post.

We enjoyed the food at Morning Glory so much that we returned to their restaurant that night for their famous pork “roll it” dish.

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This region is known for its good food. Our teacher joked that men who want beautiful wives look in the North or South of Vietnam; those who want to marry a good cook come to central Vietnam to look in Hoi An. I know which I’d choose – looks fade but hunger persists!

Sure enough, outside of Morning Glory’s doors we continued to eat exceptionally well. Even the little shacks on the nearby An Bang beach served gourmet seafood treats like steamed lemongrass clams and tamarind crab. Cheaper than chips too!

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A Hoi An speciality is cau lao, a noodle dish with slices of roast pork, croutons made from deep fried squares of noodle dough, beansprouts and herbs.

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The components of the dish are assembled in little separate piles, which locals are able to mix together deftly with their chopsticks. Our attemps were a bit messier!

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The distinctive cau lao noodles make the dish special: chewy and rough in texture, a bit like a chunky Japanese soba noodle. Unlike the soupy depths of broth in pho, with cau lao you get just a dribble of cooking juices to wet the noodles.

Apparently, the dish is traditionally made using water from specific Cham-era wells in Hoi An which impart a particular flavour – I doubt all of the street stalls selling it abide by that rule these days! Even so, the ancient wells around town are guarded under lock and key for only a few lucky people to access.

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Hoi An lights up at night. The beautiful lanterns and fairy lights hanging from the trees next to the river give the place a dreamy, festival-like feel.

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Children sell candles which you can float down the river in colourful paper boats for good luck.

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As well as food, the other thing Hoi An is known for is good tailoring. I hope our expanding waistlines didn’t cause too much trouble for the tailor we chose!

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Goi Xoai (Vietnamese spicy green mango salad) from Morning Glory Cookery Class
Serves 4 as a starter

200g green mango, sliced finely
1 onion, sliced finely
1.5 cups Vietnamese mint and mint
2tsp sesame seeds, roasted
1tbsp vegetable oil
2tbsp crispy fried shallots
1tbsp lime juice
1tbsp white sugar
1tsp fish sauce
1tsp red chilli and garlic, pounded

4 rice crackers, to serve

In a bowl put mango and onion slices, 1 cup of mint, 1 tsp sesame seeds, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chilli & garlic mix and vegetable oil.
Mix well.
Serve on 4 small plates and garnish with the remaining mint, sesame seeds and fried shallots. Season to taste and serve with rice crackers.