Friday 5th December, 2014
After an action-packed day in Hue, the morning’s itinerary is to leave the former capital of Vietnam and make our way north towards the beautiful city of Hoi An.
Our morning drive took us from the busy streets of Hue into farmland where water buffalo where grazing, and then suddenly the wetlands changed into coastal scrub and sandy beaches. After stopping for a photo opportunity at the point where the river meets the sea, our journey continued upward along the Hai Van Pass into rolling hills and green valleys. With views of the Vietnam’s third largest city Danang on the horizon, our local guide Huy led us up to a lookout which was previously occupied by US soldiers during the Vietnam War.
After a short coffee break, our drive continued along the mountain pass into Danang and then towards Hoi An. The first order of business when we arrived in Hoi An was lunch and Huy had arranged for Kylie and I to enjoy the tasting menu at Miss Ly Café.
Miss Ly’s is extremely popular with tourists and locals alike and has a wonderful old-world ambience. With exotic paintings adorning the walls and scented red roses on the lacquered wooden tables, the large open front entrance gave you the feeling of alfresco dining, despite being inside, with magnificent views of the activity on the street outside.
Kylie and I were made to feel extremely welcome and were encouraged to take photos of the busy kitchen, although the staff were in the middle of a busy lunch service. Miss Ly’s husband Nathan, who is originally from the US, chatted to us about the restaurant, the cuisine, life in Hoi An and answered many of our questions.
The first dish on the tasting menu was Fried Wontons, sautéed meat, shrimp, tomato, onion and sauce (Hoanh Thanh Chien) – a vibrant coloured dish, with a crispy fried wonton base and a sweet and sour topping, the wontons were extremely tasty and generous in size and flavour.
The Grilled Pork Spring Rolls in rice paper with fresh herbs and peanut (Thit Nuong) was the next dish to arrive at our table. The peanut sauce was deliciously thick and crunchy and a perfect accompaniment to the fresh spring rolls.
The third dish on the tasting menu was a famous Hoi An specialty, White Rose steamed shrimp in rice dumplings, with onion, lemon and chilli (Banh Bao). These dumplings are made with minced shrimp and got their name from the way they resemble a flower on the plate. Soft and silken in texture, the topping of deep fried shallots adds a crispy crunch, while the citrus and chilli provide balance in flavour. All I can say really is “Yum!”.
And the last dish served was the Cau Lau (Mi Cau Lau), thick noodles, with sliced roast pork, herbs, fresh greens and croutons. The croutons were actually small squares of pork crackling, decoratively placed on top of the sliced pork, with a dollop of chilli sauce on a bed of noodles and accompanying greens. The noodles and meat really gave some substance to this dish but it was also very enjoyable and excellent way to finish our degustation lunch experience.
Having finished our lunch, Kylie and I checked into our accommodation at the Ancient House Resort and prepared ourselves for an afternoon walking tour of Hoi An’s Old Quarter. The beautiful coloured silk lanterns hanging from the trees along the streets, and the distinctive architecture of the Old Quarter, influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, French and British traders and colonists was unique and captivating.
The first stop on our walking tour was a visit to the House of Quan Thang, a merchant house built by a prosperous trading family from China. Further into the Old Quarter, our visit continued into the House of Tan Ky which is an authentic representation of a traditional dwelling from the 18th century.
Wandering around the waterfront and through the old alleys and streets, our education of Chinese architecture and influence in Hoi An continued at the Cantonese Assembly Hall, with the tour culminating at the historic Japanese Covered Bridge.
Hoi An is also famous for its tailors and the opportunity to have custom-made clothes purchased cheaply. Our Travel Indochina itinerary included a visit to a particular tailor and whilst Kylie came well prepared to have a few garments made, I wasn’t quite so sure but nevertheless I was happy to go inside and have a look. Whilst everyone says there is no pressure to have anything made, after casually wandering around the store for twenty minutes my hostess sat me down at a laptop and started showing me designs on the internet. After another ten minutes of internet browsing, I suddenly came across a design for a top and somehow my indifference disappeared and I morphed into a fashion designer, directing the staff on the fabric, detail and cut that I wanted from my outfit. Once we had both finished being measured up, another appointment was scheduled for the following day for our first fitting.
By the time we had finished and found our local guide patiently sitting outside, it was early evening and Huy was keen for us to go and have dinner at another little local restaurant nearby, literally just around the corner from the tailor.
Barely 6pm, we were the first guests to arrive for dinner at Serene Garden Restaurant, located in an outdoor courtyard decorated with ornate lanterns and leafy tropical plants, the restaurant had a wonderful ambience and an impressive outdoor kitchen and barbeque area. Kylie pointed out that chef on the grill was wearing a “Travel Indochina” cap which gave us a laugh and certainly piqued my interest. When our guide came back to check up on his guests, we found out that another guide who works for the company had recently taken ownership of the restaurant.
Although we weren’t overly hungry, we ordered the Banana Flower salad to share, also wanting to try something from the special barbeque menu, we selected the Lemongrass Calamari and Chicken Skewers. The handcrafted ceramic rice bowls and plates on our table were beautifully designed and almost sent me on quest to find something similar to bring home as a souvenir.
Our dinner didn’t take too long to arrive and looked as great as it smelled. All the dishes were extremely delicious and beautifully presented and to our great surprise, despite having a few alcoholic drinks and a couple of meals, it was also extremely cheap. I think I was quite happy with Travel Indochina’s “recommended” restaurant choice after our experience at Serene Garden.
Although the rain had now started again, it was now a perfect opportunity to enjoy a walk along the waterfront and watch the beautiful paper lanterns float along the water’s edge before heading back to our hotel.
Disclaimer: All entries regarding the Vietnam Culinary Discovery tour within this blog reflect my own personal insights and experiences throughout my holiday and I was solely responsible for meeting all travel expenses incurred.