A Life Changing Experience

That phrase is used so often that it is easy to become indifferent to such claims. Yet for myself and my wife, our recent holiday to Vietnam truly was such an experience as it opened us to a very different country, culture and, most importantly, cuisine.

And it was a singular event in that holiday that both broke down my preconceptions of, and ingited my passion for, cooking.


A fishing boat in the early morning mists of Halong Bay

At the start of our trip, after a day in Hanoi, we embarked on a two-day cruise in the tranquil paradise of Halong Bay in the north-east of the country. It was there that we first encountered Vietnamese dishes, cooked directly in front of us and served up for immediate consumption.

The locally cooked dishes were a sublime and welcome assault on the senses – all of these new colours, aromas and flavours that I had not experienced before. The food itself was absolutely delicious, I could taste all of the individual ingredients and how they combined together.

The simple spring roll that changed it all

The following afternoon in a cooking class, we had the opportunity to make our own spring rolls. I packed in the shrimp, vermicelli, sliced carrot and cilantro, wrapping it up and then ate my very own creation. It was delicious. This was swiftly followed by going to back to make a second. And third. And a cheeky fourth when the host wasn’t looking.

It was in this moment that I realised … I can cook! Or at the very least, follow some simple instructions to assemble a pretty decent, edible spring roll. If I could do that, maybe I could make the dishes that the chef had prepared in front of us the night before.

Thus began the debunking of the notion that cooking was unattainable, at least to me. From that point onwards, wherever we went on the tour we insisted to our guide that we should eat in traditional Vietnamese restaurants and cafes (as opposed to the buffet-style western food in hotels that were part of the holiday package).

Mi Quang from Da Nang

As a result of this, in our expedition from the north to the south of the country we discovered the delights of Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup) in the imperial city of Hue, Com Ga (chicken rice) in the silk producing town of Hoi An and Cha Ca La Vong (turmeric fish with dill) in the bustling capital city of Hanoi, to name but a few.

At each restaurant, I would ask our tour guide about the dishes we were enjoying. It was these conversations, where our guide explained in simple steps how the meals were prepared, that continued to encourage the notion that cooking was a capability within my grasp. It also demonstrated how important food is to the country’s culture and history.

Bun Bo Hue - Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

This was emphasised when myself and my wife met up with some Vietnamese work colleagues in Saigon as one of the first topics of conversation was where we had visited and what we had eaten. The team roundly approved of our tour guide’s choices.

So after a month in Vietnam (and Cambodia) we returned home, filled with resolve to explore this new world of cooking.

The rest, as they say, is history …

2 thoughts on “A Life Changing Experience

    1. Yep, I agree. The people are lovely too, very friendly. I’ll be publishing more Vietnamese recipes soon … including Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup) and Gà Sốt Cam (braised chicken with orange and lemongrass). Feel free to follow the blog so you get notified when these are published.

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