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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam, Part 3: Wet Rice Farming with Water Buffalo!

The first "tours" we did during out recent, month-long trip through Vietnam (thanks to Vietnam Central Coastal Tourism!) were arranged for us by the wonderful concierges at the Nam Hai Resort where we were fortunate enough to stay- see my first post in the series, which is totally devoted to the 5 delightful nights we spent there! As Dan and I like "active" excursions, where we can actually "do" things and learn stuff, the two we chose to do were with Jack Tran's Ecotours: Wet Rice Farming with Water Buffalo, and Fishing and Palm Paradise!

These both turned out to be excellent, and truly unique excursions, providing not only the opportunity to learn about traditional Vietnamese agriculture, but to actually DO it, which was a LOT of fun!
When we were in Vietnam in 2008 and saw children fording the rivers on the back of water buffalo, I ached to join them- it looked like such fun! And this time I got the chance to do it, and it WAS fun!
The first tour we took was Wet Rice Farming, and as a picture speaks a thousand words, and I have a thousand photos, I'll pretty much let them do the talking!
We started out by bicycling through the beautiful Vietnamese countryside and rice fields outside of Hoi An- a hoot, since neither of us had ridden a bike for Decades!  But it IS true what they say- no matter how old you get, you don't forget how to do it! LOL
Once we got to the farm we had tea, and then took off our shoes and changed into "farming clothes", and began to learn about traditional rice farming by actually DOING it! We first learned how to ride a water buffalo, which was incredibly fun! I found it SO much fun, in fact, that they let me keep riding him, around and around the pond! Then we learned how to till the mud with the buffalo (getting a "mud spa foot treatment" in the process!), taking turns leading the buffalo and plowing. Then we raked the mud smooth, and prepared it for sowing by "water buffalo surfing" on a wooden plank, holding on to the buffalo's tail! . Then we sowed rice, and moved water by swinging baskets in unison- which is a Lot harder than it looks! And finally we learned how to harvest and process rice the traditional way, using a foot-pedal thrasher, a stone grinder, and baskets for tossing and winnowing!


Getting ready to farm!

We snacked on traditional banana-leaf wrapped sticky rice rolls dipped in salt, and made Vietnamese crepes with bean sprouts, and then went inside for a wonderful lunch. Our only disappointment was that we were looking forward to riding the bicycles back to town- and working off that lunch!- but the trip back was by car!

Dan rides a water buffalo!

Dan buffalo surfs!

This was an excellent and truly unique day, and definitely worth doing, especially if you really want to learn something about traditional Vietnamese agriculture AND have a great, fun time doing it! Our guide and the farmers who worked with us were super nice, incredibly patient, and obviously enjoyed the fact that we were having such a good time trying to do everything correctly! Jack and his guides are doing something really excellent, both for tourists and his community, by sharing their knowledge of and love for the traditional and extraordinary things the area offers. We highly recommend Jack’s tours and wish him much success!



Elisse having WAY too much fun!




Dan and Elisse plow the rice field...



...Dan leads the buffalo while Elisse plows...





Then Dan plows...


...while Elisse leads the buffalo!

Elisse, buffalo surfing!


How it is SUPPOSED to be done!

How WE did it!


Raking...

Sowing rice...

Elisse, harvesting rice...





The harvest!

Rice Farmer Dan!


Thrashing the rice...


Pounding the rice...

Winnowing the rice...
A snack of "sticky rice rolls" & salt...


Grinding the rice...
Dan is VERY good at this!
How it's done...
Making Vietnamese crepes with bean sprouts...



Chef Dan & his crepe!
Lunch!



Sites along the way to the farm...





Yummy blackberries!
"Atheist Cemetery"
Cemetery
On the way to the farm...




Vietnamese Herbs and Tamarind Candy...


As I blog about our recent, month-long trip through Vietnam (thanks to Vietnam Central Coastal Tourism!), I am also sorting though (and, uh, enjoying...) the many "foodie" and "drinkie" treats we brought back, and making the list of herbs and veggies I want to try to grow in our garden at the Elkhorn Inn, so Chef Dan can make Pho they way Pho needs to be made!
Based on our Cooking Class and Market Trip with Vy's Market in Hoi An, and our "Pho Trail" Tour and Market Visit in Saigon with Saigon Street Eats, I have put together the Big List of Vietnamese herbs and greens I want to get seeds for or plants of- so if anyone has contacts to seed companies or growers who can supply these things, PLEASE let me know!!!
A few are easy to come by- Coriander, Lemongrass, Garlic Chives, Thai Basil, Peppermint- but many are things that I have never seen in the USA... but with all the Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, and Chinese markets around the country, I am hopeful! Thanks to Barbara of Saigon Street Eats, I also found Vietworldkitchen: http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/vietnamese-recipe-index.html
  • Rice Paddy Herb - Rau Ngo (aka Rau Ho in the north and Rau Om in the south). This grows from cuttings, not from seeds
  • Holy Basil​, aka Thai basil​ 
  • Vietnamese Balm 
  • Saw-tooth leaf herb/spiky cilantro - rau ngò gai
  • Morning Glory - Rau Muong
  • Red Shiso - Tia To
  • Vietnamese Mint - Rau Ram
  • Bitter Herb - Rau Dang
  • Peppermint - Rau Hung
  • Palm Leaf - Kinh Gioi
  • Pennywort - Rau Ma
  • La Mo
  • Betel Leaf -La Lat
  • Chinese Celery - Rau Can
  • Coriander - Ngo (Mui)
  • Lemongrass - Sa
  • Garlic Chives - La He
  • Mustard Sprout - Cai Con
  • Chinese Coriander - Ngo Gai hoac Mui Tau
  • Chrysanthemum - Tan O (Cai Cuc)
  • Anise Basil - Rau Que
  • Lemon Basil - Rau E (Que Trang)
  • Green Mustard - Cai Be Xanh
  • Wild Watercress - Diep Ca
From the wall at Vy's Cooking School, Hoi An

Sawtooth Leaf Herb- Spiky Cilantro - From the Saigon Street Eats "Pho Trail"

The other thing that was making me NUTS is that I discovered THE BEST MUNCHY IN THE UNIVERSE in Saigon: sour, sweet, spicy- but I only brought back a tiny bag of them from the Saigon Market while on the "Pho Trail" Tour, and I've been doling them out like a Controlled Substance ever since we got home and I discovered how AMAZING they are! I posted a photo on Facebook:

... and within SECONDS, my BFF Cindy in NYC came up with the answer: Tamarind Candy! AND she found me a recipe- an EASY recipe- assuming, of course, that I can get some tamarind here in the mountains of West Virginia- from "Rachel Cooks Thai": http://www.rachelcooksthai.com/tamarind-candy




Ah, the marvelous power of the internet!!! 
And I just found a jar of tamarind paste in our pantry! :-D


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Good Morning Vietnam Part 2: Foodie Hoi An!

The previous post in this series on our recent trip through Vietnam (thanks to my winning an incredible sweepstakes from Central Coast Vietnam Tourism on Facebook!), was about the wonderful place we stayed for five nights in Hoi An: the magnificent Nam Hai Resort! It was so special- and the staff was so marvelous- that it truly deserved a post of its own!
We'd been to Hoi An back in 2008 (see my many posts after April 2008), and so we knew that there were Tons of things to do there, and that we were lucky to have 6 days to enjoy it all! Hoi An is an historic UNESCO Heritage Site, and so there are lots of museums, beautiful temples, and the Japanese Bridge to visit. It's truly a wonderful place to simply wander around and nosh, with 100s of street food stalls, cafes, and pubs on the river, and it's now lit up with colorful lanterns in the evening, which make it simply beautiful... Since Hoi An is justifiably famous for its great street food, cooking classes, and excellent restaurants, and as Dan is a chef and I am his "foodie", this was a true highlight of our trip and I'm devoting this post to the "foodie" side of Hoi An!

Basically the first thing we did after we arrived was go into Hoi An to EAT! We first sought out Morning Glory Restaurant, which is owned by Trinh Diem Vy of "Vy's Market" fame. Morning Glory is as excellent as everyone says it is, and we ate there several times, attempting, in vain, to eat our way through their excellent menu! We signed up for a Cooking Class at "Vy's Market", too.  Vy is literally the Mario Batali of Hoi An, and Vy's Market is not only the setting for her excellent cooking classes, it's a great restaurant of "street food stalls" where you can learn about and try lots of fascinating and yummy things you see around town but may be afraid to try on your own! Naturally we got Vy's cookbook, which she signed to us, and aprons, too, to add to our growing collection of aprons from cooking classes we've taken around the world!! The class, which includes a boat trip to a great market, where you get to learn about and taste lots of things, too, was absolutely excellent. We not only got to learn to cook several dishes, creating ourselves a delicious lunch in the process, but we took home new techniques and recipes that Chef Dan is adding to our menu at the Elkhorn Inn! The last time we were in Hoi An we did an excellent cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School, which took us to a farm, and there are several others, as well, that sound excellent and have 5-star reviews. If you're any kind of a "foodie", Hoi An is your dream town!
Fishing nets...

On the boat ride to the market...

Hoi An, from the river...

Motorbike taxi...

Floating market...

The start of our Market Tour...


Learning about & sampling herbs and green...

Learning about the veggies...

In the Market...


Trying fruits and veggies... (and yes we got wear silly hats, too!)

In the market...

Meat...

Sausages...

Oodles of noodles!

Making dumpling wrappers...
 
One of the "foodie" things we love to do when we travel is bring home spices and condiments that are the specialty of wherever we are, so Chef Dan can make his dishes as authentic as possible! So from Hoi An we brought home the special Hoi An Chili Sauce for which the town is famous! It's shown below surrounded by spices, pepper, chili salt, and sauces we bought in other places around Vietnam! 
Fish...

Hoi An Chili Sauce, among other spices & condiments we brought home...
FISH!

Snails & crabs...

Seafood...

Hoi An from our boat...

Our boat to the market...

Hoi An...

Fresh fruit drinks at Vy's Market

Vy's Market stalls...

Trying all the yummy "street foods"...

Spicy Snails and Lemongrass Frogs Legs!

Yummy and interesting things!

YUM!

Dan gets ready to feed Elisse a spicy snail!

Breads...




Noodles, and fixins' of Pho

Elisse makes noodles- badly!

Chef Dan shows how it's done RIGHT!



Grinding rice...


Chef Dan makes rice noodles!

Elisse makes rice noodles!

Banana flower!

Shaved banana flowers for salads...


Steamed Savory Rice Flour Cakes...

Vy's Cooking Class

Chef Dan rolls a dumpling in a cabbage leaf...

Elisse's dumpling, tied with a scallion!


Miss Vy checks our cooking...


Chef Dan!

Ready to roll, dip, and eat!


Chef Dan with his masterpiece!

Elisse carves a mango...

Chef Dan expertly slivers a mango!

Our cooking class lunch entree: YUM!    



Learning about herbs in the market...

 

In the market...
Fruits...



"White Rose" Dumplings

 

Our soup, with shrimp-pork dumplings!


Vy shows how to make the dumpling filling...

And what it's supposed to look like after being poached!
























"Fresh Beer" and local hooch! :-)
"Fresh Beer" is a specialty of Hoi An, and we had to try it- as well as the local spirit! Throughout Vietnam I always look for the local wines and specialty liqueurs on the menu- and almost every place has at least one! On our last trip to Vietnam we 'discovered' Dalat Wine, and I found a local liqueur in Quin Yan that way, and ever since then I've kept my eye out!
Adorable, yes?!

Hoi An at night...

Another fun place we stopped for drinks and a small bite...
 

A delish dinner at Morning Glory...




At a Hoi An Temple...


At a temple in Hoi An...


Hoi An Temple



GAM- a lovely art gallery/cafe we stopped at for an ice coffee...


In a museum in Hoi An...
A "memory boat" on the river in Hoi An...

Hoi An is also world-famous for it's speedy, inexpensive, and very good tailors, and with 6 days (and thus time to have several fittings...), we Had to get some clothes made! After making the rounds of tailors throughout the city and looking at fabrics, styles, and samples of various garments, we decided to go to one of the most highly recommended ones in Hoi An, Yaly Couture. While more expensive than many of the tailors in Hoi An, their selection of fabrics was much better, their tailoring was finer, and they had a huge selection of styles. We stopped in several times over the course of our 6 days for fittings, and their service was great, too; they delivered our finished garments to the Nam Hai! Dan had a cashmere-wool suit and a shirt made, and I got a silk Ao Dai; the Ao Dai is the classic and elegant traditional Vietnamese outfit of a long, side-slit tunic and pants, and it is probably The most flattering outfit on the planet! I also had a casual maxi dress made when I found a fabric I loved... The total cost for everything we had made was $245, which is pretty darned good! (They have our current measurements on file now, too, so if we ever win Lotto and want a wardrobe made and sent to us...)


My next post will be about the Adventure Tours we took- Wet Rice Farming with Water Buffalo, and Fishing!