The second stop on our Hanoi Food Tour was confusing at first. This cement-garage-type dwelling didn’t seem like a place we’d go to eat. Even as we stepped inside, past the motorcycle and piles of leaves, I wondered what we were doing there.
Lee gestured for us to sit on the sofa. Our hostess brought out a teapot and little thimble-sized glasses which she filled with tepid tea. One quick swig emptied our glasses. Our hostess poured us another few drops and we drank those, too. Then her husband pulled out a bottle of rice wine he’d made and filled our “glasses” back up. We happily slurped that back, so he filled our glasses again and again.
While we enjoyed his homemade libations, Lee explained that they had just catered a wedding the day before; 200 banana leaves filled with pork. So they didn’t have as much to show us, but they did have pork for us to try. The pork had been cooked inside the banana leaves and we eagerly unwrapped them to taste this new dish.
But we needed some instruction.
Our hostess came out with baskets full of leaves and Lee helped her make piles of different leaves on the mat in front of us. He explained that we’d take a fig leaf, then add pork, and mint, and basil, and any other herbs we wanted to use to flavor it. Then we’d fold our leaves up like a spring roll and dip them into the rice wine/vinegar sauce they’d prepared.
It. was. DELICIOUS!
We packed one fig leaf after another with all these flavorful, fresh offerings until I was so full of leaves that I couldn’t eat any more. I would have. I would have stuffed myself until I needed to be rolled out of there like the lumpy spring rolls I made, but after we demolished two packets of fermented pork, I remembered that we had other stops, too, so I tried to pace myself.
It didn’t work.Even when I heard that our next stop was to eat eels.
I really didn’t want to, but I was game. The women in the kitchen looked like they knew what they were doing.
And the coconut wine helped.
Once again, Lee explained how to assemble our eel pockets. They were wrapped exactly like the fermented pork spring rolls were. Partly because they used smaller leaves to begin with. But I will say, the crispy eel was quite tasty. If I didn’t know I was eating eel, I would have never guessed.
By the time we stopped for Ban Hoc (fresh rice noodles), I was so full that it didn’t seem like I could possibly eat another bite. But I did — for you, dear readers. I made that sacrifice for you so that I could honestly say that they were delicious.
What I enjoyed as much as the noodles was sitting in this local noodle shop watching the other patrons gather around a television set with their bowls to watch their version of Court TV. It seemed like a regular afternoon event there, and I was pleased to get this glimpse into their daily lives while I shared in the flavors of the Vietnamese countryside.
Have you seen places like the nondescript pork-fermenting place? Have you ever ventured inside to find out what mystery business transpired there?