Today marks the third installation of my Journey through Vietnam series. I’ve taken you from the bustling streets of Saigon to the captivating and impoverished life along the Mekong Delta.
After more demonstrations on candy and rice paper making, and some time to buy a few treasures, we got back on the boat and continued to our final destination. We were on our way to an old, elegant house originally built in the 1830s, tucked away in a village a mile or so inland from the river.
This house had been passed down from one generation to another, lovingly preserved and now operated by a great granddaughter of the original owner. She has opened a restaurant in the house where visitors to Vietnam can sample the cuisine of the Mekong Delta region.
If this woman were to come to New York and open a restaurant there, she would definitely hit it very big. But she’s not likely to leave her house (of which she is enormously proud) or her current thriving restaurant business.
On the day of our visit, she prepared a succulent lunch of no fewer than five courses, including baked elephant ear fish (a local specialty, freshly caught that morning), several varieties of spring rolls, shrimp and vegetable dishes, and the ubiquitous sauces that make Vietnamese cuisine irresistible.
All of this was prepared on four little burners in an immaculate kitchen that is missing most of the conveniences the average American house takes for granted. Yet, the lunch was served perfectly prepared, at the perfect temperature for each course, with every one of the 16 diners being served at the same time.
The main course, Vietnamese elephant fish!
Our talented chef accomplished this culinary miracle with the help of four lovely young Vietnamese women, all of whom — despite the day’s oppressive heat — were dressed in the beautiful “long dress,” without a sign of discomfort from the heat which had the rest of us guzzling bottle after bottle of anything cold and wet.
The dessert was, of course, fruit from the trees in the garden of the house. The pineapple was just picked, as were the mangosteens, mango, papaya, melons, and bananas. Every piece of fruit was unbelievably sweet. There was never a need to add anything. Needless to say, I was in heaven, although I was so full I felt like I might have had to be carried back to the boat.
A closer look at the famous elephant fish. Yummy!
Finally, we boarded our little boat, and sailed back to the spot where we’d left our coach. Driving back to Saigon, we passed more rice fields, fruit orchards, and fishing boats, and we began — ever so slowly and subtly — to understand that there’s more to life than we might have ever noticed or realized before. At least that’s how it is for me. It certainly made me eager to learn more about growing rice.