Today was the Oodles of Noodles cooking workshop, run by kids from the Streets International initiative which is an American NGO set up in 2004 aiming to transform poor Vietnamese street kids into headhunted staff at the world’s top restaurants. I’d been looking forward to this one because we’d been eating a vast amount of rice and noodles on the trip so far, and as I’m intending to stay in Cambodia for a good 6 months or so, that is going to be my staple and I’ve always been interested in how you actually make noodles. The kids that were running the workshop were so incredible. They’d all come from a disadvantaged/troubled background with zero chance of a career. They were all from multiple child families, often having to drop out of school early in order to support the family income or do chores, helping with their younger siblings. Streets International takes these kids and within a short space of time teaches them how to serve food, how to cook it from scratch, how to prepare the freshest ingredients and combine them to create unique flavours that just work, and they learn English. Kids graduating from Streets are in high demand. They move on from their dedicated Training Restaurant to the top hotels, resorts and restaurants in the world, providing authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
The workshop that we attended took us through the motions of making rice noodles and we all had a go steaming the rice flour batter and flipping it over with the bamboo stick. We all got to eat our wares too, which just added to the experience. The kids that we met had either just graduated or were due to do so pretty soon. They had a genuine happiness about them and an infectious energy that was not dissimilar to pantomime. They’d ask you to pronounce their name correctly and then make you repeat it louder. They would count you down from 5 and teach you to do the same when it was time for the next step, cheer when it went well and encourage you when your rice pancake flip was more like a misshapen flop! They were pretty inspirational and not a single person left the workshop without a smile on their face and a lump in their throat.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Hoi An a little more. It was nice to know that you could wander around, get totally lost but then find yourself in a familiar looking place and get your bearings back retty quick. It was also nice that there was free wifi all over the town, so if you had to consult a map, you weren’t just relying on GPS. I witnessed the most intense dominoes match known to mankind on my solo wander around the Old Town. I took a turn somewhere and found myself in with the locals sitting at a little restaurant and some plastic tables and chairs over the street from a Primary School. Now that I think about it, those kid-sized tables and chairs that these fully grown men were sitting on might have been borrowed from that school… The honey coloured liquor they were chugging out of little tumblers was most likely not borrowed from the school! I’d bet it was moonshine, probably a whisky of some sort. The second table was some other guys playing a version of checkers. I managed to get a sly shot but what I really should have done is pop Mr Minion on the table and take a proper picture. I chickened out though, and I’m not really sure why.
I also took a trip to the folklore museum which was a nice bit of culture for me. There were exhibits focussing on the role of women, the traditional dress, the history of textile in Vietnam with different loom contraptions all throughout the ages. There was a creaky staircase that took you up to another exhibit of a traditional house set up from years gone by with bone cutlery and china on the wooden dining room table. Unfortunately, some of the mannequins were quite creepy looking, so I had a quick look around, took a few snaps and went off on my way.
En route to the hotel, I stopped off in a really nice little café for a lime juice so I could write up a little more of the trip. I was running so far behind and I though a café that had an entire wall of books might be an inspirational place to write. Ironically, their menu was quite hilarious. You can see their innocent yet still amusing mistakes for yourself:
I managed a nap before dinner which was at the Lantern Town Restaurant that comes highly recommended by everyone in Hoi An. Beautiful location, amazing drinks. I ordered a frozen lemon, and this awesome cocktail glass turned up with pale green slush in it. A few of us had been suffering from Asia-belly, and I’d heard that lemon/lime juice was good for flushing out gut bacteria and alcohol is great for similar reasons. The second Frozen Lemon I had may have had a shot of Vietnamese vodka in it because I asked for it. Seriously, it was so good, they should put it on the menu!
The food menu looked really great though. There was so much choice that we attempted our new favourite thing, which was for a bunch of people to order stuff to share. Everything apart from spring rolls comes with rice in any case, so it’s super easy to share dishes, you get to try a load of different stuff, and you split the bill straight down the middle so you’re not sitting there with a smartphone calculator and trying to work out who had the mango and shrimp compared to the fresh spring rolls (both very good choices, as it goes) because one was 10,000dong more expensive.
After dinner, we went to one of those bars where if you buy more than a couple of drinks you get a free shisha pipe. Well, we were a table of about 15, so we got three free shisha pipes. The mint was pretty good, kind of refreshing, the watermelon was mega sweet, and the combo wasn’t really my thing. The minion seemed to get off on it, though I’m not going to lie, it took us a fair few goes to get him framed just right! And to finish off our time in Hoi An, the 1am walk back to the hotel was quite nice, I only saw one rat and didn’t spot any cockroaches. That’s a win in my book.