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Andy’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 17 Feb 2007

Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

MapHOI AN - COOKING AND CLOTHES
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Food was an important part of our experience in Hoi An.

Everything we ate was delicious; the cakes and sweets in the cosy french cafes, the fried spring rolls cooked freshly in front of us at a tiny stall in the old wooden quayside market, the Hoi An specialities of shrimp stuffed dumplings (called White Roses) and fried wanton soup.

Even the stall food was exceptional. As I've said before the culinary heart of Asia is found on the streets. In Hoi An it proved a little unorthodox. One evening Ruth and i sat on the side of a road tucking into a particularly tasty bowl of noodles, mint and sauce topped with a tender barbequed meat. I asked what the meat was - "Meat" the woman replied unhelpfully. I imitated a cow - it certainly wasn't pork or chicken - the woman just laughed. Turns out the animal in question was dog, a fact verified to us by the cafe down the road which included on its menu, Beef, Chicken, Pork and Meat. I should add that it was one of the nicest things i have ever tasted on this gastonomic journey.

But we didn't just eat food, we learnt how to cook it. Hoi An is getting a healthy reputation from its cooking schools and we spent one evening at a class under the tutelage of a chef called Ngoc who demonstrated from the start his straight talking approach by grabbing a well-fed guy's stomach, wobbling it, and claiming he would be a hit with the Vietnamese girls as they are attracted to pot belly's.

He showed us how to cook fish (freshly caught that day) cooked in a banana leaf, spring rolls and squid and papaya salad. I was selected to help prepare the spring rolls and utterly failed to impress him when i failed to achieve even simple tasks such as cracking an egg and adding only the white to the mixture.

It was all good fun and interpersed with some useful facts such as how to tell if a fish is fresh (your fingers should stick together after touching the meat) and why you should not say the word yummy in Vietnam (apparently it means horny - I don't need to elaborate on what saying yum yum during a meal could mean to a Vietnamese person sitting nearby). Afterwards we all sat down to tuck into yet another amazing Vietnamese meal. Thai food will always be my favourite, but Vietnamese has definitely climbed up the rankings.

Though people increasingly go to Hoi An for the cooking, it is most famous for its clothes. The town has a reputation for tailors who can churn out custom made clothes faster than a Bangladeshi sweatshop. The streets are lined with tailor shops vying for your custom as you wander around town.

"We make you shoes."

"You want trousers?"

"Sir! Jeans have holes! I patch up."

I decided to get a suit made. After all how many times (until i make my millions) would i be able to afford a custom made suit? I chose Thu Thuy, a well established shop recommened on the internet and recently visited by the Queen of Spain.

I was shown to the rear of the store, packed floor to ceiling with fabrics of every conceivable colour, texture and pattern. It was abuzz with activity; a troop of women were busy measuring, cutting, fitting and tending to their particular customer.

First i had choose a design, so i was left to flick through a fashion magazine. I chose a style, but not before feeling ugly, depressed and frustrated. These magazines should be banned, along with beautiful people for that matter. The next stage was to choose a fabric. The cheaper ones all felt like i would be wearing a cardboard box or linolium, so i settled for the expensive material. Finally the measuring. I could have sworn she cupped me, but i let it go.

It all took under an hour.

The next day i was ready for my first fitting, and by that evening it was time for my second. After some last minute alterations were made it was all finished! My first bespoke suit. Saville Row it ain't but for 150 dollars it was a bargain. I was so impressed i ordered a pair of skinny jeans, and Ruth had two coats and about 10 pairs of shoes made. We left for Hue shortly afterwards - the situation could so easily have gone downhill from there, perhaps even necessitating a charter plane just to take our purchases home.