I squeezed this poor unsuspecting lime to within an inch of its life, trying to get as much of its sweet, zingy juice as possible. To it, I added generous squirts of pungent fish sauce and a dash of soy, a spoonful of sugar, and a sprinkle of finely sliced fresh chilli and coriander. All my memories of Vietnam came flooding back… I may have physically been standing in our London kitchen but my mind had wandered way back to those streets filled with vibrant aromas. I thought had eaten decent Vietnamese food, even managed to rustle up an adequate shaking beef, but I was wrong. Anything I had tasted or tried to recreate previous to our trip was painted in muted, pastel tones compared to the technicolour masterpieces we encountered at the source. I had long been a fan of the cuisine, and everything we tasted lived up to my expectations.
Touching down in Hanoi was a jolt to the senses. We had just come from Vientiane; although equally as smog-filled and suffocating, it was far less exciting. Hanoi oozed the kind of seductive appeal which was pointless to resist… Staying in a hotel in the thick of the old town meant that we were thrown head first into the manic cityscape. We got incredibly lost in its maze on our very first night but it was fun, we were in our element. We had very few aims for our time in the city – see a few sights, absorb the ambience, inhale as much food as possible.
I used to think I was a pretty good cook; not the kind that’s good enough to work in a restaurant but the kind that can throw together a meal without breaking into a sweat. I have a good grasp of basic kitchen skills, a decent repertoire of dishes I can whip up almost to perfection, and there haven’t been any major complaints… well not to my face anyway. So if you were me, you’d put yourself into the ‘can cook’ category wouldn’t you?
Those daydreams I had about ‘being crowned the next Masterchef’ or who I would pick as my partner on My Kitchen Rules swiftly moved from the ‘what if’ box to the ‘dreams are free’ one. It was a bit of a reality check, I’m a decenthome cook but there are some scarily professional home cooks out there. Of Instagram’s 300 million users, I wonder how many of those accounts are dedicated to food because I have no doubt that hours could be spend scrolling through the never ending stream of food photos. Been there, done that. Well not in one sitting but since I’ve been on Instagram I shudder to think about how many photos I’ve liked, drooled over, and have been inspired to recreate.
We almost didn’t make it to Philadelphia because honestly, we didn’t know much about it. I like a smear of Philadelphia on my bagel and the sweet chilli philly is genius, but that’s hardly a good reason to visit is it? Luckily, as we found out, there are quite a few other reasons especially for those history buffs out there.