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 had already decided that no Vietnam itinerary would be complete without Halong Bay but I also knew it would be a hard sell to a certain someone. Two or three days on a boat, organised activities, no wifi connection, and forced social interaction are not things we willingly sign up to. The only way I stood a chance was to go down the luxury route – if I was going to get him on board, figuratively and literally, it would have to be a rather nice boat. Which also suited me just fine – you didn’t think I was keen on one of those party cruises filled with eager gap-year youths did you? That ship has most definitely sailed.
With this criteria, it didn’t take long to cobble together a shortlist – there are boats aplenty (probably too many if we’re being honest) sailing in the bays, but not many which would get the certain someone seal of approval. And so, armed with photos of gloriously picturesque scenes and inviting cabins with balconies, I made my pitch. Slowly but surely I won him round, though just in case… I threw in the pleading girlfriend eyes to seal the deal and a few weeks later, we were boarding one of the rather lush boats from Orchid Cruises.
I went through a phase where I thought Vietnamese summer rolls were the best thing since sliced bread. I was in my late teens, had never been to Vietnam (still haven’t…) and just thought they were so much more exotic than the stock standard spring rolls I had munched on all my life! I did and do love spring rolls, my parents make cracking ones, but I don’t think it was cool for a teenage girl to profess a love of deep fried foods back in the day.
Now, years later, I am still quite fond of summer rolls but I find myself ordering them less in restaurants and ordering spring rolls more. Mostly because I won’t let a certain someone get a deep fryer (that self conscious teenage girl had some sense) and summer rolls are so easy to make at home!