I am falling for Vietnam, and I think Hoi An is to blame. I am feeling more and more at home in this country as I meet more Vietnamese that smile at me, joke with me, put their arm over my shoulder, pat my back, laugh with me and spontaneously burst into song.
There is an easiness in Hoi An, a slower way of doing things maybe, more attention to detail and beauty, a peaceful quality.
Hoi An is for lovers. At night in the old town, only "primitive vehicles" are allowed and beautiful classical music is piped through light posts along the alleys and streets. There are no motorbikes to drown out the lovely music and the sounds of children laughing, adults talking passionately, or the sound of water lapping in the river gently.
The evening is illuminated by all types of silk lanterns.
I can't tell you how magical this is. It feels like being taken back in time, to a simpler, magical, idyllic time where beauty and romance are priority.
There are a smattering of street performers at night to please the tourists, and on this little stage when there aren't formal dance performances, traditional Vietnamese music plays and young children improvise themselves onstage, making up their own expressive dances together.
The French influence can be felt here in a number of ways, the architecture, some music, but mainly in the food. You find crusty baguettes for sale just around everywhere, and the quintessential Vietnamese sandwich is the Banh Mi, a taste sensation of pickled vegetables, liver pate, and all sorts of meats and herbs.
This is Brian's favorite one in Hoi An. I haven't been eating meat for a while, but I hear from him they are amazing...
We came across this incredible shop in the old town the other day of all of these miniature ships of all sorts, from all periods of history. Pretty amazing.
I took a cooking class yesterday and it included a trip to the market. I am still seeing foods in Asia I have never seen before! It is exhilarating to start to understand the massive diversity of fruits, vegetables, fish, etc. that exists in this world.
I actually got to make home made rice paper for making fresh spring rolls. An interesting process, you puree rice that has been soaking a long time in a blender and then place a piece of cloth tightly over a pot of boiling water.
You spread a thin layer of of batter onto the cloth, cover it, and in one minute you have this!
And then this!
Another traditional food here that I have come to love is the Banh Xeo, which is a cripy pancake made with a rice batter with shrimp, bean sprouts and usually bits of pork.
The traditional way to eat this tasty thing is to wrap it with lettuces, fresh herbs like mint, basil, and cilantro in a rice paper wrap and dip in either a sweet chili sauce or a peanut sauce, yum!
Hoi An is known for its silk, particularly in its lanterns and in the large number of tailor made clothing shops around the city. The silk is made here and I was able to see a little bit of this process. It is amazing!
Silk worms are fed and kept for about 16 days. The worms eat eat eat and then they actually stop sleeping at one point. They then develop their pupa. This pupa is the key.
It is harvested and then soaked in water. At that point you can pull very easily these tiny tiny perfectly formed strands of silk. They then reel these filaments together to create one strand of raw silk and then these strands are wound to create skeins of silk that are then dyed any number of colors.
The skein below shows the natural color of silk once it has been spun.
The artistry here in Hoi An is pretty impressive. From the tailors to the painters to the lantern makers and chefs. I've decided that I can't pass up having some clothes tailor made for me out of beautiful linens and silks for a ridiculously low price, so I may be getting a pair of slacks made. I'll show you a picture once their done!