A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
A Fear of Food. A Fear of Tours.
After nearly four weeks in Vietnam I got over my fear of tours. The Tour I was willing to risk was a special case in many respects. I was moderately confident that there would only be the four of us. The subject of the tour was something that I expected to hit all the right notes with Miss and Mrs LessBaggage. Food.
We gambled upon a street food tour in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. This seems a little bit of a backpacker trap given the coffee mixed with egg event at the end and all that. However given the price (around $20 Australian per person) it is a little bit pricey for the backpacker market.
(An Australian dollar is a rather inconsistent yard-stick these days given its conspicuous and persistent slide. Perhaps I should reference the exchange rate between the greenback and Vietnamese Dong? But its not that kind of blog and this gives me a chance to politely and gracefully point out that the Australian economy is being run into the ground by a bunch of talentless intellectual vacuums with no redeeming features. Despite being intent on a reversed class war, which usually creates some sort of warped opportunity for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, they are a failure from almost every point of view. That said the alternative government looks little better.)
We were set for 7 different street food experiences and then the silly coffee. Our guide was a lovely young woman who amiably told us of her life and many things other than food; from political structures and religion to motorbikes and boyfriends.
And off they go; it’s Saturday night in downtown Hanoi, the streets are buzzing even more than usual and it is time to eat. We didn’t stroll of course, we dodged puddles and wares for sale, we avoided motorbikes and cars, we kept the kids close but by this stage they were pretty adept at Vietnamese streets. It was cacophony but we barely noticed any more.
And down they sit; in a street that we had walked down before, in a stall we may have looked at, in the tiny room inside with at least 15 people. The tour was supposed to be able to guide us through 7 vegetarian meals. I was dubious but encouraged by our new best friend. The situation was complicated by the fact that we are a mixed family with two vegetarians, a curious carnivore and a young man that loves pigs. I wondered if we were to go to all vegetarian vendors. The first noodle stall set that one straight; no. Multiple soup urns bubbled with fleshy scents. The slurping patrons looked up and they looked down again. Our guide chatted to the proprietress for a little too long. We sat. Four different bowls were placed in front of us. We had asked to try a Pho though we knew that was really a breakfast food. We had had many but the prospect of trying the creations of a master of Pho right in the backstreets of Hanoi was enough to overcome any concerns about appearing gauche. We were not alone. Everyone started and the carnivore was happy, the pro-porcine 8 year old finished his, I was a little suspicious of my broth and the 10 year old vegetarian was ecstatic. She loved it.
As an adventurous food taster my daughter has been resolute in her second stint at being vegetarian. She loves noodles and noodle soups above almost all foods. The number of noodle soups she had to pass by (due to meaty broths) along the trip are countless. Finally she could eat. She trusted the guide. She ate.
The second stall was a Hanoi variation on the spring roll. A mother and daughter team steamed a gossamer thin envelope right in front of us and we all had a go. We crept into a somehow atmospheric flourescent lit cave and tucked in. Each dipping sauce was different, the chillies were hot, the vegetarian old man turned pink and beads of sweat appeared on a happy irish face.
And on we went; through dumplings and pancakes and fried doughnut things. The protector of pigs lost interest or perhaps just ran out of energy or stomach, the carnivore had had enough, the junior vegetarian was enthusiastic enough to keep us going. It was her favourite kind of food and it had been a forbidden fruit and now it was safe.
I was still unsure. I didn’t want to unsettle my vegetarian protoge and our guide was continuously happily confident. Some things just tasted a bit different to me; maybe they were just better than what we had been eating, maybe there was more monosodium glutamate. I refused one on grounds of suspicion.
Stall six; in a shop that we had definately look at that day but its was full of clothes then; they had been dutifully boxed and carried away on a motorbike and now the venue was transformed into a tiny restaurant; tiny plastic tables and chairs, 2 giant pots of soup, all necessary condiments and bowls etc. All brought by another motorbike. We sat. The maitre d’hote chatted with our guide. Out came the bowls. Again the two girls were happy, my son had long been full and didn’t have anything and I was a bit suspicious. Then the little piece of pork floated up. In my attempt to not be a party pooper I had, of course, been caught out. I suspect that I had been caught out a few times. At the very best all of our food was being prepared on the same surfaces and using the same utensils as the meaty stuff. I wasn’t happy. Our happy guide was less happy but she was confident that it was a contamination from the other soup rather that my soup being a meat based stock. Mrs LessBaggage agreed that the two soups tasted rather different.
It had happened; there was nothing I could do. Correction; I could get angry, I could get sulky, I could get all paranoid, I could get all fundamental on everyone and lambast them with my righteous, nay, pious rage!
I didn’t. It was done. Nothing was bringing the pig back.
Each stall vendor was paid a tiny fraction of the $80 we had given the tour office. In each case it was probably less than what we would have paid. The tour office certainly made a decent little profit. But I’m not bitter. I don’t feel we we paid over the odds; it’s a tourist product and we paid tourist prices. I don’t feel we were cheated; it was possibly as vegetarian as this sort of food gets.
I got over it. We had dessert. We skipped on the eggy coffee.