We haven’t seen stars for five weeks, since we left home. Yesterday we woke to a blue sky and clear sunshine for the first time since arriving in Vietnam. It seemed to make the walk into town to the Ben Thanh market shorter, the air less weighed down.
At the main entrance, under the clock tower, I met with five other tourists and The Vietnamese Cookery Centre’s Ms Mie, for a tour of the market and a morning of cooking. This time I learned to make a fresh spring roll using a mustard leaf, braised chicken in a caramel and fish sauce, and the day-long process of making pho.
Singeing onions, shallots and fresh ginger over the open gas flame was also a technique new to me. This adds a smoky flavour – but also stimulates the sugars in the onions, adding sweetness to the bone broth. That’s apart from the cup of sugar that is added to the stock. Or the sugar used in the final seasoning when serving the pho.
Our time in Ho Chi Minh City has been domestic – a time of laundry, market shopping, cooking experiments in the apartment, morning and afternoon iced-coffee breaks, painting and reading.
The measure of a good holiday, for me, is how much reading I manage. It’s been a good holiday so far – I’m deep into my 11th novel. And that’s apart from several recipe books and tour guides.
I love that we have sat on our terraces here in Vietnam (both in Hanoi and now HCMC), with doors that open to the living area of the apartment, and below us are street sounds and a thriving business. So similar to being at home, above the studio.
Strange the things one misses when leaving one place for another – here in Saigon I’m missing the earthy scent of the incense burning inside and outside almost every shop or home or restaurant in Hoi An. Tributes to ancestors and gods. In Saigon, the incense is noticeable for its absence.
Hot, bothered and bewildered – this is the state of tourists passing our regular table at our local eatery. Everyday, new visitors arrive, looking dazed. We were no different on our first day. Now, when we walk down the street, parking attendants smile greetings to us, our chefs and waitrons wave at us when we walk past, and the staff in the art -supply shop welcome us as regulars!
Downstairs in our coffee-shop entrance to our apartment stairs, the regular patrons nod hello. And each barista has his or her own playlist. My favourite is the young woman who plays her classical piano repertoire in the morning.
So many other playlists in other places loop around and around playing Karen Carpenter, John Denver and Glen Campbell.
For those who are wondering, this has ended up as my Accidental Holiday Reading List (Accidental as some of the books I’ve picked up are from where travelers before me left them behind for me to find!)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Woman in the Orient Express by Lyndsay Jayne Ashford
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Barefoot Summer by Carolyn Brown
The Stars are Fire by Amit Shreve
The Man in the Barn by Fiona McShane
Watermelon by Marian Keyes
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
(I started reading Saigon Wife by Colin Falconer but abandoned it)
(I am also part way through My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on audible, and listen when circumstances allow).
Foodie reading has included:
Authentic Recipes from Vietnam by Trieu Thi Choi and Marcel Isaak
Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Phol
Rice and Baguette a History of Food in Vietnam by Vu Hong Lien