Today I won’t bring any recipes to you, but I will tell you about one of the best meals I had in Vietnam one year ago.
One year ago, I was in a minibus going from Ninh Bình to Hánoi, on my way to Hanoi Family HomestayHanoi Family Homestay, one of the few places that would take me in at the time. My original plan was to stay longer in that beautiful land of temples and luscious greenery, but, well, not everything goes always [*coughs* EVER! *coughs*] according to plan.
I arrived in Ninh Bình for what I thought would be a week-long hiking vacation on the 13th, early in the morning. See, I have this little adventurous bone in me that prompts me not to read the back cover of any book, watch the trailer of any movie, or —apparently— check the status of a pandemic before I travel. So when I arrived at 8 am at my hostel, the guy up front told me he wouldn’t charge me for the 7 days because I should find myself a means of transportation back to the city, where at least I had an airport nearby should things get worse (spoiler alert: they did, and you can read about it here). He told me that day I was going to be able to sightsee a little bit, but on the 14th absolutely every tourist site would be closed. Although I would have appreciated more an email the day before, I thanked him and managed to get that minibus back to Hanói on the 15th and a driver to take me to those sites that were still open.
My plan was to do one or two attractions per day, hopefully on foot or by bike, and just really take it all in and have their famous goat somewhere in the middle of the countryside. Instead, I packed my only day with some kayaking among the breathtaking mountains of Tam Coc, running up and down the magnificent Bai Dinh Pagoda, and admiring the impressive views from the top of Hang Mua. I was lucky, after all.
I hadn’t had any lunch and it was already past 6 o’clock, so I was starving. I asked the driver to drop me by a restaurant that served the famous Ninh Bình goat meat, a couple of kilometers from my place (Diep’s Homestay). I paid him and when I was about to walk into the restaurant, the owner came out and told me I couldn’t go in. He crossed his arms in front of his face, forming a cross shape, and wouldn’t let me in. There were a family and a couple already inside, eating. I didn’t understand at first, but then it hit me… I was visibly European, and these people did not know I had been in Vietnam since well before the first case in Italy. They were scared I was carrying the virus, so I left and walked by my homestay. Fortunately, they could fix me some instant noodles there.
I still had some time to kill the next day, so I slept in and then started meandering around town, but with all the temples, stores, and restaurants closed, there was really not much to do there. The day was grey and sad as if it were a reflection of my mood. Not because I was bored and my plans went down the drain, but because I was worried knowing that my family back in Spain was going into lockdown.
It was weird walking the deserted streets and, any time I passed by someone, they would cross the streets to get away from me, although I was wearing my mask at all times. Some little girls playing down the road saw me and run away yelling. It was like being in a zombie movie… from the zombie’s perspective.
Restaurants were closed, but street vendors were not. The problem was, every time I approached one, they would just ignore me or pretend to close the stand. It was already late in the afternoon and there I was, again hungry and without options. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them. Vietnam took the coronavirus situation truly seriously from the beginning and I do admire them for that. But that doesn’t make it less inconvenient, or even hurtful.
I kept walking, hoping to come across a kind soul who would find it in their heart to feed me. And I did. It was in a residential alley where I was supposed to find a supermarket that was also closed. I don’t know if my desperation was that clear (I am one of those people who become exceedingly hangry), but this kid who was riding his bike looked at me and hit the breaks. He was about 10 or 12 years old. I smiled at him hoping that my eyes will deliver the message in spite of the facemask, and he rummaged through the stuff he carried in his bike’s basket.
He handed me a lollipop and, before I could even mutter “Cảm ơn”, he was gone.
Yes, I love phở, bún chả, gỏi cuốn… but that lollipop, my friends, was undoubtedly one of the best meals I had in Vietnam.
What can I say? I love the taste of kidness.