Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What If Julia Child cooked for you?

Well, we all know that Julia Child is not of this world anymore, and she's somewhere cooking up a storm, with lots of wine whether or not the recipe calls for it. But make no mistake, the woman's reputation preceded her, and she was hailed as one of the world's greatest chefs. If you click on the link above, you'll find that the Smithsonian Institute has a website just for Julia!
So, now you've guessed that I'm going to talk about food, but not just any food. Our friends at Aurora Travel had managed a surprise lunch for us, which we were not going to forget for quite some time. They picked us up at our hotel, and off we went. Of course, we had no idea what or where or who at the time, but it made it that much more delicious and enjoyable.

the dining room
We had to go up a very narrow two flights of stairs, and entered the vestibule, from where you could see a huge dining room, with two of the longest dining tables you could imagine. The balcony door was open, and the area looked deserted. Our host was not to be seen for a few minutes, though her husband appeared shortly after we arrived. It's a good thing that we had bi-lingual escorts. I peered at the walls, and realized that Anthony Bourdain

had beat us to this place...darn that man.

No matter, I knew we would have stories to tell after we left this place. Let's get a little background on this famous lady. Pham Anh Tuyet is considered one of Viet Nam's national treasures (in Asia, one cannot be elevated to this status just by knowing how to do something; you really need to be extraordinary) in the art of cooking; she has her own TV show and has hosted culinary tours, and learned her trade through her mother. During Viet Nam's colonial era, in the 1930's, Thi Anh' mother was chef for the French Embassy. (and you know how finicky those French can be). She grew up in Ha Noi, and her restaurant is in the very heart of the city.

All sitting in great anticipation

She's very proud of the honor Viet Nam has bestowed upon her, and we took a picture of it below:

As everyone finds out sooner or later, Vietnamese hospitality goes beyond heartwarming. And that is probably the reason we found ourselves so drawn to this culture. Mrs. Pham is genuine, unaffected, and welcomed us into her home as if we had been family. The meal we were about to partake must have included so many courses, it is hard to remember them all. Every dish was eye candy, and melted in your mouth. Even the nem rolls which are so ubiquitous in Viet Nam were special coming from her oven.

Soup, nem rolls, rice noodles

chicken w/lemongrass

something amazing with peanut sauce
As she served the various dishes, she would tell us about her life, her daughter, whose pictures were on the wall. She seemed tireless. She looked so pleased everytime we showed appreciation for her delicacies. And then, surprise of all surprises, she had a bouquet of flowers for me! I was really touched by this gesture.

Viet Namese take flowers very seriously

In the photo below, you can see Mrs. Pham standing next to her husband, a man with an incredible white head of hair. To the left is Van, our magnificent counsel and friend from Aurora Travel.

It was a very difficult place to leave for more than just the food. Ann Tuyet wanted to teach me how to make a Viet Namese meal, and being a gourmet cook myself, I really thought the idea was fabulous. But this was Saturday, and we were leaving the next day. I was so very tempted to prolong this voyage, again, but wisdom prevented me from doing that. I promised that I'd be back and that we would go shopping together, at her favorite market down the street and cook together. To her credit, she came down the stairs to see us out. She was even concerned about my crossing the street on my own, and held my hand till I got into a taxi. Where else?

And of course, now that we knew where we had been, we did turn around and take the picture above.

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