It is my last day in the Mekong delta, and I’m nearing the end of my journey in beautiful Vietnam. For the past 2 months, I’ve had an on and off relationship with local eateries. At first, I was simply daunted by the idea of stepping into an eatery furnished with low plastic stools or plastic chairs, pointing at whatever is available in the cooking area without knowing how much it would cost, and handing over some money at the end, trusting that I wouldn’t be ripped off.
When I did finally pluck the courage to go through the experience, the problem I discovered was not the locals’ disposition to rip foreigners off (quite the opposite, I was always asked to pay a price which, if it wasn’t exactly the local price, came quite close to it), but the fact that my stomach never responded very well to the food, or the way that bowls and chopsticks were cleaned by simply and quickly drowning them into a pot full of soapy water and then quickly taking them out – no scrubbing, no further rinsing. Tired of uncomfortable mornings spent in the bathroom and the occasional throwing up, I soon chose to forget about the ‘local experience’ and eat at more clean-looking restaurants catering for both foreigners and the local middle class, and never had any problems since then.
And yet, this is my last day in the Mekong delta, and one of the only restaurants of this kind in Can Tho had proven, the day before, to not only be overpriced, but also mediocre when it comes to its dishes. Another night at that awful restaurant is not the way I want to end my wonderful adventure. It’s time to give local places another try. And I end up with this…
…a beautiful, crispy, flavoursome Vietnamese pancake, cooked and presented the local way. Let me just start by saying that I did not (me, Miss Super-shutter-happy) take the above photo (click on the image for Flickr attribution). There are times when a woman needs to forget about the camera in her pocket and focus on the task at hand. This is one of these moments for me.
The air is hot, humid, and thick with small flying bugs of all sorts. As I wait for my food to arrive, a few of them plunge head long into my drink. And then the marvelous creation which is the Vietnamese pancake is deposited on my table, along with a plate heaped high with crisp, green herbs and leaves of all shapes and textures. Observing just how lost I look once my eyes are set on this unfamiliar sight, the lovely waitress/cook proceeds to show me how it is done. Taking one of the largest of leaves in her hand, she continues to take one leave from each kind of herb/plant which is on the plate, in order to create a multi-textured and multi-layered wrap. Then, with her chopsticks, she expertly snips off a piece of the crispy pancake, scoops up some of its minced meat and bean sprout filling, rolls it all into one, and gestures for me to pop it into my mouth and enjoy.
What I end up with was a fresh, savoury, crunchy and refreshing explosion of taste I dream about to this day. Though I do not have the patience to replicate the host’s wrap of all herbs, and just proceed to create less complex but still delicious combinations, I forget all about my camera. As the bugs keep on falling onto my plate, and sneaking under the cover of my herbs and in the little holes in my pancake, I try to forget their presence in my food and keep eating one of the most delicious, memorable, and meaningful meals of my life.
My trip to Can Tho was part of a two day trip with Buffalo Tours, and I used the city as a sort of base from which to explore more of the Mekong delta. While I was in Can Tho, I stayed at the Victoria Can Tho resort.
After almost 4 weeks of staying in very often charmless and characterless hotels around Vietnam – don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like I was roughing it or anything – I had started seriously missing a home (as opposed to ‘home’), by which I mean a little warm and comfortable nest which did not feel like a hospital room or just any other white room with dark furniture. Staying at the Victoria Can Tho resort for two nights gave me a much needed boost. With its dark, chocolate-coloured wooden floor, and light, caramel-coloured walls, the room made me feel welcome, and was the perfect writer’s retreat, even if only for the space of 48 hours.
Add to this a beautiful, beautiful pool, a river view from my balcony, and a free boat shuttle service from the hotel to the city itself, and my stay at this resort was one of the most memorable in my life.
The Victoria Can Tho resort is a white colonial beauty of a building situated right by the river. Apart from it being the only luxury hotel in the middle of the Mekong delta, this resort also distinguishes itself by offering some wonderful, bespoke and off the beaten track tours of the region. While these tours are on the expensive side, they are worth every penny because they take you to lesser known areas and villages in the Mekong, on foot, by boat or by bicycle.
While the property is marketed as a resort, I found that there were none of the negative bits one usually associates with the term. Quite the opposite, though the building itself is very grand, it still felt quite cosy and intimate, with the main common area, including the pool, being at the centre of the U-shaped property.
For all you foodies out there, this is also the place to indulge in the hotel restaurant’s gourmet fare for a fraction of the price you would back home, though I’d also leave some time to explore the authentic (and not edited for tourists) local eateries on the street just behind the hotel. One of your most memorable meals might just be waiting for you in Can Tho, in a humble local eatery or a gourmet restaurant (or both).
-Text and Photography @www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.
Editor’s note: My stay at the Victoria Can Tho resort was sponsored by Buffalo Tours. As usual all opinions expressed are my own.