Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Street Treat: Paleta.

Looking out at the frosty breezes whipping around my house this morning, it's a little hard to imagine-- but up until yesterday evening, we were sweltering in the tropical Mexican heat. There was one treat in particular we sought out to cool us off: paletas. They're described as Mexican popsicles, but popsicles conjure images of flavorless coloured ice, melting into sticky syrup in the wrapper-- these are too tasty for that. They were sold in street-corner shops and out of bell-ringing push carts, and came in both water and fruit base varieties. I tried pistachio, creamy and full of chopped nuts; pineapple, packed with frozen chunks of fruit; and vanilla, coated with crunchy granola and chocolate. There were more tempting flavors that I never got to sample, unfortunately-- like rice, lime, and sour tamarind.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walton Ford.

There is something a touch dull about those toucan prints, though-- maybe they're just a little too innocent. For it to really work well with our style, we might need images that are just a little off, just a little dark-- like the zoological watercolors of Walton Ford. Though he uses the tropes and style of eighteenth/nineteenth century naturalists, he uses his works to comment on themes like colonialism and the natural sciences. I like the bizarre painting of the gluttonous heron above, or the ominous image of the gharial and the monkey below. Anyone know if he's done one of tropical birds?

Monday, December 22, 2008


I was hoping to have my first Mexico post up today, but I forgot to bring my camera usb-cable with me to Mexico. I'll try to be quick and get one up tomorrow after I return home. In the mean time, I'll offer a taste of the tropical style I'm enjoying here in Puerto Vallarta.

It's been interesting being back in a tropical clime, yet one where the sense of style is so vastly different from Southeast Asia. Browsing through the boutiques here, we've seen white cotton textiles embroidered with blocky animal shapes, wooden crosses covered in tiny silver milagros, and-- a personal favorite of mine-- massive over-the-top paintings of brightly colored toucans. Toucans are such awkward birds, that even when rendered gracefully, they come off looking a little clownish. The paintings are a little too baroque to go with our style, but I think the toucan prints above are a good compromise. The pared down scientific quality of the above prints might work well with our more understated tropical lifestyle.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


We're currently taking a break from winter, on a family vacation to Puerto Vallarta. This is definitely the most vacation-y vacation I've taken in a long time, and it'll be an odd switch from the backpacking Bordeaux and I have been doing for the past few years. I have to admit, I'm pretty excited about travelling--- and not having to make any decisions myself, for once. Whee!

Be back in time for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lights of Madrid, NM.

We've really been trying to make the most of Christmas this year: searching out good recipes for baking, making our own Christmas cards, and browsing at local shops. We've also been able to take part in a few local events. This past weekend, we traveled north through sparse hills and shadowy valleys, to the town of Madrid. We arrived at dusk, just as the light was beginning to bleed light pink and pale violet, just in time to watch the town's strings of lights flicker on.

Madrid isn't a town, exactly. It had occupied a bustling career as a coal mining center in the 1850s, and was even one of the first places in New Mexico to receive electricity. After falling into derelict as a ghost town, it was revived as a community for artists, who now operate a string of quiet galleries, shops, and cafes. Every year in December, the town is decorated in strings of Christmas lights, and weekend openhouses are hosted for visitors.

We went up there this year to view the lights, enjoy a warm latte, and do some shopping ... well, maybe not the shopping. I have to admit that the style of artwork popular in Madrid isn't really my thing. The town looked rather charming though, and had a truly welcoming atmosphere. The shop owners were friendly and inviting, and many even offered cold-weather treats, like peppermint cookies, handmade toffee, and warm mulled cider. One artist even had a fire ready, with marshmallows for roasting.


We've had a few light flakes over the past week, but yesterday morning it started snowing, and didn't stop until long after dark. The white stuff piled up over the day, leaving my neighborhood piled with a powdery three inches! I'm guessing readers from colder climates are probably rolling their eyes, but after a year without seasons, it felt great to be back in the cold.

We spent most of the day warm inside, but we did venture out for a walk-- a few blocks over and across the park to the drugstore, where we gathered ingredients for Bordeaux to make candy cane hot chocolate. Yum. Pictured above is Bordeaux in the park, enjoying his first snow fall.

And today? Mostly melted, turning to slush. Oh well...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lucky Boy.

It's hard not to like Lucky Boy at least a little. The name that sounds like a brand of soy sauce. The sun-bleached pastel pink and yellow of the exterior, the dated neon sign. The interior that looks like it hasn't changed in 30 years-- probably hasn't-- with avocado green tables in the booths, and faux wood-grain walls. And the concept, a mix of Chinese-American chop suey standards and American fast food, is neither 'authentic cuisine', cutting edge fusion. Maybe that's what makes it fun, though. You can order a chili burger with a side of fried rice, a sweet and sour combo, or the unusual 'egg foo young burger', pictured below-- and don't forget to get a vanilla milkshake or a rootbeer on the side.

Lucky Boy-- Located on the corner of Constitution and Carlisle, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pink Pan Dulce.

I don't know if it would work as a party food, but I imagine a big table piled with this Mexican sweet bread would look pretty fantastic. I guess you could dye the topping in another hue, but it would be difficult to beat this electric pink.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And next...

... is all a little unclear. And sorry Bkk, you didn't even make the shortlist. The one thing that's for sure is that I'm ready to be settled down for awhile. After five years of being highly international, I think I'm ready to be domestic...

Thursday, December 11, 2008


HSCBC has an advertising campaign called 'point of view', where they compare two things, and show how they can be differently understood according to their cultural context. Images of sumo wrestling and muay thai alternate the words 'violence' and 'art', showing how a little shift in geography can mean a total shift of mind.

I was thinking of this idea a lot in my final days of travel, as I realized how Southeast Asia had become so mundane to me. Two years ago, the towering temples of Bangkok had seemed completely exotic-- yet after my year and a half of residence, they had become quite ordinary. Contrarily, the adobe houses and big blue skies of New Mexico had once been quite commonplace for me, but had since become rather romantic in my mind. At the point where I could pass by a gorgeous glittering wat without raising an eye, I knew it was time to leave Thailand. I wanted to be able to reinvest Asia with a little bit of the exotic I had lost.

I know there's a lot to be said against the exotic. It's a distancing device, a potential method of primitivization, it's the opiate of the tourist. But I have to say that a lot of what keeps me connected to the world is the draw of the exotic. Is there a way to construct the exotic so that it doesn't rest on out of date tropes and patronizing ideas of a disconnected world? What does the exotic mean nowadays, and should we still be opposed to it?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

First Snow of the Season Oatmeal.

Has the theme of my last post suggested what I missed most in Bangkok? Seasons. Ok, we had hot, cool, and wet-- but in Thailand I was missing autumn, winter, spring and summer. In addition to being able to dress for the seasons, or enjoy a change in the weather, I'm happy to be eating seasonally again.

We had our first snow fall this morning (it was light and didn't stick, but it counts!), so I started the day with a warm breakfast. My current favorite breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal, garnished with berries, nuts, and either dark brown sugar or maple syrup. Pictured above is a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts and dried fruit from Flying Star, the Albuquerque Cafe that I mentioned in my last post. It's a great local spot for breakfast, from the above, to delicious muffins, to big plates of huevos rancheros.

What are you eating for breakfast?

Eggnog Cookies and a Celeb Sighting at the Nob Hill Shop & Stroll.

Christmas last year in Bangkok was an odd experience-- lots of lights, Christmas music, and homemade treats, but it all felt strangely disconnected in the tropical clime. So this year, we planned our return to my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico with the holidays specifically in mind. So far, it's been great-- we were greeted upon arrival with a chill in the air, my sister has helped Bordeaux with some holiday treat making, and we've even gotten to join in some local festivities.

Last Thursday, we took part in the Nob Hill Shop & Stroll. Nob Hill is Albuquerque's hippest neighborhood, a stretch of Central Road lined with cafes, salons, and boutique shops. For the event, the street was closed down, and pedestrians were free to browse in shops, sample street-stand treats, and enjoy roving musicians (pictured above: mariachis in Santa hats, of course).

After squeezing through the crowds in a few shops we ducked into the Flying Star Cafe, for a rich glass of hot chocolate and a giant eggnog cookie. Coming in from the cold, the decadent treat was the perfect cap to the evening. We also got a little bonus celebrity sighting: Ewan McGregor looking very handsome one table over-- thanks to New Mexico's burgeoning role as a low cost filming locale.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Eating American in Los Angeles.

The above photos are not documentation of a bizarre three-course meal, but rather some samples of my first weekend eating again in the United States. Though I obviously had regrets about the food I'd be leaving in Southeast Asia, I was pretty excited about the food I'd be returning to in the US. And luckily the port of entry for my return was Los Angeles, the ideal place to get started eating.

We only had a weekend in LA, which was way too short to get in everything we wanted-- but we managed to do pretty well for ourselves. Highlights (most of which are illustrated above) included a greasy diner-style patty melt, an excellently prepared homemade Thanksgiving dinner, almond and cherry scones with a latte at Peet's Coffee on Larchmont, and a decadent pumpkin-spice cupcake at Swinger's Diner.

And though it doesn't exactly fit with the theme, I will also single out one of our best meals-- a delicious (and long awaited) Ethiopian dinner on Fairfax.

Sadly missed? Zankou Chicken, and even a single Taco Truck. Next time...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Scenes from a hasty departure.

1. With bus tickets to Cambodia purchased and an evening in Bangkok planned, Bordeaux called Asiana Airlines to reconfirm our tickets out of Siem Reap. 'But you can fly out of Thailand tonight,' the operator told him. Out of Suvarnabhumi? No-- U-tapao, a military airport three hours out of Bangkok. We threw together our bags, cancelled our plans, and grabbed a taxi for the long trip, arriving finally at the army base to find a line of travelers snaking to the door.

2. After two hours in a single line, we reached the counter, where we were divided up by airlines. They checked us in, and sent us through security, where we found another long wait. Asiana and Korean Airlines formed two lines, and we wondered which would be first to board their first. Neither, as it turned out-- Malaysia Airlines appeared out of nowhere, pulling their passengers through the security check to get them onto their plane quickly. Despite the confusion, no one complained or stressed-- we were all just happy to be leaving. Finally, at close to 2:00 am, we were allowed to board.

3. A short flight later, we arrived in Seoul-- I almost didn't believe that we were leaving until Thailand until we reached Incheon airport in South Korea.

4. Walking out of our plane, we were greeted by a crowd of reporters, anxious to catch footage of the first flights to emerge from Bangkok.

5. We had hoped to spend the day in Seoul, but we were left with too little time to make the daytrip. Instead, we had five hours at Incheon airport, to browse in bookstores, look at high-end window displays, and enjoy a lunch of warm Korean dishes, complete with kimchi.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To Cambodia.

Well, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We may have found a way out. Instead of turkey and stuffing, I may be eating amok and samlor in Siem Reap. We are potentially going to have to travel overland to Cambodia, and then fly out of there. Bonus! We thought we were done with long bus trips, but we'll be travelling all day tomorrow. Bonus! We have to deal with the nasty Cambodian border crossing, where everybody wants a bribe. Bonus! We are only waitlisted for a flights once we get to Seoul, so we may have to spend a night.

Thanks, PAD.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Never mind, I'm stuck.

Leaving Asia?

Well, I may be departing from Asia late this evening.

Then again, I may be stranded in Bangkok indefinitely, thanks to the efforts of the anti-government mob who have stormed the airport.

I am trying-- desperately trying-- to leave Asia on a positive note. Because, yes, there have been things that I didn't like-- the constant pollution, loose city sidewalks that splatter muddy water, nasty taxi drivers, agonizingly slow Lao buses, being called 'friend' by touts, the ubiquitous Korean mullets on teenagers, massive insects, tacky tourists who think that being in Thailand is justification for going shirtless on city streets and getting their hair done in hideous cornrows-- and now, also clapping-hand waving protesters.

But all of that is really insignificant when compared to how incredible my time here has been. The wealth of things I've seen, the flavors I've tasted, and the range of experiences I've had makes all of those problems really meaningless. That point become obvious to me when I tried to assemble photos for the above collage-- which in no way could possibly reflect what I've seen and done here. From drifting down the Mekong in Laos, to testing my chili tolerance in Thailand, to finally getting to see the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia, to sampling unusual foods in Taiwan, to admiring Penang's streets in Malaysia, to drinking rich drip coffee in Vietnam... it's been unforgettable. I know that, no question, I'll be coming back soon.

Then again, check back with me how I'm feeling if I do get stranded here this evening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eating Malaysia with the help of Eating Asia.

Recently, my jet-setting friend Tim found himself in Taipei, where he encountered a number of the tasty and unusual treats that I wrote about during my time there. Coincidentally, I was also in a new city on the same day that he posted his entry, and I too was following the tips of another blogger in order to track down some delicious dishes. However, while I had for Tim only an odd collection of stumbled upon snackfoods to recommend, my informant-- Robyn, of Easting Asia-- offered me a fantastic list of well researched tips.

Her first tip led us to Jalan Transfer, where we found a sidewalk roti stand. We joined the other patrons, who were eating on communal tables under the shade of a slanted metal awning. Bordeaux and I were each served a toasty roti fried with egg, and a bowl of a rich tomato based chicken curry. Though I'm normally a coffee drinker, I ordered instead a glass of hot milky tea. It was served lightly frothed, and so hot that the glass had melted the ice cubes placed around it even before it got to the table.

We followed her next tip to dinner, to a Chinese Nyonya restaurant called Shing Kheang Aun. We were lucky to find a vacant table, because the place was packed-- crowds of families and groups of old friends all enjoying their dinner. I had come with a list of recommendations, and while my efforts at pronouncing our order amused the proprietor, it worked perfectly. We were treated to an outstanding dinner of kiam hoo masak Belanda (pork and salted fish with sweet red chilli), assam heh (crispy shrimp coated in a tangy tamarind sauce), and our favorite dish, gulai tumis (fish in a red curry soup).

All of these dishes were just a prelude to our next morning, where a tip from Robyn directed us to the Pulau Tikus market. There, we had a long palm-sugar sweetened breakfast as we sampled various treats and snacks. Our first stop was a 'pan cake' stand, where we got a slice of giant spongy pancake. It was filled with a layer of dark palm sugar, laced with crunchy broken peanuts.

Next we ordered some treats from a table serving Nyonya sweets. We ordered our soul savoury bite, a slice of white carrot cake. It had been a favorite dish of ours in Taiwan, but we especially liked how it was served here, topped with chili and garlic. Next, we ordered two sweet snacks-- a glutinous bar of brown rice, and a moist slice of a darkly flavoured cake.

Finally, we managed one last stop, to grab a coffee and check out one more recommendation: appom, Indian coconut milk pancakes. They were baked in clay pots over charcoal stoves, and had a nicely toasted flavour, tempered by a slight creaminess. It was the perfect morning of sampling new treats, even if I did get a little sweetened out-- though I did still have to stop by the first stand again before we left, for another slice of the giant palm-sugar pancake.

Thanks again to Robyn for the outstanding tips! If you're interested in food in Asia, you're probably already reading her blog-- but if not, be sure to check out Eating Asia.

Be sure to check out I am a Viking too, for his entries on unusual food discoveries in the British Isles, original cartoons, and essays on Japanese culinary culture.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hair Saloon.

There is one feature of the Penang style landscape that I wanted to single out in particular-- the hair saloons! (No, not a typo as I thought when I saw the first sign). Georgetown's streets are dotted with these little beauty parlors, most decorated in pastel hues and mid-century decor. Air-conditioning was often the chief advertising agent. I never saw anyone emerge freshly coiffed, unfortunately-- but I can only imagine these shops specialize in modish flips and hi-so bouffants.

And, as an aside, I just wanted to share that I am counting down the days-- only ten left in Asia! Obviously, lots of sadness, things I know I'll miss, food I'll crave the instant I step on the flight, etc etc-- but right now I'm really looking forward to the change of scenery. Additionally, it'll be great being back in the US after almost a year and a half absence!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tropical style in Penang.

Penang is a city with serious tropical style.

You can see it in the spectacular doorways...

...and the mix of colours and patterns in the tiles, which should clash, but don't.

And in its more distinctive features, like the bamboo curtains that work both as advertisements, and as protection from the equatorial sun.

And most of all, in the colors-- deep pinks, blues, and greens-- the hues so intense that they seem to sizzle in the midday heat.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I l Penang.

With our time in Southeast Asia drawing to a close in just over a month, Bordeaux and I had to make one quick visa run. We had been planning on just crossing the border for a night, but a good friend in Bangkok who recently visited Kuala Lumpur convinced us we should try to see more of Malaysia. I'm grateful she did, because so far Penang has been incredible-- rows of beautiful pastel shopfronts, offbeat mid-century style, and an incredible mix of cultures and religions. I can't remember the last time I felt so enamored of a city-- perhaps when I first saw Bangkok or Hanoi. To be honest, I'd been starting to feel a little 'travelled out' lately-- and Penang has totally reignited my drive.

Of course, the fact that food and coffee in Georgetown are fantastic helps-- we spent much of today eating, sampling (among other things) roti, chicken rice, and Indian sweets. More on all of that to come...

Friday, October 31, 2008

An invitation to lunch.

Maybe it was a little premature to announce the return of regular entries... I'm sorry about the lack of blogging lately- a mix of too much work, miles of travelling, and too few precious minutes of internet access have left my blog trailing behind my life. We're currently in Trang province, where our work is taking us among a string of gorgeous islands. Our favorite island so far is Ko Libong-- it's the largest of the islands, but also one of the least visited. In fact, there are only three small guesthouses on a single beach-- the rest of the island is used for agriculture and rubber tapping. Even the beach with the guesthouses manages not to feel too commercial, as it's split right in the middle by a small village.

While walking past the village yesterday, we passed two boys picking coconuts from a tree. They stopped us, and directed us to watch as they chopped them open, then offered us each a drink. It was much tastier than other coconut juice I've had-- as fresh as possible, and still cooled by the shade of the tree. We gave them back the coconuts, and after they each enjoyed a drink, they hacked the coconuts in two. With a twist of the blade, the smaller boy created a spoon, and gave us a half to enjoy the tender coconut flesh.

On the way back through town later that afternoon, Bordeaux and I stopped at a general dealer's to get a drink. While we relaxed in the shade, we were joined by a man from the village, who was taking a break from working. He was building a new guesthouse, he explained-- pantomiming nailing, in case we didn't understand. After asking us the usual questions about where we were from, and where we were staying, he invited us to join him for lunch. We were each given a plate heaped with rice, and we served ourselves modest spoonfuls from the soup bowls. The first was a clear broth with chunks of beef, the other a spicy-sour curry of shellfish. Though it was a modest lunch, it was very tasty. And more than anything, it was a generous gesture on our host's part-- and it was certainly far more interesting than eating at our guesthouse. Finished, we thanked our host, who suggested we come back in 2009 to stay at his guesthouse. Hopefully we'll return to take him up on the offer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One day of eating in Saigon.

Even though I've managed life in Bangkok for over a year, the city of Saigon still intimidates me. I am, however, fascinated by it-- it's a colorful town with a tropical atmosphere, and its streets and sidewalks teem with activity. I almost chose to live there, rather than in Thailand, and I'm still curious about what life would have been like. Despite, I feel as though I can barely began to comprehend the city, can barely see over the traffic of whirring motorbikes-- making eating, in a sense, a challenge. Searching out a distant market seems daunting, seeking specific street-snacks seems impossible. Thankfully, there are enough good flavors and tastes in the city that I was well-fed on my last visit, despite my lack of adventurousness.

On our last full day in Saigon, Bordeaux and I took a leisurely breakfast at La Fenetre Soleil, an inviting upstairs cafe. Though it's located up a dingy staircase and down a dark hallway, it manages to attract it's fair share of fans (including a fellow blogger). My breakfast was a double dose of rich Vietnamse coffee: an iced black drip coffee, and Vietnamese coffee french toast. The latter was particularly spectacular: smooth and well-flavoured, and drizzled with sweetened milk (though I don't know what peanuts have to do with Vietnamese coffee, they added a nice crunchy texture).

For lunch, we ducked behind a downtown mosque, to a shady courtyard curry shop. The richly spiced dishes were excellent- particularly a beef curry with tender strips of okra. It was eaten with roti, which were crisped golden brown. The beverage, though simple, should be noted- bubbling soda water with two wedges of lime, and a little white sugar. After drip coffee and avocado shakes, it's my favorite Vietnamese drink-- perfect for the steamy tropical heat.

For dinner, we chose an outdoor restaurant near the central Ben Thanh market. Among our dishes were grilled shrimp on sugarcane, and a crunchy banh xeo pancake. We have another restaurant there that we favor, and we should have gone there again-- they didn't live up to the quality of their neighbor. At least the Saigon beer was cold.

Hopefully next time I'm in town I'll be better prepared, and feeling a little more adventurous. In the mean time, for an expert's guide to eating in the city, cruise Robyn's Saigon articles on Eating Asia.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Red Bridge Cooking Class in Hoi An.

Back in March, when Bordeaux and I went to Hanoi, we briefly considered taking the long train trip down to Hoi An. Thankfully, we stuck around Hanoi-- at the time, we of course didn't know that we would get to return to Vietnam, and have the chance to spend almost a week in Hoi An. While doing a little online research in Hoi An back then, I encountered the Red Bridge Cooking Class. It sounded great- a chance to cook some local Hoi An dishes in an attractive riverside setting. I bookmarked the page, setting aside just in case.

As we prepared to visit Hoi An, the cooking class at Red Bridge was on the top of our must do list. Upon arriving in town, we stopped by Hai Cafe, where the classes are organized. Two classes were offered at Red Bridge- a half day class and a full day class, each with only one menu available. The full day class offered the chance to make pho bo (beef noodle soup), cha ca (grilled fish) with dill, lemongrass shrimp in banana leaves, and chicken and banana flower salad. Though we love all of these dishes, the menu didn't sound right to us- both pho and cha ca with dill are more associated with Hanoi, and we know how to make banana flower salad. Instead, we chose the half-day class, which seemed to focus more on Central Vietnamese cooking, and had some dishes we wanted to know how to make- eggplant cooked in a claypot, seafood and pineapple salad with fresh herbs, rice paper rolls with freshly made rice paper, and banh xeo, 'Happy pancakes.'

We met the other students at the Hai Cafe, in Hoi An's old town. There, we got the first sign of a major difference between other cooking classes we'd taken-- the number of students was much larger. As we waited for the class to depart, more and more people came, and the class quickly grew to around 20 people- massive, compared to the five person average we'd had at other cooking classes. Thankfully, multiple guides appeared, and we broke up into small six-person groups.

Like most cooking classes, this one began with a market tour. Hoi An has a great central market, and the tour took great advantage of it-- introducing us to local flavors and herbs, strange vegetables and fruits, and interesting utensils that revealed local cooking techniques. Our guide was great- informative, engaging, and funny.

She dropped us at the pier, where we boarded the boat to the cooking school. The trip was a definite highlight- a twenty minute float down the muddy river, past fishing traps and under arching palm leavess. Along the way, an old woman in a canoe, smiling between chomps of betel-nut, motioned our boat over. When we got close, she lassoed us, and hitched a lift off us.

We arrived at Red Bridge Restaurant, easily the most attractive setting for any cooking class we'd taken. Set right on the river, the kitchen was surrounded by lush tropical greenery, and decorated with bamboo blinds and white silk lanterns. After a quick tour of the herb gardens, our guides wished us a good class, and departed-- and we were left to merge the mini groups into one massive class.

We took seats in classroom like rows of chairs, and after a twenty minute wait, our cooking teacher emerged. He seemed tired, bored, and a little disinterested in the class-- fair enough, if he has to teach multiple 20 person classes a week. There were some weak jokes in his script, but he seemed so lifeless that they passed by without him changing the tone or speed of his reading. He proceeded to make the first dish, the seafood salad, completely on his own-- simply showing it to us. The dish was whisked away by one of the many assistants, and he proceeded on to the claypot eggplant. For this, we got our first taste of 'cooking'- we were shown to our stations, told to slice the eggplants, plop it in the boiling water, and add a cup of tomato sauce. We then returned to our seats, and the claypot eggplant was taken away by the staff. It proceeded basically like that for the rest of the class- we made fresh rice paper, but not the filling for the rolls; we quickly made the banh xeo, being prodded to hurry up the whole time by roaming cooking assistants. If any students made a mistake (which I, of course, made several) the assistants became vaguely annoyed, and either corrected them sharply, or simply did it themselves.

Having spent about an hour watching a cooking demonstration, and maybe fifteen minutes actually cooking, we were lead to the dining room for a late lunch. The lunch, at least, was fantastic. The seafood salad was tangy and spicy, the claypot eggplant rich and flavorful (made with, I suspect, more than just a cup of tomato sauce), and an extra dish, steamed ocean fish, was fantastic.

So now, some thoughts.

Good: The class was well-organized, and aside from the way too long wait for our chef to show up, ran smoothly. The market tour was informative, the boat trip was enjoyable, and the lunch was spectacular.

Bad: Maybe I'm hard to please, but the class was run too smoothly. It felt a little like a Theme Park of cookery-- fair enough, this is Hoi An, after all. But there was nothing personal, no individual character to much of it. We were rushed along an assembly line, getting to slice a vegetable here, and roll a salad roll there. Our cooking instructor was clearly bored, and it affected the atmosphere of the class. And really, aside from the discussion on the market tour, we learned nothing about Vietnamese cuisine and culture, or about what makes the cooking of Hoi An and Central Vietnam unique.

Verdict: Would I recommend it? It's complicated. As Bordeaux pointed out, this was the least enjoyable cooking class we've taken. At all of the others, we enjoyed a connection with our instructor and felt like we really got to try our hands at making some local dishes. At the best classes- like Hidden Hanoi- we actually learned about the culture through learning about their cooking.

And yet, I get the sense that almost everyone at the class had a great time. It was, all in all, a pretty fun day-- there were certainly more activities than at any of the other cooking classes I've taken. And we got an outstanding lunch in an incredible setting. And the price- $18- means that it was actually incredibly inexpensive.

So I think for a visitor to Hoi An looking for a fun day out, it's actually a great activity. It gets you beyond the old town to see some of the surrounding countryside, and you get a great lunch out of it. But for someone really interested in cooking, and in the cuisine of Central Vietnam- I think it's kind of disappointing. The full day class, I read later, is done in smaller groups, and is more geared towards this category of student- but it's a shame that the menu doesn't focus more on regional dishes, or offer some variety or choice. Numerous restaurants throughout Hoi An offer private cooking classes, where you have the choice of what to make-- and that may be the better option.