Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vietnam: Acquiring a Taste for the Spice of Life

Under a balmy sky in bustling Ho Chi Minh City, women in traditional non la hats are watering immaculately tended parks, while buses and bikes with incomprehensible loads—from baths and live pigs to families of five—compete for pavement along leafy avenues lined with grand colonial buildings.

Photos: A Foodie Travels to Vietnam

Brown + Hudson
Preparations are laid out for the grilled chicken and banana-flower salad at the Red Bridge Cooking School in Hoi An.
In the center of town on the frenetic Pasteur Street, the smell of piquant spices and warm broth permeates the air, and an eager crowd is milling under a gold sign. Pho Hoa is arguably the best pho shop in town, and the bustling business churns out 400 bowls of the piping-hot soup a day. Herbs I have never encountered before, like sawgrass, are piled high onto a plate in the middle of our table and we are encouraged to fill our bowls as the owner explains that it is the mixture of beef bones, aloe vera and ginger that gives pho its distinct taste. The rich broth is balanced perfectly by the sharpness of the chili and fresh lime, and a restorative fragrance is added by the herbs. It is by far the best pho I've ever had.
This is the first stop on my culinary tour of Vietnam. From imperial Hue cuisine in the north to simple street food, the eight-day trip takes me through the gastronomic peaks and valleys of this country's diverse cuisine. Organized by London-based travel company Brown & Hudson, part of a new wave of upmarket companies offering bespoke culinary tours, it is an informative mixture of food exploration and history lesson. These tailor-made trips by firms like such as Tasting Places and Creative Escapes of the U.K. and U.S.-based Remote Lands give visitors an insider's perspective of the countries they are touring, with local experts guiding them through unique experiences, in-the-know restaurants and places not normally open to the public, such as private vineyards and kitchens. While the hotels are top-notch and transportation is comfortable, these holidays are for those seeking something more—the acquisition of knowledge and new skills.


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