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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ha Long Bay: Fishing Village

We had only 6 short days in Vietnam and so much we wanted to see. We decided to spend more time than most in Ha long Bay (3 days) because we all thought it would be more relaxing than the city. Turns out that was a great decision because Ha Long Bay is goooorgeous. The only thing I was a bit disappointed about was fog. On the first day the fog made the sky gloomy and the islands around us dull. Somehow even that was quite pretty though. Fortunately everything cleared up on the second day and gave us some beautiful views.

On that second day, one of our excursions was a fishing village. The village was surprising, and more of a neighborhood than an actual village. The houses were either boat houses or huts on top of plastic barrels. Our visit included a little look around the village by means of either a small paddle boat or kayaks. My sister, mom and I opted for the paddle boats. It was interesting to get a closer look at the lives of these people. They've all built their entire lives in the middle of the ocean, floating on the surface of the water.

This is a photo that I took of a woman and boat very similar to the ones we saw milling around the village.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The week leading up to Christmas my family spent in Vietnam. Three days in Hanoi, three days on a cruise in Ha Long Bay. The cruise was amazing--it was so peaceful to sit up on the deck of our boat and watch the rocky islands rise out of the mist and loom by. We had ample time to sit and enjoy as there were only a few activities planned: rowing around a floating fishing village, kayaking among the islands, touring a pearl farm, and making spring rolls.

The spring roll-making demonstration took place before dinner on both nights, and we learned how to assemble Vietnamese nem (spring rolls). We made fresh spring rolls, so that we could devour them immediately. My spring roll-making-skills definitely improved on the second night!

To make fresh nem, first you need rice paper. Handmade rice paper is best because it is easier to use. You simply lay it on a damp washcloth while preparing the spring roll so that it becomes more pliable. If the rice paper is handmade, it will have a pattern on it from the mold. Rice paper that is not handmade has to be soaked in warm water for about 20 seconds before using, which makes it stickier and more difficult to roll.

There are many things that can be put in fresh nem, but whatever ingredients chosen, it is best if they are in strips so that the spring rolls are not as bulky and have fewer air pockets. Any meats or eggs should, of course, be pre-cooked. We used carrots, lettuce, strips of scrambled eggs, shrimp, and special Vietnamese pork.

For a dipping sauce, they had a special homemade sauce which cannot be found in stores. They casually listed the ingredients while explaining the spring roll process, and I had to frantically write them down. So, since it is a simple list and I have not yet tried making it at home, I'm not sure of proportions. When I make it, I'll update it. However, you can experiment with it as you like! It may be worth trying because the sauce on the boat was really tasty and perfected the spring rolls, in my opinion.
Here are the ingredients, and let me know how it goes if you use them to make a sauce!

Spring Roll Dipping Sauce
2 parts water
1 part fish sauce
1 part rice vinegar
Lime juice

To assemble the nem, you lay a piece of rice paper on a damp washcloth, then you make a small pile of ingredients near the base of the rice paper. You do not want to use too many ingredients!! We saw a lot of people load them to bursting, and lets just say that their spring rolls were, I'm sure, yummy but not pretty. Also, it is easiest to put all of the ingredients in a pile on the rice paper, not in a carpet across the paper. Once all of the ingredients are on the rice paper, start rolling it up very tightly. When rolled halfway, fold the edges into the center, and finish rolling. Then, rub a little water on the edge of the rice paper to glue it down. Or, you can lick it, and, as our guide explained, no one will steal your spring roll. Finally, dip your spring roll into the sauce for a few seconds so that the sauce seeps into your spring roll. If you do a quick dip, it won't have as much flavor and will be more difficult to take a bite of.

This is a really fresh and simple treat, and is fun to make. Enjoy!