The old streets are literally on the water, and when the tide is high, the river actually overflows and the street fills with water. A recent monsoon flooded the entire lower floor of the shops and restaurants down on the water; the waterline was the second highest in recorded history.
The first day, our Intrepid leader Tan showed us his favorite tailors and shoemakers, then took us to the Mermaid Cafe for lunch. Most of us ordered the local specialty, Cao Lau, and those who didn't probably regretted it! We oohed and ahhed over the delectable combination of savory broth, thick rice noodles, thin slices of pork, fresh herbs,m chilies, and pork cracklings. It was so good, in fact, that all of us ended up back there the next day for lunch, and we all ordered Cao Lau again. Martin and I also ate the delicious pork-stuffed squid, which Tan had recommended. [Side note: Every piece of squid we ate in Vietnam was tender and delicious, nothing like what we get in the States. We thought this might be the case throughout Southeast Asia, but Martin ordered the squid in Cambodia and Thailand and was disappointed on both occasions. Clearly, the Vietnamese know how to cook this tasty tentacled treat like no one else.]
Later that day, we headed to Yaly, the premier tailor shop of Hoi An. We were each assigned our own shop girl to take our measurements and help us choose fabrics. They were incredibly efficient - seriously, were in and out in 45 minutes, and most of that time was just us hemming and hawing over our design choices. They told us to come back the next afternoon at 3pm for alterations, so we went out for a 3,000 dong (about $0.20) draft beer at a little place on the water and dinner at a place called Cargo Club before calling it a night.
On day two, we saw the major sights: a traditional Vietnamese music show, the Tan Ky house, and the Japanese covered bridge. We then had our second Mermaid Cafe lunch and visited Phuoc Kien, a traditional assembly hall. At 3pm, we headed to Yaly for our fittings. Amazingly, Martin's shirt fit perfectly! My outfit was nearly perfect, although a bit tight around the rib cage, so they asked me to come back in two hours for a second fitting. When I did, it was (of course) ready to go. Incredible.
Wearing our new outfits
Due to my second fitting, I missed the start of our cooking class. Tan gave me a quick ride over on his motorbike, and the group had already started grating vegetables for the fried spring rolls. We used the coolest rice paper wrappers I've ever seen, sort of like a rice funnel cake, but really flat and thin.
We also made creamy pumpkin soup, green papaya salad, steamed fish in banana leaves, and stir-fried spinach with garlic. [Note to all aspiring chefs: always blanch your greens before you stir-fry them.] We then chowed down on our home-cooked feast. It was fantastic! I learned many great tricks that I can't wait to use at home.