1/13/10: Hoi An, Vietnam
I’ve been suffering from a big ol’ chunk of writer’s block recently, and as if I’ve been playing that Rush Hour game where you have to move the other cars to get your own out of the grid, I’ve struggled mightily trying to think of methods to rid myself of the block. Last night Zhou played a word association game with me. This morning I ate breakfast while doing a handstand. This afternoon I ran naked through the streets of Hoi An looking for a KFC. Nothing.
My last ditch effort to get back in the frame of mind that made our blog world famous in the first place – write a gimmick post. So in a tribute to another movie I haven’t seen, Memento, I’ll try to do you proud.
Our stomachs bursting, we walked out of the dark alley completely disoriented. My discombobulation was so bad that my inner man compass snapped in two, and I lost a bet with Zhou that we were traveling north towards our hostel. And my man compass has never failed me before. How in the world did we end up in this state?
A few minutes earlier, an old man patted me on the stomach as I hunched over my last overstuffed rice paper roll and, although he didn’t speak English, it was clear that he finally decided I had eaten enough. The myriad of waiters and waitresses stopped piling food onto our piles of food and let us relax our jaws. I could barely see Zhou over the mounds of vegetables, and barely see my toes past my now rotund midsection. We tipped healthily (at least for our standards in Vietnam) and practiced our new Vietnamese well-wishes to the friendly staff: “Tuk se kwa han phuc.” We stood up and headed back into the darkness.
The lady politely grabbed the rice paper from my hands and let the fillings I had so carefully piled into it fall onto the plate. Despite my obvious earlier lack of attention, she looked at me with the patient eyes of my second grade teacher and slowly walked me through the correct method of stuffing the roll. However, with her lack of knowledge of my eating habits she added some pickled relish. I smiled at her and ate the roll anyway. After all, it was my sixth new food of the day. The old man then walked up to the table and gave my stomach another pat. In as direct of translation as I can fake, he shouted to the staff, “bring this skinny boy some more meat! His stomach is hollower than Kendra Wilkinson’s skull!” (Side note: Kendra, remember the old man sort of said this, I didn’t.)
We began to get anxious. We had walked through many a dark alley to find this place, and now no one was paying attention to us. A sign reading “Ponly Planet” hung above our heads, as in a misguided attempt to increase business the owners had misspelled the travelers’ Bible. It had now been three minutes and we had yet to receive even a menu. Then the food came, and came in bunches. Lacking any ability to communicate with anyone, we couldn’t politely tell them they had the wrong table. We hadn’t even ordered. It soon became apparent that they didn’t have the wrong table – there was no need to order. This place served one thing and one thing only: delicious goodness. When the food had been piled so high and wide that the plates were dangerously teetering like late-game Jenga blocks, a lady came to our table and showed us how to roll our food and dip it into the sauce. We began to eat.
We finally found the Bale Well restaurant at the end of the third dark alley we had explored. This place better be good.
It had already been a memorable day of food, so we decided to press our luck. “The Bale Well restaurant is located near a creepy, perhaps haunted old well in a dark, unnamed alley in Hoi An.” We read the words over and over, and immediately knew that this place was for us. (Somewhat pertinent side note: after a delicious meal of Nem Nuong, a popular dish in the Central Highlands, we had been actively seeking Nem Nuong restaurants and Bale Well happened to be one.) There was one problem: we had no address to work with, just a nearby intersection. We mustered all our courage tonight and began walking up and down the deepest and darkest alleys near this intersection.
Several hours earlier, I quickly chugged the remains of my cold chocolate drink, ridding my mouth of the lingering taste.
We thought our brunch was over, but then our waiter delivered a gigantic plate of awful-looking fruit: pomelo, papaya, grapes, clementines, dragonfruit and banana. Something about this plate, this day, this setting gave off a slightly odd vibe. I wasn’t repulsed by the food. In fact, I was intrigued. Perhaps it was all the blog contest doubters laughing at me in my head, perhaps it was my new-found inability to say no to an offering from a friendly person – whatever it was, I knew that I was going to try this food. Before I knew it, some pomelo, papaya, clementine and dragonfruit was sitting in my stomach, and their remains were doing battle on my tongue.
Once upon a time, we woke up and made our way to our hostel’s complimentary brunch.
Picture of the Day: Sometimes I’m in the mood for pictures of kitties and puppies.