We get out of the boat and walk onto a barren piece of land, slightly confused as to what we are doing here. Across the barren patch of land awaits a tiny village. Our guide, a tiny Vietnamese woman, leads us through small alleyways where little kids peer curiously from around corners and start to follow us, giggling every time we look at them. It’s hot and big Europeans that we are, we start sweating more and more. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that everything sticks to my body in the humidity and am looking forward to the moment we will be back on the moment, with hopefully a little breeze welcoming us. But for now it seems to get hotter with every step we take. We finally end up at a small open square, surrounded by wooden shacks and the sudden silence seems to increase the heat.
Our guide gestures that we have to wait and she disappears inside one of the building, leaving us in the sweltering heat with no shade to speak of. Most of our little group try and press ourselves against the buildings attempting – in vain mostly – to disappear into the shadows. After 5 minutes, that feel like eternity, our guide comes out again and waves us over. We have no idea what to expect and are surprised when we peer inside a building and see a classroom full of happy kids smiling up at us.
Their teacher looks at them sternly, warning them to remain in their seat and not move. You can tell by the excited faces and bright smiles that we are a welcome distraction in their busy schoolschedule.
But after just a few minutes the regular routine of their schoolafternoon takes over and they concentrate back on their schoolwork, only glancing at us every now and then, only to be met with a stern look from their teacher. We just stood there, watching kids on a regular schoolafternoon and while it may not sound very exciting, we had a great time. Vietnamese kids are – in general – entirely adorable, cute, happy and friendly little creatures and when they all march around in their crisp schooluniforms or ride around on their bikes it’s just a sight to be seen…
But ofcourse Vietnam would not be Vietnam, if not for the Vietnamese kitchen. I love Asian food in general but the food in Vietnam, Thailand and India are among my favorites. It was here that I first ate traditional springrolls. Not the fried variety, although we had those as well, but the rolls made with fresh vegetables and wrapped in ricepaper. We had them made for us at the table by beautiful Vietnamese ladies, their hands quick and precise in making one beautiful roll after another.
Mine may not be so good looking but they are incredibly delicious. You can keep them vegetarian or add chicken or pork and any kind of vegetable you fancy. Here the original recipe is from Steamy Kitchen again and that peanut sauce, I can tell you, is a worthy addition to these delicious little rolls.
- 1 packet rice paper wrappers (can be found in most supermarkets)
- 1 soft lettuce (I used little gems)
- 1 cucumber (cut into matchsticks)
- 2 carrots (cut into matchsticks)
- 1 bell pepper (cut into matchsticks)
- 1 handful fresh mint
- 1 handful Thai Basil (you can use sweet Italian basil as a substitute)
- 500g chicken filet
- 1 lemon grass stalk (outer leaves peeled until you reach the pale yellow leaves, bottom part grated)
- 2 cloves garlic (finely minced)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- peanut dipping sauce
- 2 teaspoons cooking oil
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed in garlic press)
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (grated)
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 160ml water
- 3 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
- For marinating the chicken; slice the chicken as thin as you can.
- In a bowl combine the chicken with the rest of the ingredients for the marinate and marinate for at least 15 minutes or overnight.
- Prepare the vegetables and herbs for the rolls.
- Heat a wok or frying pan and add the marinated pieces of chicken in a single layer. Bake until they are done.
- Have the cooked chicken and all your cut vegetables ready to roll your wraps. Jaden has a really clear instruction in her book which will tell you exactly how to roll the ricepaper. In short;
- Fill a pietin or a large plate with enough water to dip the ricepaper in. Make sure the water is warm, but not hot. Dip the ricepaper in very briefly, about 2 seconds each side. It will still be fairly stiff when you take it out.
- Lay the still stiff paper on a dry surface and fold in two.
- On the bottom half arrange your ingredients and then proceed to rolling it carefully tugging it in where needed.
- Peanut dipping sauce
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the oil is just starting to get hot, add the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the sweet chili sauce, hoisin sauce, water and peanut butter and stir until smooth. Simmer until thickened. Let kool.
- Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. If the sauce is too thick after storing, whisk in a bit of water to thin it out.
- Beautiful, light and fresh this is the perfect starter for any Asian inspired meal or it is great on it’s own too as a (very) light lunch