Eat here: Morning Glory’s Market Restaurant, Hoi An

Morning Glory’s The Market Restaurant
3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet
http://www.restaurant-hoian.com/

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Sibba and I are both keen eaters. We also both love to cook. And, if I may say so myself, we’re both pretty good. So it was only natural that we decided we’d need to do a cooking class in Vietnam. We’d heard from every man and his dog that Morning Glory was not only the place to learn to cook, but to eat as well; we thought we’d take advantage of their offerings and booked a cooking class that included an all you can eat buffet breakfast. More on the cooking class itself tomorrow – first, let’s talk Vietnamese breakfast of champions.

The market restaurant was so beautifully set out – different stations all produced different food, clearly labelled and manned by smiling chefs who were happy to offer further assistance and explanations. We took our seats and were told that we were free to eat as much as we wanted in the next hour, before we would be collected to start the cooking class and market tour. We were just a little bit overwhelmed, no idea where we should start, not knowing how many plates were appropriate to have on our table at once. We started with our unanimous favourite – coconut sticky rice. To make it even better (didn’t think that was possible, but it was!), we also added some of the accompaniments lined up beside the rice pot – shredded coconut, freshly toasted peanuts, and the most incredible crushed peanut/salt/sugar mix. One of the best things I ate in Vietnam – Sib agreed.

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It was a bit hard to know where to turn next – we both went our own ways and grabbed a few different things each, so we’d be able to nibble off each others’ plates and try more. I went with the mini Hoi An breakfast pancakes with pork sausage. Crispy, tasty perfection in nifty little hand-held bowl shapes, and the pork sausage was better than I’d have thought possible. A little bit of spice, followed by an almost sweet flavour. So good!

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The last plate I tried was filled with a few different dumplings. The ones on the top right side were really nice, in a transparent skin. Two were filled with shrimp, and the other white looking one was a tapioca dumpling. I was worried the shrimp might have been a little too seafoody for breakfast, but they were actually quite subtle; the deep fried garlic and shallots they were served with, as well as the sweet chilli sauce to dip in balanced the shrimp out surprisingly well. The bottom plate was a shrimp dumpling ball on top of a croquette – can’t remember what was in that, it was fairly plain though. The croquette was amazing, crispy but simple. The dumpling, in this case, was too fishy for my stomach, so I didn’t quite finish it!

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Finally (we were filling up at this point and still had our trip to the market and class to go), I couldn’t go past a mini Hoi An cupcake – they were being baked fresh, in a little cast-iron skillet with little flower-shaped holes in it that wouldn’t have been much bigger than the size of a thimble. I have no idea what they were made with, but they were so soft and light, unlike any other cakes I’ve had before.

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It was an absolutely fantastic way to start the day and a gorgeous introduction to the amazing world of Morning Glory which we’d heard so much about! I can completely understand why everyone raves about it so much – I just wish we’d had the time to check out some of the other restaurants they run for a lunch or dinner! There’s always next time 😉 and I did buy the cook book! If you’re in Hoi An and you want a one-of-a-kind breakfast experience, I couldn’t recommend the Market Restaurant more highly!

Eat & stay here: Pharaohs Hotel, Cairo

Pharaohs Hotel, 12 Lotfi Hassouna St. Dokki. Giza Egypt
www.pharaohshotel.com

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This was the view from a window in our hotel the morning after we arrived in Egypt. We’d had a very, very long journey to get there, and were woken unexpectedly at the call to prayer in the early hours of the morning. We were exhausted on that first day. Anyway, it wasn’t until the following afternoon that we started to really appreciate our temporary home, our hotel in Cairo. It was fantastic. At first glance, it may not have appeared so; it was just another building amongst the many, many others in the tightly packed city. As you can see, the view isn’t spectacular. But the rooms were clean and comfortable.There were travellers from all countries and walks of life staying there. And, surprisingly, the hotel restaurant was probably the best I’ve ever been to.

Hotels the world over are notorious for housing sub-standard “restaurants” and travellers often avoid them at all costs. After a day of walking the city streets of Cairo with our guide, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Despite the warm weather, I was wearing long pants and a long sleeved top, socks and shoes, and left my long hair out to cover my shoulders and shield my face. Every single one of my tattoos was covered up, and I made certain to stay as close as possible to my husband without physically touching him. I believe that when travelling through parts of the world that have a very different culture to the one you are accumstomed to, it is only right to respect their customs. Despite my best, well-meant intentions, I was essentially a zoo animal let out of her cage for the day. A western woman with no veil, auburn red hair, freckles, and very pale skin, walking around with two men. I was stared at; men actually physically stopped in their tracks, halted mid-step to elbow the buddy walking next to them, to stop and stare at me. Even the women and children stopped to watch me walk past. It was beyond bizarre; it was also very confronting. But back to the point of this post.

After an almost full day of that, I was exhausted. We needed dinner, but there was no way I was going back out onto the streets of Cairo at night, without a local to look after us, and so soon after the riots. We decided to eat at the dreaded hotel restaurant.

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We picked out a few dishes from the menu, assuming that for the low prices they’d be small portions. That was our first mistake. We got a LOT of food. The falafels were hands down the best I have EVER had, anywhere – I can still remember how crispy and tasty they were! The pile of rice that came with the skewers was enormous, and the tabbouleh was amazing. So was everything, to be honest! Husband also remembers with particular affection the waiter, a lovely gentleman (and I do mean gentleman) who attended to our every whim, waiting far enough away to give us privacy while we dined, but close enough to come running as soon as he saw us run out of beer, water, bread, napkins. We were fortunate enough to be able to eat there a few more times before our time in Egypt was over, and I truly can’t speak highly enough of this place. If you ever visit Cairo, even if you can’t stay in this hotel, do yourself a favour and at least go to have a meal there! It’s one I’ll certainly never forget, and for all the right reasons 🙂

Eat here: Le P’tit Troquet, Paris

Le P’Tit Troquet
28 Rue de l’Exposition, Paris, France
https://www.facebook.com/Leptittroquet

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We found this place, as so many stories go, by a fortunate chance. I had been browsing TripAdvisor reviews of Parisian restaurants, not really knowing what I was looking for, other than something on the way to the Moulin Rouge from our hotel near the Eiffel Tower. I got bored after 10 minutes, tossed my phone aside, and got on with picking out some warm clothes for the night ahead. About 2 hours from show time, we left our hotel and started walking in the general direction; the idea was to find somewhere for dinner on the way to the show. When we saw this place, I actually recognised the name from a favourable online review, so we decided that’d be good enough for us!

What we found was a gorgeous little bistro, with the friendliest staff we’d encountered in Paris. We also found an amazing and surprisingly well priced dinner menu – from memory, it was around 30 euro for an entrée, main course and dessert each. I tried not to annoy husband by shoving my camera in his food, but my three courses looked like this:

Entrée: salmon, apple and fennel salad
Main: Beef bourguignon (meat so soft it really fell away at the fork!)
Dessert: apple and almond cart/cake

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Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much, because at that point, my Paris experience hadn’t been amazing. But this meal really blew me away. It was such a beautiful, warm, cosy little spot, the service was so lovely, the food was incredible, and so was the wine. It wasn’t very busy either, and it felt like it was our own little corner of the world for that dinner time. We’re not a very lovey-dovey kinda couple, but if we were, I’d have said this place was just a little bit special and romantic. I’m really glad I took a business card and the address of this place, because if I ever do go back to Paris, this will be one spot I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

Eat here: Mango Rooms, Hoi An

Mango Rooms
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An, Vietnam
http://www.mangorooms.com/

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After a very long morning in the very hot sun in the perfectly beautiful surrounds of the My Son Sanctuary, it was finally lunch time. The thing you have to understand about Sib and I is that we love food. Like, really love food. As in, before we went to bed the night before the My Son tour, we spent some time researching the food we could eat the following day.

After a thorough investigation of the #hoian hashtag on Instagram, we had hyped ourselves up for lunch at Mango Rooms.

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Sitting on the Hoi An riverside, Mango Rooms is a gorgeous and insanely bright establishment, with one hell of a reputation for incredible food and magnificent cocktails. The chef and grand poobah, Duc Tran, was born in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and travelled around the world, reaching Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and America. His food is beautifully presented and brightly coloured, with gorgeous flavour combinations that have been influenced by his travels and the skills he’s learnt on the road.

We (being the good food addicts we are) may have studied the menu a little the night before, so we kinda knew what we were after. Well, for cocktails anyway. Ice cold and full of fresh fruit, these were the best cocktails I have EVER had.

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After a few minutes of “can’t we order everything?!” we settled on a plate of fresh mango & prawn rice paper rolls to share to start with, and they were something special. They may be the best we’ve ever had, actually. Fresh mango is a thing of beauty, but add it to fresh herbs and prawns and wrap it up in fresh rice paper is even better. Throw in the tastiest peanut dipping sauce on the side, and you have two VERY happy young ladies.

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Next up, we got a few salads. We’d heard they were pretty amazing here, and fresh, cold salads were exactly what we felt like after the hours we’d spent in the hot sun earlier. I went with the Tropical Lush salad – fresh greens, herbs, and mustard sprouts, orange slices, watermelon, topped with seared tuna served with orange ginger soy dressing. It was perfect – cold, fresh fruit, super fresh tuna, and the dressing was remarkable.

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Sib went with the Mango Delight – fresh greens, herbs and strips of mango along with vermicelli topped with grilled chicken breast and served with zesty soy-lime sauce. SOO good – the chicken was white and tender and the dressing, again, was flawless.

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And of course, dessert. Can’t finish up without it. A plate of the Mango Tango to share, thanks – sweet sticky rice and fresh mango topped with coconut sauce and roasted peanuts. Not really much that needs to be said about this; if you followed my adventures in Thailand earlier this year here and here, you’d know that I am always prepared to eat my weight in coconut sticky rice, particularly when it’s furnished with fresh mango. The addition of peanuts made this quite distinctive from the Thai variety, and absolutely delightful.

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It should also be noted that while eating the best food with one of the most magnificent views, we also had some great service too – the staff at Mango Rooms were lovely, friendly and more than happy to help us out. It was a truly wonderful experience – to be able to just sit back with my best friend in this rainbow explosion of a restaurant, watching the river and foot traffic pass by the window we were seated at, eating perfectly balanced plates of beautifully presented food was a pretty awesome way to pass the lunch break 🙂

Eat here: Bale Well, Hoi An

Bale Well
45 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An

So, we were sitting in our beds after a long day of travelling, and Sib (I call my baby sister Sib or Sibba – she’s my sibling) whipped out her iPad to hunt down some Hoi An food porn on Instagram while I read my book. It wasn’t long before I was distracted by “oohs” and “aahs” and “oh my GODs” coming from the other bed. I finally gave in and joined her on her bed to see what the excitement was all about. It was Bale Well.

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Down (another) dodgy looking alley, Instagram reports from fellow travelling foodies indicated that $5.00 would get you an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese street food feast. That’s all the info we needed to convince us we should visit.

The following night, we whipped out the map and started walking. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going to be honest, but we found the general area the alley was meant to be in. Then we got into a bit of trouble. We wandered for a while, up and down streets, hoping for the best. Eventually we looked up and saw a tiny blue sign with an arrow – 100m that way, apparently. Off we went! We kept going, with me counting out my steps to try to measure it. We bumped into another sign with another arrow – 20m more. Ok, no worries. Followed the sign down another smaller, darker, dicier alley, and promptly wound up… in someone’s backyard. Hmmm.

The little old man sitting there looked at us and smirked a little. “Bale Well?” Um yes…. where?! Pointed back the same way we came from. Great. We backtracked, got to the same 20m this way sign, looked right (the way we came from) and saw another house. Looked left and spotted another tiny blue sign. The 20m arrow was pointing the wrong way. We kept walking, and eventually stumbled on this magical place. Bale Well.

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We found an empty table for two and took our seats as a purple t-shirt clad woman descended upon us. “Drink?” Yes thanks, 2 bottles of water. That was about the extent of our verbal communication and ordering. We looked around at the other tables, took a few photos, and all of a sudden a procession of food was making its way to our table.

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For a mere sum of AUD$6.00 per person, we got a bottle of water each and an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with pile of fresh herbs and salad, peanut dipping sauce, stir fried veggies, rice paper, freshly fried spring rolls and BBQd meat on sticks. We just stared at it all while we tried to work out what was going on, not realising that our very helpful waitress was preparing to feed us. Literally. She grabbed a rice paper sheet and demonstrated how to put it all together – layer some green stuff and/or veggies, a spring roll and a bit of meat (remove stick first). Dip in sauce. Then, she shoved the roll in Sib’s mouth. Not just help it in front of her, actually, physically fed her. She then pointed to the camera – apparently she wasn’t taking the food out of Sib’s mouth until we took a photo. We thought we’d be safe after that, but no, it was my turn next! There I was, a 28 year old woman, being hand fed by a Vietnamese woman, without a single word exchanged. To call it the most bizarre dining experience of my life would probably still be an understatement.

After the feeding episode, we were finally left to eat our food, and it was incredible. Worth getting lost, worth the embarrassment of accidentally turning up in some poor old man’s backyard, worth the humiliation of being hand fed in front of other diners. This food was amazing!!! The meat was so soft and tender – still not entirely sure what it was, we think one was pork, the other we didn’t have a clue. The fresh herbs made the world of difference, and those spring rolls – wow. The dipping sauces were perfect with the food too, and when we looked like we were running out, the bowls were topped up by the attentive staff.

We couldn’t get through it all, it was literally piled on the plates. Just as we were rolling back in our seats and comparing food babies, dessert came out. We weren’t expecting this part! Mango mousse with a little whipped cream and sprinkles. I have no idea what was going on in that cup, but my goodness it was special. It was cold, smooth and creamy, with actual bits of fresh mango – perfect finish to dinner!

If you’re heading to Hoi An, do yourself a favour and look this place up on Instagram like we did. Then get yourself a map and some directions and get ready to eat like a maniac. Also, prepare to possible be hand fed. It’s worth it.