Monday, October 27, 2008

No cutting board in sight

You didn't think that I spent my entire time in Sapa sitting around, reading and drinking hot chocolate did you? Well, actually, I would have believed it myself, but I had adventures, not to worry.

Most of my time in Sapa was spent trekking through the mountains and rice paddies. It's sort of the thing to do while you're there, though I made sure to include a homestay on my itinerary. That meant that after 6 hours of hiking around the mountains, with stops to rest and even more stops to take photos of adorable children looking after a water buffalo, I found myself at the home of Son and her family.

Son is a member of the Zdhao mountain hill tribe, which means that she wears a scarf around her hair (which is never cut) and a brightly colored shirt with fasteners on the side climbing up to a mandarin top. Typical dress for the men nowadays? A t-shirt and shorts. Go figure.

Once we arrived, our guide sat us down and told us to relax while Son prepared dinner. Somehow, I didn't follow directions and ended up in the kitchen with Son and her mother-in-law. Once I had offered my help, Son sat me down with a paring knife, four heads of garlic, some shallots and asked me to peel them. Normally, I'm the kind of girl who smashes the garlic cloves with the back of my knife on a cutting board, so peeling them while keeping them whole, without anything to cut on...well, it was interesting. I have a new talent to put on my resume, however, and the only difficult part was keeping myself from cutting through the clove to my knee.

Next up came bamboo shoot peeling, which took a while to get a hang of, as I'd never even seen a bamboo shoot before, let alone peeled one for soup. It involves peeling the outer layers of each section of the shoot, then cutting or breaking off the section soft enough to eat.

Our next task was to fill and roll spring rolls, which, by this point, we were a pros at, since we'd had to do it at the cooking course I took in Hanoi. The key is to make them long and round, and wet the rice paper just enough so that it doesn't stick to the plate, but does stick to itself. All it takes is practice, I promise.

After helping with our feast, we were free to sit down and enjoy it. Well, I shouldn't say free. Our guide and Son took it upon themselves to initiate us into a new custom: taking shots of arak (rice liquor). Son homebrews the stuff, and it is strong. You count in Vietnamese to three, then yell "Zhou" and everyone takes their shot. Once we'd gotten to shot 4, however, I insisted on half shots, since I really wanted to make it through the evening. Our guide and Son's husband, however, took the stuff like champs and kept going long into the night.

Me? I helped Son do dishes. It was just like being at home again.

The next day we were off on another trek, this one a mere 3 hours, where I saw an incredibly beautiful waterfall, more gorgeous rice paddies and got chased by a drunk Vietnamese man trying to get us to drink his homebrewed liquor. Just like home, eh?

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