No rice

posted on: Thursday, 5 September 2013

Uh-oh, I don't like rice.

Unfortunately, for someone who spent a year in an Asian country, I dislike rice. In Vietnam, rice is the heart of almost every meal. Even the Vietnamese phrase, have you eaten yet: 'an com?' - which is most often used instead of saying how are you - literally translates as 'have you eaten rice?' 

At my fabulous workplace ACEP in Hanoi, we were lucky to have an in-house cook, a lady who, each day, would go down to the markets and buy ingredients to cook a big lunch. We'd all sit down at midday at a big table laden with six or seven just-cooked dishes. But, first thing first, the rice was dished out. Each day I would look in dismay at my heaped rice bowl - there was no way I could eat that much rice.  I was always left struggling through the last grains as everyone waited to get to the fruit course. The cook very soon learned to reduce my portion. 

Someone else was also keenly watching my eating habits. 

The young ACEP driver Hung spoke very little English but was enthralled by the giant Aussie in his midst. Despite our language barrier he invited me to come to dinner at his family's house. Delighted, a friend and I went and were greeted by his parents, grandparents, siblings, their children and just about everyone else in the neighbourhood. 

We sat on the floor and dish after dish was generously brought out in our honour. There was Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancakes), Dau Phu sot Ca Chua (Fried tofu with tomato and chives) and Goi Cuon (Prawn and crab pasties). I couldn't remember enjoying a meal as much. It was only after I left that it finally hit me. There was no rice!

Not only did I not have rice, the 20 Vietnamese people at the dinner didn't either. I didn't notice because no one complained or remarked about the absence of their staple food. Extraordinary. With my Hanoi trip just a few days away, I'm looking forward to sharing my favourite Hanoi Street Food spots including the dishes from that heavenly dinner: Banh Xeo, Dau Phu sot Ca Chua and Goi Cuon. 

And, Hung, thank you for your wonderful hospitality and the most thoughtful meal I've ever received!

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