When I get started on herbs and spices, inevitably I end up waxing poetic about rice paddy root. It’s an herb that grows, as its name would suggest, in the flooded rice fields of Southeast Asia. It’s a marvellous thing, a sweet and lemony and peppery taste that I cannot get enough of. Pungent and foreign, I can only describe it in relation to a totally different taste: Japanese shiso leaf. Both add incredible depth to any meal, but are unlike just about any other single ingredient. They’re fun and multidimensional and plain delicious – in moderation.
I found rice paddy root in an Asian grocery store near my mum’s place last fall, did a small happy dance in the aisles and promptly gathered up several packages in my arms to bring home. She had never tried the herb before and I decided to use it in a modified version of fresh rice paper spring rolls, with grilled chicken, vermicelli, mint and Thai basil. But before I folded it into a steaming rice paper package, I gave her a piece of a leaf to try. Her face said it all: total confusion, curiosity and then “what….is that?”
Rice paddy root punches you in the face with its manifold tastes. I decided, you know what? I just have to see it for myself.
So, I’ve just booked a ticket to Vietnam. You’ll notice on this site that there is no Vietnam archive, because I’ve never been. I meant to go in 2008, but then I fell in love with the Philippines. I meant to go in 2010 but then I got caught up photographing the Bangkok protests. It is about time I finally visit, and I’ve allocated approximately three months to my trip.
It’s wintertime in the North, damp and cool. I asked a few fellow travellers whether I ought to opt for renting a place in Saigon or Hanoi for my time in the country. Almost every Hanoi resident (the talented Lauren from Lonely Girl Travels, Mark from Sticky in Hanoi and a great cookbook author Cameron, who contributed to my food book) all said Hanoi was their preference for city feel, but that the weather was abysmal in the winter. Given how cold I am in England and how I hate the dampness of those misty days, I’m opting for Saigon.
I don’t believe I’ll do too much travelling whilst there, but who knows; the best plans tend to change at will. My basic plan, as I’m sure you have surmised, is to eat.
* * *
My 2012 was The Year of Attempting to Get Over Fears of Public Speaking. This all came about after Chris Guillebeau asked me to speak at his World Domination Summit by pretending to not ask me to speak, and next thing I knew I was sorely sleep-deprived from nerves and about to get on stage for a 30-minute talk about inspiration and travel. I decided I’d take whatever speaking gigs came my way in 2012, my way of facing my fears head-on. I’ve spoken at a total of 10 events in the last year, and I can safely say I am no less scared of speaking. HOWEVER! I am much more used to the idea of being terrified to speak in public.
The most recent event was my book’s launch in the UK, which was followed by the World Travel Market, a giant travel trade show that can only be described as Epcot on steroids with a little business speed dating thrown in. It was a fun and informative week, and I spoke to tourism boards in countries I want to visit (like Georgia, Bolivia, Sri Lanka and a few others) about food history and writing about food in their respective destinations.
However, now I’ve got a roll-y suitcase full of suits and nicer clothes instead of a backpack and Southeast Asia appropriate garb. I thought that I would be returning to Montreal before heading back to Asia, so I planned it all wrong. Basically, I’ve got a thorough resource page on what to bring when you move around the globe, but I haven’t taken any of own advice. At least I have my headlamp and doorstop?
My mum has kindly mailed me my sleep sheet and my first aid kit to my brother’s place in England, and now it’s packing once more. As I’ve noted time and time again: I hate packing. Not only do I hate packing, but it seems that every time I recalibrate into some new phase of my life, I have to change it all up again. You must be thinking “but this is what you signed up for!” Yes, this is very true. And I truly believed that I would adjust to the ever-shifting landscape and become one of those blasé packing people. “Oh!” I would say offhandedly, “I’ll just throw shit in a suitcase and be ready to go.” I was wrong.
None of this is a big deal – I’ll find clothes that fit in Asia or do an H&M run for cotton basics and leave my suits & skirts with my brother. But it’s also good to share because these are some of the logistical issues that arise when you have no fixed abode. Packing 101 doesn’t usually include a chapter called “what to do when your belongings are scattered around the world.”
I’ll be flying to Vietnam in early December and staying in the country through March. I plan to get a multiple entry 3-month visa online ahead of time and then rent an apartment in Saigon, with jaunts to Bangkok or Phnom Penh to see friends. In addition to visiting a country I’ve been dreaming of seeing for a long time, I am also looking forward to some time standing still. It’s been a really wonderful year of hard work and measurable rewards (like my book!), but I’m exhausted from the moving around. I just want a routine of soup, noodles, and more rice flour funsies. I’m really excited.
Looking forward to sharing food, stories and recipes from Vietnam! More from Chefchaouen, as promised, coming up soon.