Is this love, Hoi An?

Where do I begin. This tingling sensation down my spine, the warm fuzzies. Dilated pupils. Speechless.

Hoi An has seduced me, and it’s dramatic. The ancient town may be touristic, but its food is just…beyond words. For the first time since arriving in Vietnam, we dined consecutively in terrific restaurants, mind you, without any planning.

Let’s start with Mermaid, who calmly swept me off my feet with such unassuming confidence, that I didn’t even realize I was already consumed in its intoxicating embrace by the time we finished the first dish. The white rose, a shrimp dumpling so pure and translucent, that you would never have guessed that something so simple could be such a pleasure on the palette. And there I was, taken aback, but enjoying the divine blend of chewiness, crunchy garlic bits, shrimp and sweet sauce. Like when you’re surprised to have fallen in love with someone who you would never have thought was your cup of tea.

Impassioned by our first dining experience in Hoi An, we set out to try another one of Ms Vy’s restaurants. Ms Vy is the owner of Mermaid, and apparently, also one of Vietnam’s most recognized restauranteurs and chefs. This is how we ended up having dinner at The Market Restaurant. I totally skipped our afternoon diversion, but truth be told, I was so consumed by my love affair with Hoi An’s food, I’m not sure I was attentive enough to the rest of my Hoi An experience to elaborate more on it. I should also fess up that this dining experience was actually planned. It’s like secretly meeting a lover you know is bad news, but you do it anyway because you’ve lost all your senses and you just want to be swept off your feet again.

The Market Restaurant has a beautiful setup of various food stations, which actually left us feeling a bit overwhelmed. The menu came on a wooden-framed tablet, which housed so many plate options, we randomly picked a few plates, confident that everything would be delicious. It was a scrumptious meal filled with rich flavors. But like all other secret affairs, this clandestine meeting tipped the balance. The meal felt a bit too rich, too heavy towards the end, as I sat there slightly disappointed and weary that the shroud of intoxicating passion had dissipated. And so, the next day, I set my sights on something more down to earth, Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant.

Minh Hien was a level-headed lover that we discovered along the street of our hotel. Whereas the Market Restaurant offered a grandiose setting with beautiful dishes, Minh Hien seduced me with its no-nonsense menu and its wall shelves lined with books. Plus, the food was a-mazing. Seriously. You wouldn’t think it seeing the cheap plastic-lined menus chewed at the corners. But it was. Fried spring rolls, pho noodles, and stuffed tofu cooked in banana leaves. I was in heaven, and I’m not even vegetarian.

As testament of our love towards Minh Hien, we went back two more times, that is, for our last two meals in Hoi An. We tried out new dishes such as the pumpkin peanut and vegetarian noodles. Each time, we left the restaurant with warm fuzzies, while deep down, we couldn’t ignore the gnawing reality that our love was coming to an end. It was a sad day packing ourselves into a sleeper bus, silently saying au revoir to a love that could have been but not meant to be, as we headed towards Phong Nha-Ke National Park.

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