The day started out like any other. We filled up on free hostel breakfast to prepare for another big day of sightseeing. Little did we know what the universe had in store for us…
The day before, we had purchased a sightseeing pass for Hoi An’s Ancient Town and had a few tickets left to get into the old buildings and attractions around town. After checking out some of the old houses and communal temples, we scoured our tourist map to try to find a less crowded and more authentic experience. When we read about a demonstration of traditional black sesame soup, a Hoi An delicacy, the foodies in us were intrigued.
We followed the map a few blocks away from the tourist-y action and down a quiet, narrow alley before wandering into what seemed like an empty courtyard and house. This can’t be it… we thought, until a small man appeared from the back room. In heavily accented English, he apologized and said he’d just been eating lunch, but before we could protest, he quickly took our tickets and ushered us in.
The man was extraordinarily hospitable as he took us through the history and making of the soup. He told us that his mother was ninety-seven and his father was one-hundred-and-four, and they had been making the soup for the past seventy years. He seemed so proud as he was telling us about his family and their special business. He was eager for us to try a sample and we were eager to oblige.
We sat down on low stools and a small table while a woman, his sister or wife perhaps, served us small cups of sesame tea and the thick, black soup. “Don’t mix,” she said, and mimed skimming small spoonfuls off the top of the bowl. The soup was delicious, nutty and sweet, the perfect afternoon treat.
We were revelling in this intimate experience, sharing a few quiet moments with this man and his family. His mother, a tiny old woman, even peaked out at us from the inside room.
But before we were even halfway through the soup, the tranquility of the moment was disrupted by a small camera crew busting into the room. Two Vietnamese men with large cameras and a woman in a smart, red blazer surrounded us. “Don’t mind us,” they said, without explaining who they were or what they were doing, and focused their cameras right on our faces.
We looked at each other in bewilderment, but anytime we glanced towards the camera or crew to figure out what was going on, we received an arm gesture and a “please” signalling us to continue eating. We did so without question but couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. Of course this would happen to us.
The bewilderment must have showed on our faces, because the shop owner started repeating, in his broken English, “Not a trick, not a trick, swear!”
Finally, one of the cameramen, presumably a producer, asked, “First time in Vietnam?”
We nodded, trying to be friendly, all the while worried about black seeds in our teeth for our Vietnamese TV debut.
“Do you like the soup? It’s like pudding!” He continues as if we were old friends.
As we finished the soup, he told us that they were filming a TV special for the upcoming Tet holiday (New Year’s), and after he confirmed that we had North American accents, asked if he could do a short interview with us about our experience here. After having such a nice experience with the family who made the soup, we thought the least we could do was help them out with some publicity.
We each sat for a short interview while the producer asked us leading questions about our time in Hoi An. When asked about the best thing she’d ate in the city, Rose answered the vermicelli noodles, until she was gently led to gush again about the black sesame soup.
When we’d answered all their questions, and even renacted a few scenes of the soup owner explaining the soup-making process to us, the camera crew said, “Merci Beaucoup,” and we were ushered politely away as if it all went according to plan.
We probably won’t see the broadcast, but the experience alone isn’t one we’re going to forget!
Check out our most recent post from Southeast Asia about learning how to ask for things.