The journey to that excellent meal started early that morning in Ben Tre, a small fishing village known for its coconut candy exports in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Proud to a fault, I had refused help from the commercial tourist agencies, and had successfully gotten myself lost in the local hustle of Vietnam. Carrying a 30 lb backpack and zero language skills I was off to find the orchard of Anh Binh, a family run homestay in the tangled mangroves of Vinh Long.
To get there I walked two miles to the local bus station, boarded a bus to Saigon, requested an unscheduled drop off in Vinh Long, hopped a moto to the post office, convinced a women to call Anh Binh and inquire about homestays on the island, boarded a commuter ferry that circled the mangroves, and hailed another moto, which ultimately dropped me off in the wrong location. Lost and tired, I started to wonder if I would ever get there. I hadn't eaten all day.
I asked every person I passed if they knew where the orchard of Anh Binh was. However, they could't answer my questions, not because they didn't know where it was, but because I, with my westernized monotonal tongue, could not produce the sounds required to adequately communicate what it was. Moto taxi drivers shrugged and old women pointed me in different directions. One young man knew, but he was neither a moto taxi driver, nor interested in driving a stranger around. He was, however, kind. And he saw the desperation in my eyes. So he sighed and started up his moped, signaling for me to jump on. I leapt at this chance and held on tight as we zipped over two foot wide bridges and under jackfruit trees. When we got there, I tried to pay, but he refused. He said that it was Tet, the new year, and this was his gift to me.
I nearly collapsed on the steps of the house at Anh Binh. A girl smiled down at me and offered room and board for $10 US. I gladly accepted. That night, I sat in the kitchen and learned the secret to the intricacy of those Hoi An spring roll wrappers. Later, I sat down with a few other guests and enjoyed a breathtaking meal of crispy taro spring rolls, deep fried elephant ear fish with herbs and translucent rice paper, poached spot prawns, stir fried pork and bitter melons, a soup of what looked like collard greens. Over lots of Saigon and beer and laughter, we ended the meal with bright magenta rambutans.