We left Hoi An, pretty disappointed with the food. I felt that Hung had taken it to heart, though Duyen wasn't sure. In any case, Hung had said that he never meant for us to order the set meal. Duyen and I did a lengthy post-mortem in the van, and we did agree that if there were any more food problems, we would speak up and remind Hung that we weren't typical tourists.
We drove for ages. In Vietnam, the farther south you go the more prosperous it gets, but it also gets much less interesting to look at. It's kind of like the highways in the U.S. If you like looking at nothing, there's plenty of it. As it got dark, we drove alongside the South China Sea. It got later and later, and then it was time for dinner. Hung is a really good guy, and I suppose we knew that. He headed for a truck stop that he was familiar with. There were other truck stops before this one, with people on the road who yelled at you to stop and come in. Hung knew just the place, and this turned out to be one of the high points of my entire trip.
Hung said he only brought his Vietnamese passengers here. The place was absolutely fantastic. The building was a small stadium, open in the front so that the drivers could keep an eye on their trucks. The walls had vestiges of grimy, powder-blue paint, there were florescent lights, of course, and there was a TV blasting in front of the kitchen, which could just as easily been an auto body shop. They sat us down at a table with plastic lawn chairs. I looked at the floor next to our table, and among other things, there was an entire fish skeleton that some satisfied diner had hurled over his shoulder.
The first local to greet us was a chicken who was walking around the restaurant. Next there was a puppy, and then a cat, and last (but not least), was another chicken, who decided to start an altercation with the first one. As the chickens settled their dispute the only way they knew how, Hung ordered our meal. This was one of the best meals I had in Vietnam, which is saying a lot for a trip that had some of the most outstanding food I've ever had.
There was a fish (like the one on the floor), served whole with tomato and ginger. It was excellent. There was sour mustard leaf soup served with rice, which was also excellent. There were crabs, served with salt, pepper and lemon juice, that were delicious. But the high point of the meal was simple, boiled squid. There was nuoc cham sauce on the side for dipping, but these squid didn't need anything at all. They were fresh, sweet and perfect. In the interests of gluttony, we ordered some more. Beer, tea and coffee rounded it off to make a perfect meal.
As I mentioned, the place was also a feast for the eyes. I tried really hard not to look around and stare at people, especially because people were staring at me. (Wherever I went in Vietnam I was an instant celebrity, no doubt because of my incredible good looks.) There was one fellow across from us who looked Indian, rather than Vietnamese. Hung explained that there was a large population of Indians in the area, and in the course of generations they became Vietnamese.
But what really caught my attention was a table with 3 truckers in the corner, who were sitting around in their shorts eating dinner. These guys were eating when we came in, they ate and drank beer all through our meal, and they were still eating when we left. Pretty amazing for such thin guys. Rather than sitting in his chair, one of them stood perched on the chair, his heels and his bottom both touching the seat. Another stood up periodically to hike his shorts up to something approximating decency. The truckers' table was right next to the window, which in this establishment, was a square hole cut out of the wall. When one of them had a mouth full of bones, "Pfooooo" it went, right out the window.
In the end, I couldn't help but stare. One of the things I noticed was that the truckers had round bruises all over their shoulders, chests and backs. First I thought that it might be some kind of ailment, but the bruises were too artificial looking. Duyen and Hung told me that this was not an ailment, but actually a cure for aches and pains. My guide book refers to this as "moxybustion", and it's actually similar to other forms of Asian medicine. The idea is to break the skin to let the bad air out. With moxybustion, a glass is heated with lighter fluid and applied to the skin. Where it's applied to the skin, like acupuncture, depends on what's bothering you.
On the way out we said hello to the truckers, who were still eating. The three of them were pretty young looking, but were responsible for the largest truck in the lot, which was huge. I was embarassed, but Duyen told them I was curious about their bruises, and that I wanted to take their picture. I'm still embarassed, but they didn't mind at all.
The Truckers Three
Not the most brilliant picture, but it does capture their likeness.