The air is thick with rain, humidity and the sound of the heavy drops pelting down on the canvas marquee. Our guides have worked tirelessly to set up afternoon canapes for the sunset over the Perfume River, but the weather has other plans. The tour leader, with his ear-to-ear grin, whisks us away from the drenched mountaintop and ushers us in past a small, green courtyard to a tiled parlour to towel off.
As a table is laid with spring rolls, and his parents greet us with incredible warmth and grace, it becomes clear that we are being welcomed into our tour leader’s own home to escape the downpour. Such is the nature of Vietnamese hospitality and generosity. I was delighted to find this friendliness on every street corner and every tour during my time in the South-East Asian nation, but never so much as when I shared a meal.
Later in the same week, 80-year-old Mr. Dai offered us tea and dried pomelo from his own garden in Hue. Descended from a mandarin who kept the king’s elephants, Mr. Dai frequently welcomes tourists to his garden house for a huge lunch spread cooked by his wife. As we enjoyed soups and fresh fruit, a small puppy ran around chasing Mr. Dai’s grandchildren. Homestays and home-cooked meals like this have to be booked in advance and are a must-do for any family visiting Vietnam, seeking to meet its proud people and immerse themselves in local culture.
While I was in Hue, I was also treated to a Royal Banquet in my hotel, complete with robes and headdresses. Musicians serenaded us with local instruments and traditional folk songs about the maidens and history of Hue. In Hoi An, I enjoyed the gustatory highlight of my trip at the breakfast buffet when I sampled the Hoi An pancake, a fried omelette packed with coriander and spring onion and wrapped in crispy rice paper. On the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, I bit into my first banh mi, tasting the cultural fusion of French and traditional Vietnamese in the spicy pork baguette. It was in Hanoi that I filled up on the best beef pho and could finally say I had eaten an authentic serving of the famous noodle soup from its original home.
The wonder that is Vietnamese cuisine is no secret to the rest of the world, particularly in Australian cities like Sydney where Vietnamese restaurants are found in abundance. But it is the culture, the storytelling and the people behind the food that makes it so special. Vespa Safaris offer a Home Visit tour. Your family can meet Mr. Dai’s at Nha Vuon Xuan Dai. Websites like With Locals have clued on to the demand for personal travel experiences, connecting local and visiting families.
My top tip for any family visiting Vietnam, young or old, big or small, is to research and book a home visit and take every opportunity to meet Vietnamese people and share a meal with them. The humbling moments when I was welcomed into the homes of my hosts, when I listened to local music (instrumental or from traffic!), when I tasted regional treats, are the memories I treasure most from my visit. Food and family are a universal language.
Read more foodie fantasies and Asian adventures here:
Why kids should try new foods when they travel – from the perspective of 8 yr old Raff
Five Family Food Experiences in Siem Reap, Cambodia – Vietnam’s neighbour!