Food is not only delicious to eat, its creation is also fascinating to watch – and in some cases you get an added bonus of testing your own chef talents. These next two behind-the-scenes stops were quite unique although I did have some flashbacks to childhood when I visited the Wonderbread factory.
Most of the local factories in Brooklyn and Queens have been shut down, but the bread is still being sold. My unenlightened family ate this stuff long ago but have to say I definitely don’t miss it. However here is an interesting factoid on the bread’s website – frankly I had never known this was the reason for its name:
But I digress. The food prep centers we visited were humble in stature, but delivered wonderfully tasty tidbits. First up, let’s make some rice noodles. After another sampan float from the Mekong Princess to the shore, followed by another walk-the-plank, we hiked briefly through the jungle until we hit a clearing where a delightful smell of jasmine flowers hit our noses. Then the steam hit and I had another childhood flashback to one of Washington Baths’ steam rooms.
There was a safe spot away from the steam where we could watch a deceptively simple-looking process. Although I can humbly state that I am a pretty proficient chef and cook, nonetheless I would epically fail at some of these tricky maneuvers. It starts with rice kernels and a little tapioca for consistency:
A flat ladle is used to take a small amount of rice mixture and place it on top of a flat hot plate. It is smoothed and then a conical top is placed over so the rice crepe can cook. You can see where the steam emanates – imagine fifty of these opening at the same time.
No, this women is going to play a Vietnamese version of cricket . That odd implement is actually used in a delicate maneuver. This next pic is from the internet – I wanted you to see how miraculously the “crepe” is lifted from the hot plate without it collapsing. This is where my epic fail would take place.
Back to my photos:
The cooked rice crepes are gently lowered onto bamboo mats which are then placed in the sun to dry for about 8 hours, as shown in the photo at the top of this post.
Now the fun part – which I did attempt and happily did not fail. The hardened crepes are placed on platform of rollers which gently guide them through the cutter, creating lovely light noodles.
This is my batch – not bad!
This visit implanted so strongly in my brain that upon coming home, I started a cooking frenzy of hot pots, soups etc that list rice noodles as an ingredient. Yum. Yum.
The next stop was at a coconut candy maker and after one look at the machete I decided not to make any attempt . The owner was adept at opening the coconuts and getting all the sweet milk which was then mixed with water, sugar and some secret ingredient. The coconut mixture was rolled up into long strips which the workers quickly cut to create bite-sized mouth-watering candy which was then wrapped.
Yes I couldn’t help but compare this to Lucy and Ethel:
The candy maker also sold a very popular local fermented “wine.” Our guide in particular raved about its taste and health attributes. After taking a look at the pretty bottles I decided not to partake:
Snakes and scorpions. Oh My Buddha!!!!!