Vietnamese Banquet

31st December 2015

New Year’s Eve for fourteen. Ollie in waistcoat runs his own bar from behind the drinks’ trolley. Coconuts with holes drilled in for straws, balanced in tea cups. Colourful beakers of homemade smoothie next to a huge carton of Um Bongo. Tom stands in the frying station, aka the shed, cooking crab crisp parcels in our new toy, the deep fat fryer. The place smells like a chip shop. A huge belly of pork slow roasts in the oven unaware of the angst it is causing the party’s hosts. Has the fat rendered down? Will the crackling crackle? Will it be an improvement on the last unappetising attempt?

I find myself washing bamboo leaves at the kitchen sink. All in the name of presentation. Unsure what to do, I stack them vertically like plates on the dryer. Too late I realise the child-guests might not be up for the Vietnamese cuisine. Scampi goujons are dug out of the freezer and, er, a par-baked baguette (strong French influence in Vietnam, didn’t you know?). They are hastily served with carrot sticks, some salted nuts from the coffee table and pineapple pieces grabbed from Ollie’s cocktail trolley. The kids look confused; I feel slightly hysterical. Fortunately, Anna (6) has brought her own lunch box. I think she’s learnt from previous experience.

We eat Hanoi crisp parcels (cha gio) and prawn summer rolls (goi cuon) dipped in glass bowls of nuoc cham dipping sauce, followed by slabs of roasted belly of pork with papaya salad. The green papaya cost £9 off the market. I hope everyone appreciates it and hasn’t mistaken it for a courgette. It’s dusk by the time we’ve finished eating but we force everyone out of the house for a jaunt to the park. By the time we get to the playground it’s too dark to recognise the person next to me and I worry that the park keeper will have locked us in. The kids though, are having the time of their lives, charging around.

Tom and I lead the way home and slap each other on the back in congratulations. The first two courses have been alright, despite the angst. We may have spoken too soon though. There’s still the as-yet-not-been-tested banana fritter recipe to come. Tom changes the oil on the fryer (a laborious task), while I flatten bananitos (dwarf bananas) with a palate knife and look up a suitable recipe on the iPad. This is not what you should be doing when you’ve got twelve people waiting expectantly in the dining room; pots of ice cream beginning to melt on the table.

Best-Man-Ben can sense the marital culinary tension and joins us in the shed, grin on face, drink in hand, while we bicker over the best way to lower a banana into a fryer without all the batter sliding off. The results are unsatisfactory. The rice flour makes the batter so white that the fritters come out looking anaemic and unappetising. Just as Tom decides to try dropping a bananito in from a greater height, I step closer to peer into the fryer. Oil splashes up into my face in a scene reminiscent of something out of Casualty. I cry out and clutch my face; fortunately my big glasses have taken the brunt of it. We decide to serve the fritters as they are.

The kids look disappointed as pudding is put down in from of them. A long wait for this? Most of them sidle over to the cake tin which contains Helen’s alternative chocolate brownie dessert. Actually, the fritters taste ok and if the children had been blindfolded, I think they might have enjoyed them. I go around the kids’ table and polish off their leftovers.

After everyone leaves, Daisy launches straight into an argument about staying up till midnight. I’ve had a great day but I’d now like to sit down without a child in sight. She is persistent and after much debate we agree on a 9.30pm bedtime. It is with surprise then, that I find three glasses clinking together when Big Ben strikes midnight. I look down to find Daisy on the sofa between Tom and I.

“Mmmm. Very nice!” She says as she knocks back her first ever mouthful of champagne.”Very nice indeed. Now can we turn back to Call The Midwife so I can see the end of the episode, please?”

New Year’s Day, 2016

So it would appear that the blog is back again. So sorry for the rather long absence!  I thought it was all over (writing-wise) but then suddenly there it was back on my New Year’s Resolutions list along with making my own bread, growing my own vegetables and wearing matching underwear. Exactly the same unachieved list as last year.

2016’s blog won’t be a daily occurrence; as unforgettable as those 111 daily blog posts were last year, I want to have the steam to keep going for the whole year so I’m aiming for a weekly update.

Thanks to those who have encouraged me to start it up again, especially my mother who offered to lock me in a room until I actually put pen to paper.

Finally, it just remains for me to say that our New Year’s Eve Vietnamese menu was a complete copy of one of the best meals we have ever eaten. Our great friend, Neil, and his culinary partner, Jaki Jak inspired us at their supper club, Papaya Verte, at The Rosebery in Norwich in November.

I also had the great privilege of attending a Vietnamese cookery course that they did earlier in the year. I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went home and looked up flights to Vietnam…….

11 thoughts on “Vietnamese Banquet”

  1. How lovely to wake up to a brand new blog post!! A brilliant return to writing – on top form as ever. Can’t wait for the next one! X


  2. So glad that the blog’s back!
    As one of the lucky guests at the New Year’s Feast, I can confirm how absolutely delicious all the food was. I always think that you and Tom should go into the restaurant business – maybe your resolution for next year?!


  3. Hi Sarah. This is so lovely and fun to read. I’m so touched Papaya Verte inspired you in so many ways! I particularly love your description of frying the bananas, it’s so true! Jaki Xx


  4. Horrified that I didn’t email you photos in time for this first return to blogging! So sorry. BUT what an amazing meal you knocked up for us all. Truly brilliant – the papaya was well worth the £9! I am very happy your blog is back. xxx


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