Elijah Ferrian shares memories and food stories with a traveling blogger and cookery class teacher. Photo by Vinh Dao.
What brings you out here to Vietnam?
Well, my friend Tony and I live in rural Spain. We are located in a small village of 624 people. There’s about eight or nine British folk living in the village, and somehow we became good friends.
I run a cookery school out of my home, and Tony is also interested in cooking, but especially the eating part. A few years back we had this idea that we would like to travel out to India. So, we traveled all over the subcontinent by train. We saw the positive and negative sides to the wonderful lands there, but it was a fantastic experience that led to us planning the trip that brings us to sit down with you. Exploring the culinary landscape of Southeast Asia.
So, how did the conversation steer your travels over to this part of the globe?
We were talking about traveling again. We would like to go back to China. I’d only been there on business.
We started to plan a trip for Cambodia and Vietnam. We’re both retired, and so we had no problem coming up with a grand 35 day trip that starts off in Bangkok and snakes its way from Hanoi all the way down the coast and through Ho Chi Minh City. We took the train down from Hanoi to Hue, then the train again to Saigon, which was a mistake. It stole two days from us that we could have been eating! After we’re done here in the city, we’re going to head out to Cambodia, hit the coast and the major cities.
You had mentioned previously that there might be some island travel in your future as well? The funny thing is you live in Spain, and I can’t imagine why you would ever want to leave that culinary wonderland.
Well we’re going to fly to Singapore after we’re finished with Cambodia. Tony used to be in the Navy and wants to check out Singapore again. I hear great things about their food culture as well. It’s a long trip, but it should be rewarding. You must not have been to Spain in February! It is our winter and it can be quite dismal. So, once you’ve found the money for the flight out here, it’s cheaper to travel around in Southeast Asia than it is to stay at home and heat the house.
What’s the primary focus of this trip? I mean obviously you are traveling for pleasure, but you’re also a culinary teacher, a food blogger, and you’re not the first to make this trip in search of the finest food Southeast Asia has to offer.
It’s a culinary journey with a focus on authenticity. It started out in Thailand, and we were walking around a food market. There were several stalls, but this one we could smell, and it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had in Asia. Roast belly pork with greenery. It was just perfect. It’s those unknown little masterpieces that really set the standard for cuisine in this part of the world.
Getting into Vietnam, we had two fantastic meals in Hanoi. We went to the history museum in Hanoi and it was closed, so we were milling about and came upon what seemed like a workingman’s canteen. Bia hoi for VND10,000 a glass and beef and noodles. The owner asked us in his rudimentary english: “How did you find this place?” It was fantastic. Sitting at these shared tables with locals, and the only reason we ended up there was because our plans had been thwarted. That’s what we love.
When we are looking for places to eat and drink we are looking for authenticity. We tend to wander around and end up in people’s front rooms drinking beer and being served by the matriarch of the family late into the night.
Has there been any negatives to the trip so far?
I think we’re 20 years too late, as far as easily being able to find authenticity. It’s been made so easy for folks to eat in restaurants with English-printed menus and amenities.
We’re expecting Cambodia to be a bit more around the way I expected Vietnam to be. A little more rustic, a bit more developing. Excited to be exposed to a culture that I generally have no background information on.
Can you tell us more about your business in Spain?
I run a cookery school in rural Spain. It’s one-to-one, or one-to-four. I offer accommodation with it as well. Everything happens in my kitchen or in my outside kitchen. Somebody contacts me and says: “I want to do mediteranean food or South Asian food, and I set up a meal plan for three to four days. I had a Belgian couple that wanted to learn how to make curries, and so we did a week of cooking Indian style curry. So, essentially, people come and stay with me, and I show them around the area and give them some background history. It’s not constant cooking. It’s a kind of total integrated experience in the south of Spain. It’s beautiful and people always end up loving their stay. I genuinely enjoy teaching people how to cook.
What’s your background? Did you go to culinary school? How did you get your start teaching others how to whip up fine dishes?
I’m a self-taught cook. I owned a restaurant in France for three years. That kind of pushed me out of the industry. It was extremely intense. A French kitchen is the real deal. Fifteen hour days or more. We made a good amount of money, but it ended up being not the best fit for me. The cookery classes are more relaxed, and it’s more of an intimate, connected experience with people where we can share the passion for cooking. Teaching comes naturally, and I just genuinely love to share the art of cooking with other people. Being able to do it from my home in a beautiful country just makes it that much more enjoyable.
Where does the blog come in?
I normally blog a bit about food. Quite randomly. It’s normally food-centric. For example, a Vietnamese curry paste that you buy in the UK, let’s say, I enjoy going out and finding the fresh, raw ingredients and making it myself. Although, I haven’t been fantastic at keeping up with my blog lately because I have been researching my family tree.