Here's a photo of the Vietnamese-China Border crossing from the town of Lao Cai, which is the dropping off point from the trains arriving from Hanoi to Sapa.
Crossing over the Red River via the Ho Kien Bridge and you'd be in the town of Hekou, Yunnan Province, PR China.
We stopped by on our way back to Sapa to take a photo for the Missus's Parents. We thought they'd get a kick out of it. And of course, while we were there, we ran into some Chinese visitors:
Who told the Missus She should visit Hekou; "you don't need a visa, just sneak across the border, see, no problem, we do it all the time when we have visitors." Ummm, no thanks.
So what the heck does Hekou have to do with Com Lam and street food in Sapa? That'll become evident a bit later on. Street food is quite easy to find in Sapa. Little stalls and vendors line the streets around the Main Square.
Actually, I'd be pretty generous in calling these stalls. In most cases, the set-up consists of a few tiny stools, a grill, and maybe a plastic table.
All of these little stands sell basically the same thing; grilled pork skewers, duck eggs, sweet potato, chestnuts, sometimes grilled sparrow...and Com Lam. Com Lam is basically sticky rice cooked in tubes of bamboo. We were awestruck at the immense amount of these little stands....all selling the same thing.
We chose one, manned by this young lady:
Who turned out to be Chinese, and originally from Hekou! Leave it to the Missus to find the only vendor in the whole area who is Chinese. The young lady was overjoyed when she found out the Missus is Chinese.
As she grilled our Com Lam, we learned her story. She was born and raised in Hekou, and ended up marrying a Vietnamese man from Sapa. He was a schoolteacher by trade, and makes a decent amount of money, but it is not enough for the family of three(she has a 5 year old daughter) to make a decent living. In order to make ends meet, she mans this little stand 5-7 days a week, for up to 12 hours a day during the weekends.
This was on our first evening in Sapa, and we could tell a storm was brewing. Several times the winds almost blew the umbrella off the stand, but the Missus helped her hold it in place. For some reason, it is one of my favorite photos.
Soon after my little tube of sticky rice was ready; and with skill and precision(and a knife), the bamboo was peeled back to reveal the tube of rice within.
The rice is chewy, and mildly nutty in flavor. I really like the "dip" made of peanuts, salt, chilies, and a bit of sugar. You can read more about Com Lam on Wandering Chopsticks blog, here and here on Oishii Eats. While the Missus was waiting for Her item to be ready, She learned a bit more about the young lady. Her Mom who she tries to visit every month, still lives in Hekou. Her Vietnamese is not very good, which makes her kind of isolated among all the other vendors, though she has a few "friends". You could tell that the young woman missed speaking in Chinese.
Can you see what the Missus is getting?
Yep, it's what they call Trung Vit Long...aka Balut. Something I've had before, but don't really seek out, and this version was way past it's "due date". Egad, I can't even describe it. Good fertilized eggs have a wonderful "juice" that tastes like the essence of the bird, this one didn't.
I've never seen Balut that already had feathers.......we couldn't make it past a mere taste. The Young lady though it was funny. At that point, the wind was whipping up, and it looked like the rain was on the way so we left. Knowing that the young woman was starving for some company that could understand her native language(the Missus told me the accent was sometimes very difficult to understand), we decided to drop by and grab a bite before leaving Sapa.
She told the Missus a bit about her life in Sapa(where men love to gamble, and a "justifiable" beating of your wife is still deemed ok by some), about having a daughter who barely knows her because she works all the time, and the feeling of being so close to your "home", but feeling so far away.....
There is a large group of covered food stalls just North of the main square, and while walking through the booths we saw this, the "pig on a stick".
It was 240,000 VND a Kilo($15/US)....there was no way the Missus and I could eat a kilo of pork meat. Somehow, we managed to let them know that we wanted a half-kilo. We chose some leg meat, and some back meat. It was pretty disappointing. The skin, instead of being crisp, was more sticky and hard, and the pork had no flavor.
Oh well, at least I got "pig on a stick!"
One last thing. Here's your typical Sapa full service masseuse, barber, hair dresser, and most importantly ear cleaner.
Ear cleaning must be a pretty big event, he's even got a spectator!