Tra Que is a small farming community located about 2 kilometers northeast of Hoi An. It’s an easy bicycle ride and a quite scenic one which involves pedaling past rice fields, glassy rivers, and lazy water buffaloes lounging in the mud.
I cycled out to Tra Que not really knowing what I would find there, and I was met with a peaceful oasis where herbs grow in neat rows and where farmers work the land by hand.
While I arrived a bit late in the day when things on the farm were beginning to wind down, if you plan in advance you can expect to take part in a few of these activities:
Activities at Tra Que
Be a farmer!
Yes, for a day you can join one of the local farmers and get a feel of what it is like to work the land – water the crops, fertilize the land with seaweed from the nearby lake, pick up a hoe and get your hands muddy. What better way to get an insight into the local way of life?
Learn to cook.
Tra Que Herb Village opened its own restaurant Waterwheel just a few months ago and it is already getting rave reviews. The family behind this restaurant is not only skilled in the cooking department, but they are also passionate about sharing their local recipes and techniques. The best part is that you know you are getting the freshest ingredients because they’ve literally been picked that day from the local farm.
Make rice paper.
Rice paper is an important staple in Vietnamese cuisine – you may be familiar with it if you have eaten fresh spring rolls, as this is what it used to wrap the rolls. If you are interested in the process of rice paper making – rice grinding, boiling, stretching and drying – then there is a workshop just for you.
* * *
Most people come to Tra Que to take part in one of the above mentioned tours, but I biked here for the food alone and ended up having one of the best meals out of my entire month in Vietnam! That’s speaking very highly of this restaurant because the food has been amazing everywhere in Vietnam.
Top dishes at Waterwheel in Tra Que
The young girl who runs the family restaurant recommended three dishes accompanied with a ginger and basil seed drink, and that’s exactly what I had.
Like the name suggests, this dish is made using three ingredients that complement each other wonderfully. I was pleasantly surprised by these bite-sized pork and shrimp appetizers carefully wrapped in greens picked from the local farm.
This is one dish that surprised me. Does it have papaya, does it not have papaya? If you are expecting a plate full of ripe orange papayas, you will be disappointed – but not for long! This dish is made using shredded unripe papaya (which is light in colour), carrots, and bean sprouts as the main ingredients. Add some peanuts, fresh coriander, chilli and lime, and you have yourself a refreshingly tangy salad that is perfect for a hot day.
This dish is best described as a crossover between a fluffy pancake and a thick crepe. While the batter is still frying on the skillet, shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and green onions are added on top. The pancake is then folded in half, and voila – a masterpiece!
You can choose to eat the pancake as is and it would be delicious, but the Vietnamese way involves cutting the pancake into smaller pieces and wrapping these in rice paper with some added lettuce and herbs. You are then left with a delicious spring roll in your hand, which you can dip in a sweet and tangy sauce.
If you ever find yourself in Hoi An, I highly recommend this place as a little side trip!