I love Vietnamese food, and Hanoi is a foodie city, with so many great dishes to sample. On a recent trip to Hanoi I signed up for a farm tour and cooking experience through WithLocals. WithLocals is a peer to peer tours and experiences platform with offerings in countries around the world. I’ve used them before and really enjoyed the tours. It’s always been with folks who are just offering an experience as a side gig, not professional guides. And that’s my preference. I want to see what a local enjoys doing, or how a local lives.
The experience with Manh was a really delightful evening. First, we took a taxi 40 minutes outside of the city center, to her village, Song Phuong. Manh met us at the taxi and took us on a walking tour of the village, including a long walk through the farm. Everyone born before 1992 was given land to farm by the government. (They ran out of land so young people have to count on inheriting land from their parents). In Manh’s village this resulted in extensive farm land, mostly worked by the women. The crops are quite varied, including a wide range of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even a fish farm. We got to taste some freshly picked herbs and fruits. And we learned about some of the families working the various plots.
After the farm tour we walked to Manh’s home, a really nice place that her family built just recently. She explained that families generally live next door to one another and described how she is related to her neighbors. Then the cooking part got started. Manh has a real talent for managing sous chefs while keeping all the food preparation moving forward efficiently. She communicated very clearly at every step so that we would be able to recreate the dishes.
After about an hour of cooking, our feast was ready to eat. We sat down with Manh and her family to enjoy one of the best meals I had in Vietnam. Manh gets extra credit for quickly pivoting to adapt the meal to a vegetarian friend who came along last minute. The menu I selected was definitely not vegetarian friendly, but Manh substituted tofu for meat in some things, and added in a few other fun veg dishes to make sure my friend had plenty of delicious food to eat.
I asked Manh how she came to list this experience on Withlocals. She said she started on craigslist but didn’t get many bookings. Then someone responded to her ad suggesting she check out Withlocals. Once she moved her listing to this network she started getting a lot more interest. Manh studied English in college and speaks it very well. She’s an excellent cook and currently works at home raising two young daughters. This side gig food experience is the perfect way for her to make some extra money and meet travelers. She told us about her desire to travel the world herself. Perhaps when her children are grown.
This sort of experience hanging out with locals is quite a bit more fun to me than traditional tours. As more people are seeking out local experiences, peer to peer tour platforms are gaining popularity.
Check out my interview with Withlocals from a few years ago.