Four dinners, four erstwhile chefs, and four nights of great food. Edward Dalton and three other hosts prepare dinner parties and get marked on how well they do. For the first time ever, the popular British cooking show, Come Dine with Me, has come to Hanoi — kind of.

 

We’ve got the dinner parties, and the biting sarcastic narrator has been replaced by a biting sarcastic writer; the only real difference is we’re on paper, not on your screens.

 

Each of our four contestants will host a dinner party for the group, with the guests giving scores and comments in private after the evening is over.

 

The winner, apart from being the inaugural Come Dine with Me: Hanoi Edition champion, gets a fat cash prize of VND500,000 to cover the agreed budget of hosting.

 

 

Dinner #1

 

Host: Edward Dalton

Age: 28

Nationality: British

Occupation: Word Staff Writer

Menu: Albondigas (Spanish meatballs), patatas bravas (roasted potatoes in spicy tomato sauce, with aioli), garlic prawns with chorizo crumbs, minted chilli peas, green beans in lemon oil and garlic bread

 

 

By going first, I make sure to set the bar so low, that even Tyrion Lannister would tower over it.

 

Despite boasting delicacies such as jellied eels and fine dining institutions like Greggs, British food continues to be the punchline of international cuisine; I therefore prepare a Spanish feast with which to wow my guests. My claim to authentic cooking comes in the form of a fridge magnet bought in Barcelona.

 

With only two gas burners and a half-broken oven (more excuses coming later), the food arrived a mere 45 minutes late. Which is only 15 minutes later than the photographer, who had a modest motorbike accident on the way to dinner.

 

What the Guests Said

 

“The patatas bravas with aioli was the best. The aioli was so well-balanced. He should have prepared the food a bit earlier, as we ate quite late. I felt a bit too full and quite bloated when I left, and in general, most of the food just needed a bit more salt.” — Cameron, 8/10

 

“The tapas were all great (although separate courses would’ve been better), but my favourite was the green beans; I’m just not sure whether they went well with the other flavours. The meatballs were quite tough and burnt on the sides.” — Grazia, 7/10

 

“I loved the roasted potatoes in spicy tomato sauce, but the green beans were overcooked; too mushy and too soft. I prefer crisp green beans. They should be shaken with ice water after cooking to keep their bright colour and maintain their crispness.” — Lien, 8.75/10

 

Dinner #2

 

Host: Cameron Lucy

Age: 28

Nationality: British

Occupation: English Teacher

Menu: Pumpkin bruschetta, ginger beer-battered basa fish and banh chuoi (Vietnamese fried banana, Cam-style)

 

 

As Come Dine with Me is a British show, and because the corrupt writer is unashamedly hoping for a British winner, the second host is also British. He’s also the Executive Emperor in Chief of Hanoi Massive — a new era.

 

As the guests exchange drunk stories (the highlight being Grazia’s vomit kiss), and discuss the regional food variations in Italy compared to the fried food variations in the UK, Cameron is busy preparing a multinational three-course meal.

 

Italian starter, British main and Vietnamese dessert? Someone’s trying to impress the Italian, British and Vietnamese guests…

 

What the Guests Said

 

“The bruschetta was amazing, the pumpkin was tender and the bread was crisp and spongy. The fish batter was very light and crispy, but the fish was a little bit salty. It would have been scrumptious if he did not use so much salt.” — Lien, 9/10

 

“The bruschetta topping was outstanding, but the bread wasn’t really toasted much, so it lacked that great crunch. The fish was really good, even with a cold tomato-cucumber sauce in place of mushy peas… but all the portions needed to be doubled. I went home hungry.” — Edward, 8/10

 

“I enjoyed the night, especially when he made us cocktails. I thoroughly appreciated the amount of effort in the preparation, but I was expecting a bit more on the food side. I didn’t really like his reaction to my comment on my undercooked fish, though!” — Grazia, 7/10

 

Dinner #3

 

Host: Le Thi Huong Lien

Age: 33

Nationality: Vietnamese

Occupation: University Teacher

Menu: Whole red snapper in black bean sauce, five-spice-fried squid, razor clams in lemongrass and chilli oil, and carrot and kohlrabi salad

 

 

The third dinner is meant to be hosted by Lien, but her two daughters (aged five and seven) make sure to she has to work hard to stay in the spotlight.

 

Lien tries to lower our expectations by telling us she’s just cooking simple Vietnamese food; for three foreigners who all chose to live in Vietnam and love Vietnamese food. Nice try.

 

Conversation topics move from the food, to the abundance of sexists and racists on Hanoi Massive. Occasional interruptions courtesy of entertaining tantrums by Lien’s daughters.

 

What the Guests Said

 

“The squid couldn’t have been more perfect. So tender and well-seasoned. However, the razor clams… why anyone would want to eat an organic parcel of dirt is beyond me. Also, I thought the fish tasted quite murky; but she put a lot of effort in.” — Cameron, 7/10

 

“The fish was excellent, and wrapping it was super fun; I loved the pineapple with it. The squid was exquisite. Not a big fan of the razor clams, though. I think she should serve water in addition to beer, or ask people what they want to drink. Her cute kids were amazing.” — Grazia, 8/10

 

“Squid and razor clams both firsts for me; the tenderness of the squid was a real pleasant surprise, but I won’t be having any dreams about those clams. Loved the interactive nature of the meal, plenty of food. Good effort!” — Edward, 8/10

 

Dinner #4

 

Host: Grazia Pacillo

Age: 35

Nationality: Italian

Occupation: Post-doctoral Fellow Economist at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture

Menu: Rotolo di melanzane e ricotta (calzone with aubergines, bacon and basil), focaccia, Puglia olives, sundried tomato bruschetta, ragù alla bolognese with handmade orecchiette and salame al cioccolato with whipped cream

 

 

The last host, Grazia is a victim of positive prejudice; we all expect great things just because she’s Italian.

 

Playing the Italian card pretty hard, Grazia claims to have spent two days preparing for the meal, which includes homemade bread and pasta; she’s also got her well-trained boyfriend on kitten duty, keeping the little rascal off the table.

 

Lien exercises her well-honed teacher-patience while the rest of us overgrown children chat about all our favourite video games and other geeky delights.

 

What the Guests Said

 

“Everything I dreamed of came true; pasta, calzone, olives and tons of tomatoes. The ‘chocolate salami’ dessert was a new one for me, but what a great idea. Everything was well-executed; but just the massive wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese was enough to win me over.” — Edward, 9/10

 

“I loved the pasta. Neither too hard nor too soft, it absorbed all the wonderful flavour; delicious. The tomatoes for the bruschetta were fresh, but too sour for me; they needed to be served right after preparing, as their juices diluted the dressing.” — Lien, 8.75/10

 

“The dessert was very nice, the coffee took the edge off the sweetness. The hosting was really good, dishes were served quickly, drinks were topped up; and watching their kitten wreak havoc was fun. But I felt the pasta was very bland, and there was way too much food.” — Cameron, 8/10

 

And the Winner is…

 

In fourth place, Lien’s seafood bonanza, with a score of 7.7/10.

 

Coming in third, and a travesty, is Edward, with 7.9/10.

 

The runner-up, Cameron’s League of Nations feast, with 8/10.

 

But the winner, and taking home the fabulous VND500,000 prize money, is Grazia!

 

Grazia scored 8.6/10, and if I was a sore loser, I’d say most of the credit goes to how cute her cat is. However, the massive effort and hours of preparation really paid off, and we were all treated to a real taste of Italy; a deserving winner of the first ever Come Dine with Me: Hanoi Edition.


 

PHOTOS BY TEIGUE JOHN BLOKPOEL

 

Edward Dalton

Ted landed in Vietnam in 2013, looking for new ways to emulate his globetrotting, octo-lingual grandfather and all-round hero. After spending a year putting that history Masters to good use by teaching English, his plan to return to his careers adviser in a flood of remorseful tears backfired when he met someone special and tied the knot two years on. Now working as a wordsmith crackerjack (ahem, staff writer) for Word Vietnam.

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