Feb 25, 2024

Cooking with Mandy: A visit to an urban farming village outside of Hanoi


These hats are not a tourist gimmick. Vietnamese wear the non la (conical hat) to protect them from sun or rain  

Readers of this blog know I‘m a fan of eatwith.com, the Airbnb of dining which connects travelers with locals who host dinners in their homes. My husband, Tom, and I have lasting memories of spending evenings with families in France, Italy, Spain and Mexico, but when I began looking for a similar opportunity in Hanoi, I assumed language and cultural barriers would limit the chances for a connection. 

Then I spotted a listing for a “Hanoi Farm Tour and Cooking Class with Local Family.” The host, English-speaking Mandy, 38, proposed a visit to a rural community 12 miles out of the city center where her husband’s family has farmed for generations. Guests were invited to collaborate with her on a menu, visit the local market and wander through the fields of her farm and other neighboring farms. Then it was back to her house to help prepare a four-course meal and have lunch, all included in the $35 per person price. 

Several WhatsApp messages later to confirm details and the location for a Grab (like Uber) taxi from our hotel in Hanoi, we met Mandy outside the local temple on a rainy morning in the village of Song Phuong. She gave us each one of the conical hats Vietnamese wear to protect themselves from sun and rain. As we began our walk through the Vang market, it became apparent why Song Phuong is called “Vegetable Village,” for its acres of fertile farm land and large wholesale market that supplies vendors and restaurants in Hanoi daily with fresh produce and meats. 

Farmers, many of them carrying their produce, ducks and live chickens to the market in baskets attached to bicycles, show up at 1 a.m. so wholesale buyers can make it back to Hanoi in time to stock the stalls of early-morning street markets and supply restaurants and hotels.

Mandy and her husband, an auto mechanic, are the first generation in their families not farm for a living. She worked in tourism until starting her tours seven years ago. He is an auto mechanic, but his parents still work the family land, harvesting at midnight, and selling guavas, kohlrabi, cauliflower and whatever else is in season to the wholesalers.

Mandy in a cauliflower patch

“I love cooking,” she explained, and when I moved here (after getting married), and saw the beautiful farms, I wanted to find a way to show people where the food comes from.” Her in-laws at first weren’t sold on the idea of bringing in tourists, but they have come around as have the local farmers who seem to enjoy meeting visitors 

By the time we arrived at the market at 9:30 a.m., the wholesale buyers were gone, and the vendors were selling what was left to retail customers. The woman below proudly showed us her freshly-killed chickens even though we were unlikely buyers.

This woman was selling pumpkin leaves and stems used in many Vietnamese dishes. The pumpkins themselves are small, and rarely eaten. Pumpkin soup, which appears on many restaurant menus, is for tourists.

Banana are grown and sold in bunches. No one buys just one 

Vietnam is a communist country, and any man, woman or child born before 1991 was entitled to 360 square meters of land. Mandy‘s parents as well as her husband‘s mother and father encouraged them to go to school,  telling them that if they studied hard, they could say “goodbye to 360 square meters,” meaning they could have the chance to establish careers in fields of their choosing.

Mandy and her daughter, Anh Thu, 9, show us how to prepare stuffing for steamed cabbage rolls

Their education has enabled them to build a comfortable life for themselves and their three daughters, ages 2,9 and 12. They live in a newly-built four-story house next door to where his parents live. They have two motorcycles which they use for everyday transportation and sometimes for taking the whole family to visit her parents who live 60 miles away.

Sitting at her kitchen table with knives and cutting boards, we chopped bunches of herbs, shredded carrots, green mangos, cucumbers and jicama for a salad; sliced mushrooms for a dish of pork and shiitakes in steamed cabbage leaves; learned to wrap spring rolls in rice paper; and helped prepared a pork meatball soup with rice noodles, shallots, tomatoes and taro stems.

Pork meatball soup

Frying spring rolls with chopsticks

Tom slicing mushrooms

“Smaller, smaller,” Mandy would say as we sliced mushrooms and spring onions. She and her daughter, Mai, 12, had to patch up our spring rolls before frying them in oil, but with much of the prep work done by them in advance, it wasn‘t  long before our meal was ready. 

Our four dishes ready to eat

We sat around the table, talking and eating until early afternoon, sharing stories about how we met our spouses (she and her husband in English class and Tom and I in a folk signing group). While we waited for our taxi back to Hanoi, she showed us her garden. She and her husband are a long way from retiring, but  when they do, they hope to farm, not for survival but for the pure joy of growing what they eat.

Visitors can book a farm tour and cooking class with Mandy (Manh Bui) by e-mailing her at manhfarmandcook@gmail.com, by contacting her on WhatsApp at  0084 0945 265 708, or by booking at eatwith.com or bonappetour.com Payment is by credit card with a liberal cancellation policy. She includes all the recipes and a detailed explanation of ingredients in a follow-up note after the visits.


  1. A delightful adventure! You're so good at finding friends all over the world, Carol. And you and Tom look right at home in the nón lá hats.

  2. Sounds like so much fun! I’m sure the food was very fresh and delicious and I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve learned about Vietnamese cooking. Hope the rest of the trip goes well.