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December 30, 2005

Temple of Literature

I tried to do the right thing and go to a restaurant called KOTO that helps street kids learn how to work in restaurants. But they were closed. I ran into some folks that I had met on the boat in Halong Bay, who had also looked for the restaurant. They mentioned that the Temple is just across the street, which I had read in the guidebook, but of course, I was focused on getting to the restaurant. Most people go to the Temple of Literature, and happen upon the restaurant, but I'm backwards. There's no food in this entry.

The temple functioned as a university, serving as a collection of knowledge engraved into large tablets. I think it was founded in 1078 AD.


Throughout Vietnam, I've been surprised by the number of large bonsai as decorations in public spaces, as landscaping at businesses, and even at private homes.



Here's a pretty interesting specimen. The aerial roots obviously had been groomed over that gateway arch - each side has a small hole in the sidewalk for the roots to go into the ground.


Same tree, on another side - detail of the roots covering the wall.


This dragon motif is on each side of the roofline of several of the buildings.


I'm embarrassed to say I'm not sure what the stork/crane on the turtle signifies.


Back in Hanoi

Currently about noon on Friday, December 30th in Vietnam.

I'm back in Hanoi after the trip to Halong Bay. It was grey and misty, but it didn't rain. It's very foreboding in person, but I think most of the pictures will probably just look like rocks. By the way, if the tour agency tells you that the weather is clear and sunny when it's grey in Hanoi, and that they serve abundant gourmet seafood on the boat, be skeptical. It's called salesmanship.

I'm here for a few more days before leaving for India.

December 29, 2005

Halong Bay teaser


Above, a modern junk sailing on Halong Bay. The boat I was on was more like a houseboat. There was a really nice bunch of travellers on the boat, representing Germany, Australia, Thailand, Israel, and Oregon in the US.

Below, a rock tower with a natural arch formation, on the same island as the "Surprising" Cave. The cave itself contains stalactites and stalagmites formed by dripping water dissolving limestone, then reforming it as the water evaporates. The result are these great "frozen" liquid textures that at times look biological or Gigeresque. My photos didn't turn out as well as I had hoped, but if I find a decent one later, I'll post it.


Here's the same baylet as the tower above, but from up on high. They have a pretty good system of offloading the tourists, then moving the boats over to a pier to wait for them to go through the caves.


Below, a cropped picture of a bird of prey, a hawk maybe, that flew quite close to our boat.

I took the short excursion, so it didn't include some of the more striking and poetically named formations, like "Fighting Cocks Islets" or Old Woman Island. Although being grey and mysterious like this was pretty out of the ordinary for me, the resulting pictures all tend to look like dark grey rocks in green-grey water against a light grey sky. I'd like to come back here when the weather is nicer, even if it means that it's brutally hot.


On the way back, the other people on the bus got the driver to stop so they could take a picture of rice paddies and water buffalo. Although he stopped at a pretty spot, there weren't any water buffalo there. I realized that I hadn't gotten a good shot of water buffalo either (usually, by the time you can react, all you get is a snap of it's giant rear end), so here's the best one I got out of the bus window as we went back to Hanoi.


If you noticed that there aren't any pictures of food, it's because it was all pretty disappointing. I didn't get the hard sell from the people at my hotel, but some other people were saying that their salesman raved and raved about all the seafood they would be eating. And once you get off the boat, they take you to a restaurant in Halong City. I should have known better, and I should have just broken off and gotten my own food, but I went along and it was horrible. Truly hellish. And the most frustrating part is that I'm sure any of the little mom & pop rice plate joints across the street would have been good. Dammit.

Summary: Halong Bay - amazing. Food included in tour - edible.

December 27, 2005

Back in a couple

Currently about 9:30pm on Tuesday the 27th in Hanoi.

I spent this morning getting my airline ticket to India and getting some prescription glasses made. Apparently, Americans really get tooled on glasses - I got 4 pairs of glasses (frames and lenses) for US$188.00!

Tomorrow, I'm taking a 2 day side trip to Halong Bay, in the Gulf of Tonkin. If you've ever seen those granite towers that shoot up out of the ocean with one tree at the top, or the island of Dr. No in the James Bond movie (although that's actually in Thailand), that's the kind of scenery I should be seeing. The weather is gray and gloomy, but supposedly it won't rain. It's been pretty wet and cold around Hanoi, so at least the scenery should be better.

If you've missed them, I've recently posted On the Train to Hanoi, and Christmas Eve Day around Hue, and "Dude, no way." "Dude, Hue!".

Stumbling across Hanoi eats


I'm a banh mi slut. I found a vendor near my hotel that fries up the fillings and puts it all into bread that she keeps in a warmer. I'm in love. Above, two big chunks of pate fried up with a fresh egg, some spice (MSG) and Hanoi style chili sauce in the aforementioned warm bread. Lovely.


I believe this is called bun moc, containing the fresh rice noodles, cilantro, green onions, tiny shiitake mushrooms, some bamboo shoots, mild pork broth and ground pork and mushrooms seasoned up and formed into meatballs. And a shot of Vietnamese black pepper.

Warning, many pictures to follow, culled over several days.

It's a dog's life in Vietnam...


The big market in the old quarter is Dong Xuan market. Historically, the whole city was divided up for vendors of certain types, i.e. salt street, fish street, etc. This is one of the shops in the wok and kitchenware area.


It's really cramped in Dong Xuan itself, so they really pile it in. On the upper left, there's some sharkfin, giant dried mushrooms, in the middle some Vietnamese cassia ("cinnamon" bark) and a lot of dried beans and rice on the bottom.


There's one particular street in the old quarter that switches to seafood vendors at night. Most of it is either steamed, boiled or grilled, and served with a dish of sea salt, black pepper, chili and calamansi juice, chili and ripe calamansi (or it might be another citrus that's more kumquat-like), and some greens and herbs to eat alongside.


There are many ice cream shops here, including Fanny, which I had also been to in Saigon/HCMC. This one is called Kem Trang Tiem, tucked way back in an alley. Even though it's in the guidebook, I would have missed it had it not been for about 25 schoolkids streaming out of there who had just gotten their "cinnamon" ice cream cone for the day. I actually got sweet rice, which is a seasonal flavor. It was pretty good, but it had a little too much pandan (I'm guessing) and the rice flavor (pretty delicate already) was overshadowed. I plan to go back and try the cinnamon flavor.


December 25, 2005

On the Train to Hanoi


Just before leaving Hue, I found a busy restaurant called Quan Ba Hoa also selling bun hen and chao hen, which is rice soup with the local clams. I actually had a bowl of each, but above is their version of bun hen. Again, some julienned banana blossom, some greens and herbs, the rice noodles, the yellow bits are crisp rice threads, the clams, a few peanuts, green onions, cilantro and a few pork rinds. Broth on the side.

I didn't go into the highlands on this trip, but what I've seen of Vietnam hasn't really been heavily forested. I suppose that might have to do with all the defoliants, but as the train rolled through a lumberyard, it's clear that the area north of Hue had some pretty sizeable trees, and they've been cut down for a while. Maybe somebody just figured out something valuable to do with them, because there were long lines of tree-laden cars.


I enjoy travelling by train. About half of the people in our car were all standing at the windows as we pulled out of town. As they got bored and left, a Vietnamese man (of about 75 or so) and I were the only two watching the scenery go by. It was as if he was 5 years old again, just happy to stand and have the wind on his face, even though he was shaky in the legs. As it got dark and nothing was really visible, we both ended up getting some sleep, but as we pulled into Hanoi, there we were again, staring out the window at the dark cityscape.

These are rice paddies that are being prepared for replanting. Those chunky track patterns in the mud are from that tiller machine that has been adapted to mud with paddlewheel looking replacements for wheels.


These are Chinese/Vietnamese mausoleums and grave markers. That white stuff isn't snow, it's not nearly cold enough - I'm guessing it's mineral sand.


A Vietnamese man and woman were sharing my cabin. There are four berths per cabin. This is our dinner included with the ticket. Hot rice, pork and chayote squash, mustard cabbage soup, and fish with tomato and chili. Pretty bland all the way around, but better than some airline or bus terminal food I've had.


The train makes occasional stops to take on water. There are some women that scurry out and connect those big hoses to the water tanks of each car.


Merry Christmas from Hue


Currently about 8am on Sunday, Christmas Day, in Central Vietnam.

I bought some lights to put up in my hotel room for some quick holiday cheer. I'm sorta there in the background, but I think this is the most interesting picture I took while playing with the lights.

I wish you all a Safe and Happy Holiday Season. For the last several years, I've shared Nochebuena with the Robleses, the Laus, the Lau-Robleses and the extended family, and sometimes Christmas day with the Stuyvesants or the Feldsteins. And of course I have happy memories of the holidays with my own family in Hawai`i. I'm thinking of all of you, and I send my love and best wishes.

It worked out better for my schedule to take a train to Hanoi today. I have a soft berth in the newest train, so it should be fairly comfortable. I'm looking forward to new food and a side trip to Halong Bay.

December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve Day around Hue


Above, a local market a block over from my hotel. Believe me when I say, I was the only non-Vietnamese in the whole market. I got some stares like I had a third eye or something. The market itself carried the staples - nothing very unusual, but a lot of activity.

I took a moto into the citadel area of the city. The original core of the city is protected by a moat and fortified walls, much like a European castle might be. Near a park, this vendor had attracted a disproportionately large crowd. Several people came by moto, ate and left.


They were selling bun hen, one of the specialties of Hue. Buried under the noodles is a bit of julienned banana blossom and greens, then atop the noodles are the tiny, sweet local clams (hen), a few pork rinds, some peanuts, cilantro, and a sweet chili oil dressing. There's no broth, so it's sorta like a noodle salad. Really tasty. I think it cost VND 8,000 or about US$0.50. Since the Vietnamese tend to be smaller in stature, and these vendors have to be mobile, those tiny plastic stools are the norm - or maybe the ones with the backs. I've been careful to choose sturdy looking ones, lest I crush it and treat them to a scene of trying to right myself like a turtle on his back.


The boulanger is rocking it old school with a wood-fired oven. As they were unloading the baguette, I saw one woman knocking excess flour and cornmeal off the bottom of some loaves by grinding it against the brick wall.


December 23, 2005

"Dude, no way." "Dude, Hue!"*


Above, a riverboat on the Perfume River in Hue.

*I must admit, Missy thought of this title. If you don't get it, think of Wayne and Garth or maybe two surfers having a conversation.

I got up and out fairly early to check out the action at Dong Ba market, just across the bridge from my hotel. If carrots can be gorgeous, they have gorgeous carrots around here.


Turmeric is a rhizome, like ginger, and has a rich yellow color. Dry turmeric is one of the main ingredients in American yellow mustard for that reason. The leaves are sometimes used as well, either as chiffonade in small quantities or as a wrapper leaf.


In the center are green figs. They're sliced thin and used as part of the salad accompanying banh khoai, a crispy rice pancake similar to banh xeo. The difference, according to some recipes I looked up, is that banh xeo is from the south, contains coconut milk in the batter, is served with nuoc cham, and is much larger in size. WIthout the coconut milk, banh khoai are usually much crisper, almost like tempura coating. The green figs I have tasted so far are pretty flavorless, but that could just be the season.


It's sorta hard to tell what these are in the picture and in person. I think they're either lotus stems or purple taro stems. Either way, they're used for texture in the fresh salad garnish of soups and noodle dishes. They don't have much flavor, as far as I know - they used for their crispy/spongy texture. My grandfather would sometimes use zuiki (Japanese - sp?) as a bed under a platter of sashimi. It picks up and holds sauce in its bubble structure.


I'm not sure what type of shelling bean this is... This woman shucks to order.


If you've been reading the blog, a phenomena that I have often noticed is the tendency for direct competitors to congregate in one area. Below is the "rice noodle dough district" of the market. Some street vendors and/or restaurants buy their noodles already formed into the size they prefer. But some vendors prefer to shape the noodles themselves, so the dough is available in big blocks. I went to one place that would cut chunks from a block like this, then roll it out on a metal tube, then cut the noodles with a knife off the tube. By the way, those gents sitting in the cyclos to the right were brushing white flour off their pants, so I'm wondering if this dough is made by hand - or actually, by foot. This is strictly an uninformed, wild guess on my part. If they're cyclo (trishaw) drivers, they're probably have very strong legs. Before you start freaking out about kneading noodle dough with feet, traditionally the Japanese knead soba dough with the feet as well, to build up the gluten for good texture. If that's the case, you'd hope that they use some basic sanitation, but I don't want to think about the alternative.


In the world of Vietnamese noodles, as far as I have been able to figure out, bun or hu means rice noodles, mi or my usually means wheat noodles (yellow), and mien means glass or cellophane noodles. The complication is that noodles for mi Quang are yellow from turmeric, but are usually a rice noodle. If I understood the vendor correctly, (she didn't have a sign) this is her version of mi Quang. She presents it in a nice tall stack, but I pushed the herbs aside to show the (L-R) rare beef, seasoned ground beef, some roasted pork, the noodles (definitely wheat), with pickled carrots and purple shallots, herbs, julienned banana blossom, and green onion bulbs. Maybe a few peanuts, I can't remember now. Crisp rice cracker is sometimes offered, but not here. So maybe this is actually called something else. I really should have learned more Vietnamese. Irregardless**, it's pretty dang tasty! I think this was VND 8,000, or about US$0.50.


**Intentional misuse

In a place far, far a-Hue...

Currently, about 7am, Friday the 23rd in Hue.

I had a relatively short and uneventful bus trip from Hoi An to Hue, making a brief stop in Da Nang to pickup a group of touring Aussies. We took the new tunnel through the pass, which was impressive for its length (6km?), but not much else.

I'll be exploring the local market and food stands this morning, then I'll probably get a massage and do some sightseeing in the Citadel area in the afternoon.

December 22, 2005

More from Hoi An


Miss Ly Cafeteria 22 serves a set meal which includes all the local specialties. Although it was in the guidebook, and there were only non-Vietnamese customers, I got a good vibe and decided to try it. It was quite respectable, I thought, especially considering the comfortable digs. Clockwise from the top are fried spring rolls, white roses (shrimp in fresh rice paper with a light rice vinegar dressing and crisp shallots), and Hoi An style wontons. The sauce for this is tomatoes, black pepper, onions, garlic, soy sauce, and a starch-thickened beef stock. It reminded me of a Chinese entree in Hawai`i called Beef Tomato which is all of those things plus velveted beef. Also in the set was grilled lemongrass pork with peanuts, and a bowl of cau lau, the soup with the wonton croutons.

This guy has a cool setup. There's a motor in the bottom that drives the rotisserie over a real charcoal fire, and he's secured pork belly around the drum. The pork skin has some serious crispy chicharron action going on.


Here's the banh mi made from it. This is about as good as it gets, I reckon.


These tiny bulbs of a relative of chives and onions. According to the leader of the market tour, it's used as the base of some marinades and flavoring pastes. BTW, they're really small, like the size of English peas.


The market guide called this henna, but I thought henna was reddish. People make a strong extraction of the pods in water, then wash their hair with it. Its uses are purely cosmetic - it's not for consumption.


Ever wonder what happens with all that leftover baguette? Here's one use: shrimp and pork toast. It isn't very appealing to look at, but it's greasy and good to eat.


December 21, 2005

Snacking in Hoi An


Above, starting the day with a ca phe sua (hot coffee with sweetened, condensed milk) on the riverfront.

In the Central Market in Hoi An, the banh xeo seem to take a smaller form, about 6" in diameter. They still have a bit of belly pork, a few shrimp, and bean sprouts. And again, there are competing vendors right next to eat other, so as I walked through, they're both trying to get me to sit down. Here's the first woman's setup.


However, the second woman had her beat, in my opinion. Her sauce was better, and she was more careful about frying it crispy and reheating the banh xeo before handing it to me. I found out later at the cooking class that the green banana and carambola (starfruit) aren't in the right season to be eaten this way (according to them - both of the vendors I tried were using both green banana and starfruit), but I still liked it. Besides the fresh crunch that you'd usually get from herbs and lettuce (as I had eaten it in Saigon/HCMC), the slight bitter of green banana (skin on!) and the tang of the starfruit gave some added dimension to the little wraps. I had two of these, and only one from the first lady.


In addition to the cau lau I mentioned, I also had bun gio from this same vendor. A pretty girl will turn my head, but so will a huge plate of pork. This contains thinner noodles, has a spicer sauce base added to it, and of course the pork shank. Not as good as I wanted it to be, but pretty decent. The portions are pretty small, so having 3 small banh xeo, 2 small bowls of soup, a small banh mi and a few tiny mochi things was not a problem. I think I spent about VND40,000 for all of it, about US$2.52.


This is the Ba Le well, which has existed from the Cham era, so at least 800 years, possibly as many as 1500 years. The story goes that the water from this well makes superior noodles, and so true cau lau (the local specialty) can only be made with noodles made from the water from this well. It's well bricked in and up away from the river a bit, so I can imagine at one time it may have been better quality water than other water in the area. Pretty unlikely that it makes any discernable difference once it's made into noodles, though, IMHO. It's hard to find because besides being on a small alley, you have to do a buttonhook turn to see it. I had to ask a boy at the adjacent church to point it out to me.


I'd definitely come back to Hoi An.

Hoi An, living picture postcard

Currently about 11am, Wednesday, December 21st in central Vietnam.

I picked the wrong time of year to be here, but Hoi An is a quaint little town just south of Da Nang and Hue. They do a nice job of trying to preserve the historic parts of town, which is a mix of French, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese styles. Unfortunately, it's now the rainy season for this area, and there's been some flooding and road washouts.

The overnight bus trip from Nha Trang ended up taking about 13 hours, although the driver was being overly cautious, rarely exceeding 35 MPH. There were points where it seemed like every other bus was passing us. Because it was so painful, I'm going to switch to the train for the Hue to Hanoi leg, which would have probably taken 16 hours by bus. The train won't be much faster, but I think more comfortable and easier to deal with overall.

I don't get BlackBerry service here, so it's back to checking email at an Interet shop. Internet access is readily available, but horribly slow here, so I'll just post this pic of the local specialty noodle dish - cau lau. Supposedly, by definition the noodles can only be made with water from the ancient Ba Le well, which I also visited. I don't know if this is the namesake of the Ba Le chain of VIetnamese restaurants in the US. This bowl has noodles, bean sprouts, sliced soy braised pork, some lettuce and herbs, and wonton croutons. They're not served in soup exactly, but they do have some soy-based sauce diluted by pork broth.


I'm taking a cooking class this afternoon, which is geared toward the local specialties, but what caught my interest is actually making rice paper and banh xeo, the crispy rice pancakes. The banh xeo I've seen at the market are smaller, like 6" in diameter, but they're rolled in fresh rice paper so they can be eaten something like a taquito, dipped in hoisin/peanut sauce rather than guacamole.

December 19, 2005

Pushing on to Hoi An

Currently about 4:30pm, Monday, December 19th in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

There's been some flooding in central Vietnam, in the region that I need to pass through to get to the north. The bus company cancelled the bus for last night, but supposedly it's going ahead for tonight, so I have a seat reserved on it. The weather was pretty crappy today, and for this particular region, it's the crappy time of year. It usually is a scuba and diving town, but during the winter, the rains wash dirt into the rivers and turn the whole bay muddy.

I took a few hours trudging around in the rain, eating in some local places and I got a great massage in the afternoon. I also posted pictures in transit to Siem Reap, and last night I added more pictures of food around Saigon.

It looks like I'll be in Hanoi for Christmas. I hope you all are having a happy and healthy holiday season.

Nha Trang chow

Yesterday, I came across a com (rice plate) joint that looked really good. As soon as I sat down with my food, they got hit with a massive rush, like 30 people. So I think guessed right on this one. This one has a squid stuffed with pork and grilled, some semi-pickled mustard cabbage, some lacey spring roll things with pork and I think banana, a fish steak in caramel and black pepper sauce, and pork spareribs in a fish sauce/caramel sauce. The soup was clam and brine shrimp based, with some mizuna-like greens. The squid itself cost VND20,000, bringing the whole thing to VND 30,000 or 35,000, which is around US$2.00.


On the way back from the rice plate joint above, I came across this guy who was just getting started for the day.


I think I lost the first entry I wrote about this due to crappy Internet access. Anyway, at the risk of repeating myself, the bread around Nha Trang is a little chewier and more substantial than the light and crispy rolls that I've seen used for banh mi so far in Vietnam and in the US. I'm not quite sure why this is, but it's still quite good bread. The texture is more like sourdough, but without any sour flavor. You might be able to see the strong rip in the bread, as opposed to the usual smoothed out seam. The sandwich is a bit different - it contains only roasted belly pork with crackling skin (heo quay), tomatoes, mint (!?!) and some slightly sweet soy/chili sauce. No pate or pickled carrots or daikon or cilantro, as I recall. Mint isn't my favorite, but it was still one of the better sandwiches I've had in Vietnam. As I was walking away, I noticed that he also offers a duck sandwich, and I resolved to come back the next day. Unfortunately, the weather was crappy and he must have decided to play hooky. I went back, but he wasn't there. Dang it! Predictably, now I have roasted duck sandwich on the brain.


Being the rainy season, the rivers wash dirt into the bay, turning it muddy. During the drier season, Nha Trang is apparently a big destination for scuba divers. This is a spot where you'd normally get drink service while enjoying the beach.


For a bit of sightseeing, I went to the Cham temple, Thap Ba Ponagar.


The Cham were rivals to the Khmer around the same time as Ankgor Wat was being built in neighboring Cambodia. This is the main tower at this complex. The scale is not nearly as large as Angkor Wat, but there are clearly some shared traits.


Originally Hindu, they later incorporated some Muslim influences, and my guide at Angkor had referred to them as Champa Muslims from Vietnam. It's pretty amazing to think about how far Hinduism and Islam would have had to travel in 500AD to have that kind of influence in this area. I believe this is their representation of Siva.


These schoolgirls tried to climb the increasingly steep steps. This is as high as they got.


After that, I went to Cho Dan, or Dan Market. Here's a typical kitchenware vendor.


These appear to be related to ham chen pi, except there's no sweet red bean paste and no five spice powder, just fried puffs with sesame seeds. Freshly fried stuff is almost always yummy.


Today, it was still dreary weather, but I decided to venture out and see what I could find. I came across an elementary school, and this banh mi cart.


What caught my attention was the small grill, where she was lightly toasting the bread, and grilling bo la lot - beef meatballs wrapped in la lot leaves. Usually, they're bigger either dolma sized or ping pong ball sized, but these are little marble sized jobbies. Just a little thin chili sauce for garnish. Since it was raining, I almost didn't even take a picture at all, but a man had set up a tarp, and me motioned that I could sit under it to eat my sandwich. Between the toasted bread and the grilled filling, this is a nice variation that I hadn't seen before.


Since he had been so kind, I bought something from him. I got two shots with a homemade crossbow at a spinning wheel. If I had gotten both bolts in the same pie section, I'd have won a prize, like some stickers or something. Remember, this is in front of an elementary school. Even though I lost, I still got this, which is taffy that he hand pulls into floss (kinda like Chinese hand-pulled noodle technique) , then puts it between two wafers with some coconut meat and crushed peanuts. Don't ask about his sharpened thumbnail and non-existent hand sanitation.


Another thing I had been wanting to try was bia hoi, or fresh beer. I ordered it, but it turns out this place only sells by the pitcher, about 1.5 liters, for about VND10,000, or about US$0.60. Yo! is Vietnamese for cheers, salud, etc. It's actually pretty decent beer - I think not quite as strong as regular beer, and tastes like... regular Coors or something like that. I ran into a Canadian and a Kansan who had both lived in Australia for many years and were on business/holiday in Vietnam. He also mentioned a premium beer which costs about twice as much (gasp!) for 2 liters, and comes in a stainless steel container. The dish is a spicy venison stir fry, to be eaten with bread instead of rice, recommended by the server. There's a fair bit of sauce in the bottom of the dish for dunking and it's pretty tasty overall, but there's not much game flavor in the venison.


Good stuff, Maynard!

December 18, 2005

Pictures from the right side of the bus

I'm petty. And selfish. I admit it.

Even in a country as pictureseque as Vietnam, it always seems like there's always something I'd like to take a picture of on the other side of the bus [other-side-of-the-bus-view-envy]. However, going from Saigon/HCMC to Nha Trang (and on up the coast to Hanoi for that matter), it's essentially an east and north route, meaning that the right side of the bus generally faces the ocean, so that's the side I chose. But the left side has incredible views of the mountains. I guess I'm lucky to have these problems.

But before I get to that, let me finish up my last few hours and eats in Saigon/HCMC. Here's a damn fine banh mi dac biet. They were keeping the baguette fresh in a small toaster oven (rather than just getting stale on the counter), and the quality of all the meats and goodies was excellent. Dac biet means special, or the works [or deluxe], I believe. This one has pate, a few kinds of headcheese or sausage roll, a little thinly sliced pork belly, some chicken loaf, pork floss and the usual pickled carrots and daikon, some cucumber spears, chilies and some soy sauce.


After so many days of being weak and trembly in the belly, finally felt strong and hungry. This is a first snack at a place called banh cuon LA. It's clean and modern, and would look just as home on Melrose Avenue or Main Street in Santa Monica. Things cost about twice as much as they would at a hawker stand, meaning about 18,000 VND or about $1.20 for this plate. It's freshly made steamed rice noodle/wrapper with Vietnamese sausage and crispy shallots. The sausage is surprisingly close to kielbasa, having that nitrite-ey, brined and smoked taste. [It's served with a soy-based sauce, so the overall effect is very similar to the look fun noodles you might get at a Hong Kong style dim sum joint - the ones with some shrimp or green onions rolled in them]


I spent the afternoon unsuccessfully looking for a particular vendor of bun mam noodles. So when I spotted this little stand with about 35 customers at 11:30pm, I had to check it out. That's really impressive, given that the blocks around here aren't so busy at that time, even though it's only a few blocks from Ben Thanh market. This contains the slightly thicker rice noodles (udon sized), with a couple of squares of pork skin, a few cubes of pork blood, and a nice slab of pork shank that was cooked tender, but still toothy. Before you start turning your nose up at pork blood and skin and so on, I'll just say it's delicious. And worth many times more than the $0.90 cents I paid.


Here's the view of it from across the street. It's a different restaurant during the day, they just use the sink and the sidewalk at night. I thought I would get the name of the dish from the signboard out front, but it didn't come out in the picture. Something like hiu something heo?


On the way to Nha Trang, some fishing boats -


Some duck wranglers -


I've seen a lot of tapioca farms throughout Thailand and Cambodia, but this is the first harvesting I've seen. In Spanish, it's known as yucca, and it's usually fried crispy and served with mojo de ajo in Cuba and Central and South America. I believe it's made into flour for desserts and wrappers in Asia, so it's being dried.


After the 11+ hour bus ride, including a decent banh mi sandwich, some undistinguished fish soup for lunch, and a crappy cake thing, I was looking for some grub. Here's a grill-it-yourself eel setup. The marinade seemed to be soy based, sweetish, with a lot of ginger and lemongrass.


Another dish of the south is caramel braised pork in a claypot. I neglected to take a picture of the cucumbers provided with this - they're fresh and raw, and added at the table so they don't get so cooked. The cucumbers themselves are a bit yellowish, and drier and crisper than most of the cukes I usually see in LA. This one was nicely balanced between the caramel, the black pepper and I think a little turmeric, and not too sweet.


I'm off to explore Nha Trang.

December 17, 2005

En route to Nha Trang

I decided to skip Phu Quoc this time as it would take too many days - there weren't any flights available. Public bus and ferry [6 hour bus trip plus 9 hour ferry ride] didn't sound appealing either. I'm on a cafe bus to Nha Trang, an 11 hour trip.

December 15, 2005

More eats around Saigon/HCMC

Although it looks a little thin on fillings, this banh mi is pretty representative of what you might get at a street stand. Since the pate and pork are pretty salty, there's plenty of flavor to carry the whole sandwich. This one was 6,000 VND or about US$0.38.


As you probably have figured out by now, duck is one of my favorite things to eat, up there with pork and lamb. I read about a rice soup variation with duck, and I decided to seek it out. It was about 3 miles from the hotel in the Thanh Da area, so it also gave me a chance to see more of the city. The restaurant that had been discussed is apparently closed (on the left, with the red signage), but there's another one a few doors down that was serving the same thing.


It's rice soup, I think made with duck stock, some finely shredded cabbage, pickled onions, some hacked up duck with crispy shallots, but what makes it all work is a sweet, ginger-chili sauce. This is the first time I've seen any fresh veg to be added with chao (rice soup), and it's a nice addition. Usually chao is like comfort food, just starchy and mild and easy to digest. Between the fresh veg and the ginger sauce, this is quite bright and lively.


When people talk about Vietnamese coffee, more specifically they're often referring to ca phe sua da, which is coffee with milk over ice. In this case, the milk is sweetened, condensed milk, and the coffee comes in an individual drip press. It's about espresso strength, so the milk and melting ice help smooth it out a bit. At a street stand or a bar, they'll usually mix it for you, but it's more fun to get it at a coffee shop where you can go through the whole procedure yourself. Depending on the place, they may bring out a small glass of iced tea to drink while waiting for the coffee to brew. When the water has dripped through the filter, you can decide how aggressive you want to be with pressing out the grounds and collecting slow drips. Then mix the coffee and milk to dissolve the milk while the coffee is hot, then dump it into the ice and mix well. The coffee seems to have a nice cocoa aspect to it anyway, and the milk empasizes that.


Here's a well known banh xeo stand tucked back off the main street, Banh Xeo 46A. For some reason, it's more common in many places I've been to see direct competitors right next to each other. In the US, most restaurants try to be the only bakery or Italian restaurant on their block, etc. There's another banh xeo place just across the alley, a big fancy place, and it's empty. Just another thing to notice when choosing where to eat.


Note the mountain of two kinds of lettuce and three kinds of herbs. I really like banh xeo, but tends to be oily. This one isn't overly oily, but I personally don't like when the shrimp aren't peeled, as they are in this one. They're not hard shells, and are definitely edible, but I think it takes away from the dish. I made the mistake of having lime juice (limeade), and it was probably made with tap water. It put a hurt on me later, albeit temporarily.


Passionfruit and soursop sorbets from Fanny Ice Cream, with lotus root tea.


December 14, 2005

District 1, Saigon

Currently about 11:40pm, Wednesday, December 14th in Saigon/HCMC, Vietnam.

I spent today mostly walking in District 1, where my hotel is located. I got a banh mi sandwich from a street vendor, which was actually quite good, with pate, pork belly and the fixings. I also sampled a few baked goods from a bakery which were disappointing. Then I walked all the way up Pasteur street and had a bowl of pho at a place that had a lot of customers, I think Pho Hoa Saigon. I'm not a soup person in general, plus I don't understand the appeal of hot soup in hot weather, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Tomorrow I need to get ready to travel. I'm planning on going to Phu Quoc on Saturday, after picking up my Indian visa on Friday. Phu Quoc is an island to the Southwest where the best fish sauce is said to be made.

Sampling Saigon/HCMC

Since I had my little internal boxing match with Mr. Sal Monella, I haven't posted any pictures. Here are a few shots from various days. My apologies for not understanding nor using the diacritical marks.

Mystery fruit #1
I tasted this last night - it full of big seeds surrounded by lurid red, but almost flavorless pulp. It's so red it almost looks like animal organs or something - in an appealing, biological study kind of way.


Mystery fruit #2
Very subtle taste, almost like grapes.


Mystery fruit #3
I haven't tried these yet.


I believe this is a palm seed pod. Palm seed are those semi-translucent chewy jobbies that appear in some SE Asian ice desserts.


This is a lotus seed pod, with a bag full of them on the ground. It grows from it's own stalk, separate from the flower. The seed itself is a bit bigger than an almond, and it's usually cooked with sugar to make a very subtle tasting, starchy-sweet dessert filling.


Again by moto, crossing the river to go to a coffee bar.


The Black River, which is horribly polluted by trash, petroleum products and supposedly bomb residue. As we were standing there, a local boy about 12 years of age was trying to get my attention, acting like he was going in for a swim. i guess he was looking to shock me, so he ramped it up a bit - in broad daylight, he began urinating directly into the river. Seemed to be a troubled young man.


In Ben Thanh market, this is a dish I believe called banh cuon nong. It's a fresh steamed rice noodle/skin that's filled with minced pork and mushrooms, I think. There's some sweet basil, crisp shallots, bean sprouts, chicken loaf and nuoc cham dipping sauce in the bowl. I'm not sure if it's necessary for the noodle/wrapper, but it had acquired a bit of a sour, which I found to be pleasing.

A greasy but delicious banh xeo, or crisp rice flour pancake, filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. As with many things in Vietnamese cuisine, fresh greens and herbs are on the side, and the diner makes little lettuce wraps with the cool, crisp greens and hot banh xeo, then dips the package into the nuoc cham dipping sauce to eat it.


As I understand it, this is a dish of the South called canh chua ca, which is a sweet, hot and sour fish soup. Or maybe sweet, sour and spicy soup. Anyway, there's a nice chunk of fish in there, with tomatoes, okra, bean sprouts, fish sauce, chives, green onions, herbs, crisp shallots and...pineapple. Although this particular one was a bit too sweet for my taste, I'll definitely try more versions of this.


Another prevalent item is rice plates - com. A tiny cart may hold 15-18 items - various pork, chicken, vegetable, and fish dishes, pre-cooked. They dish up a plate of rice, and you point to the items you want with it. Usually a simple soup comes along with it, with some garnish.


December 13, 2005

In country

Currently almost 11pm, Tuesday, December 13th.

I was feeling a bit stronger yesterday, so I walked around to find more passport photos for my Indian visa and a few extras just in case. I already had some extras I had gotten in the US, but they're used for various passes and visas, so I've used them up. Eight cost me about VND14,000 or about $0.90 here in Saigon/HCMC, compared to about $12 for 4 in LA. I got some food in Benh Thanh market and was going to try another promising spot when I got hurly again, so I probably got too enthusiastic.

I went in to the Indian embassy to submit the visa application today, and they were perfectly professional and cordial, unlike the guy in KL. It should be ready by Friday.

Today I hired a moto driver for the day, and we accomplished quite a lot, going to An Dong market, lunch at a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant, a few pagodas, a coffee bar on the opposite side of the river, the "Black River", the War Remnants Museum, another massage, a beer at a locals only bar, and dinner on a crappy riverboat complete with badbadbad karaoke in Vietnamese. BTW, the traffic is c r a z y here. In terms of bottlenecks and general pain-in-the-assedness, I think Bangkok is still pretty bad. But in terms of how many dang motos are out there and how "risky" the driving is, I think Saigon/HCMC is the worst I've seen so far. Don't get me wrong though, it's a fascinating city.

December 11, 2005

Recovery day

Currently about noon on Sunday, December 11th.

I'm still not 100%, so I decided to take it easy during the day. My first food in the last two days was, appropriately enough, a bowl of pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) from the hotel.

In case you missed them, here are links to a few after the fact entries that I've posted without mentioning them. They are Touring Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh by moto, and More food around KL.

December 10, 2005

Knocked flat out

I suppose it was bound to happen - I got knocked flat out by some kind of stomach virus. I've barely stood up since I arrived at my hotel in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Not to worry, I have Ciproflaxin (antibiotics), Imodium, Gatorade and peanut butter filled cracker sandwiches. The last things I ate were not high risk, so I'm not sure what did me in. I had some well poached eggs, bacon, and a pancake for breakfast, 2 squares from a chocolate bar, and the sandwich and tiny bananas from the airline meal.

The worst of it is over, I'm just a little nauseous, tired from poor sleep and too many wildlife documentaries on TV.

I'll probably start exploring Benh Thanh market tomorrow.

December 09, 2005

Onward to Vietnam

I spent the last day and a half being guided around Angkor Wat. It's a huge city sized complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Built between 1000ad and about 1300ad, they are impressive and compelling. I took about 450 pictures, but they don't convey the scale of it all - if possible, see it in person. While I saw a fair amount in my limited time, three or more days would be better. I highly recommend a guide and a small group, as it's too big and too complicated to do on your own, and too frustrating to do with a tour group, IMHO.

I'm excited to move on to Vietnam, where I have high hopes in terms of learning about and experiencing the cuisine.

December 08, 2005

Touring Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia


Although Siem Reap was a bit cooler and drier than Phnom Penh and the last few cities I've been in, the pool was a welcome, unexpected bonus with my $15.00US/night room at the Freedom Hotel.

After a small situation with my passport, I hooked up with the guide that I had been referred to. He likes to go counter to the big tours, entering from the less popular entrances, at the opposite times of the day. We entered Ta Prohm temple from this gate.


If I have it right, up until the middle 1800's, the whole complex was unknown to Westerners. It had been partially reclaimed by the jungle. Once they began preserving the temples, they began removing trees as part of that process. In this particular temple, Ta Prohm, they've left the trees in place to great effect. For Dad, the tree in the middle is called spung, or tetrameles nudiflora datiscaceae.



He suggested we go to a buffet for dinner, which included traditional dances afterward.


The following day, we went to Angkor Wat itself, which is the modern name for the temple originally dedicated to Vishnu. This is the central tower, and the very steep steps to get up to the top level, known as the 3rd gallery.


Enjoying the view near the top of the stairs.


Originally, this temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, then as the area turned more toward Buddhism, Buddhas were brought in as well. According to my guide, most Cambodians would say that they are Buddhist, but actually incorporate practices and beliefs from Hinduism and the ancient animal spirit religion.


Because we entered from the less popular gate, we saw this view last.


For lunch, another version of smoked fish and green mango salad, somewhat similar to somtom (Thai green papaya salad).


Chicken curry served in a young coconut.


In the afternoon, we headed about 10km away from Angkor. I didn't get the proper name for this temple, but I believe he referred to it as the Pink Palace.


Besides being from a different kind of stone, the carving style is somewhat different, with some finer detail, but smaller in scale overall.


The last place I got to see was Bayon temple. As with the Vishnu temple, the bas relief carvings encircle the entire temple on the first level. But whereas the Vishnu temple depicts metaphysical stories, good and evil gods, and heroic epics, this temple depicts historical events. Here, after a great battle is won against the Champa muslims, they celebrate with a grand banquet, including satay (grilled, skewered meat).


It's quite an extraordinary place, and I'd like to come back someday.

December 07, 2005

Rolling to Siem Reap by coach


I got about three bites into this rice soup setup above when Mr. Jame (chem) from the Tai Seng Hotel (aka World Star Hotel) came to get me for the minivan to the bus station. BTW, there are some links on this site that I put on just because I think the web should be that way, and I don't necessarily endorse them. In this case, I do recommend them - it's a decent room in a convenient part of town, at a very fair rate (I think US$12.00 plus $2.00 surcharge for booking over the net - in room bathroom, AC, satellite TV), with a massage school and spa attached to the hotel. And on top of that, they're very, very helpful. I actually forgot my passport at the hotel (a fairly common occurrence, because hotels pretty much insist on holding your passport while you're staying there), and one of the employees, that same Mr. Jame, personally hand delivered it the next day in Siem Reap - a twelve hour round trip!! Of course, I paid for his time and expenses.

The coach I took from Singapore to KL was so plush, it would be hard to beat it. It was as professional and formal as an airplane, and more comfortable than most flights since the seats are about like business class seats. But the coach from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is a reasonable second place. For US$14.00, it's a seven hour bus trip through some gorgeous scenery. I could have taken a boat, but it takes just as long and the scenery is supposedly pretty boring after a while.

Below, France colonized Cambodia for a time, and the Frenchies can't do anything without baguette, of course.


I would have rather tried those dusty baguettes than these sad, sad little pastries provided by the bus company. One was pain aux chocolat (chocolate pain) and the other was chicken mousse pate. Both greasy and ungood.


Now, imagine that instead of a driveway, you had a bridge.


Or you lived off of this street.


Near this rice paddy.


You might buy amok (sort of like a steamed fish curry/custard) from a vendor like this.


And take a nap afterwards.


Someone might make a delivery with a moto built for cargo.


You could gaze at your lotus pond.


Or go into town and watch monks getting a few material goods.


In my mind's eye, this is what I though SE Asia would look like.

December 05, 2005

Phnom Penh by moto


In Cambodia, most cars are left-hand drive, so they usually drive on the right-hand side of the road, like in the US. Usually. In the US some cities have the bi-directional lane for making turns, and it's popularly called the suicide lane when used as a purgatory before turning onto a busy street. Here the suicide lane IS the oncoming traffic lane. Most traffic only goes at about 15-20 miles an hour anyway, so I suppose it's easy enough to react to some guy pulling out directly in your path. Anyway, I rented a moto driver for the day to show me around Phnom Penh. About half of these are taken with one hand, while holding on to the bike with the left hand.

I believe this is part of the Royal Palace.


Independence Monument


To my regret, I wasn't able to learn much Khmer (the language of Cambodia), and my phrasebook wasn't so helpful. So I walked out of 3 restaurants before I was able to piece together something like, "Cambodian food. For Cambodians. No tourists. Real one." I finally made enough sense and he took me to little spot off the main streets. This is chicken, bittermelon, sweet potato, and some sort of local greens.


And this is pork with mustard cabbage.


I did a few errands, went back to the hotel, got a one hour foot massage ($3US plus tip) and a one hour body massage ($6US plus tip). Then we headed out for the evening. In less wealthy countries, cars are out of reach for most people, so people have scooters. It's fairly common to see whole families on a moto, like 3 adults and two kids, etc. Or sometimes 4 grown ass men. Women and girls usually ride sidesaddle unless they're driving.


For all your nighttime fruit cravings:


The Foreign Correspondent's Club is one of the standard stops in Phnom Penh. It's up on the third floor, in a nice spot overlooking the river. But very modern. Even has generic smoothed out electronica playing and the menu could be from any clubbish place in LA, except for a handful of Cambodian dishes and the prices. It's a nice hang if you're missing the West, I suppose.


Another transportation option: a moto with enough trailer space for about 12.


Semi-obligatory Angkor beer and badly cooked calamari with lime aioli. The reason I chose calamari was it was all jackass bar food, so I figure I may as well get something made with local seafood. The calamari was rubbery, the outside was soggy, but the aioli was okay. I didn't stay long.


Some sort of night carnival.


I asked the driver to cross the bridge over the Mekong River. This is looking back toward the riverfront area where the FCC is.


For dinner, we stopped at one of the restaurants on a different stretch. This particular one had cabanas overlooking the water. Sorta touristy, and the menu had food from all over the world, but the Cambodian food was nicely presented. This one was almost like Korean BBQ, but with "special Cambodian sauce" which was kinda like a chunky sesame/peanut sauce with chilies in it. They melt a moat of butter around the outside ring, dip the marinated stuff in it, and move it to the grill. Then to help it along, because the butter and marinate isn't quite enough, that's a big chunk of pork fat in the middle. There was a nice portion of marinated beef, shrimp, and squid for 8,000 riel, $2.00 US.


I also go a very pretty smoked fish and green mango salad with some bitter cress in it, and a stir-fried beef dish with a sauce similar to the one above, garlic, sesame/peanut and chili. Grand total: 32,000 riel, or $8.00US plus $2.00 tip because they had 5 people waiting on me.


December 04, 2005

Holiday in Cambodia

After all of that, the airline put us back on the same plane. The flight was a bit shaky, and the landing a bit loose, but all is well.

Flightus Interuptus

Currently about 5:15PM, Sunday afternoon, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

I almost went to Cambodia. We boarded the plane, got the emergency instructions, and were about to start taxiing (?) down the runway when they pulled back into the gate. They worked on it for a while, then had the passengers deplane "for our comfort." From the gate area it looks like they're working on the front landing gear, so I'm happy to take the delay rather than end up on a sensationalistic Fox news special. I can see them transfering baggage to a new plane.

They just made a statement of the obvious, that we are delayed, but no info of changing planes. I may be here for a while.

Maybe they'll give us a free snack or something.

More food around Kuala Lumpur

One day, we mustered up fairly early to try an herbal soup of Chinese origin that's quite popular in Malaysia and Singapore, called bak kut teh [spelling corrected here and throughout]. It's usually for breakfast, I believe, made from various cuts of pork, with an assortment of medicinal herbs. This is the setup prior to the actual soup. Those are cut pieces of yau cha kwai (Chinese cruellers, or oil stick) and fried bean curd pockets in a simple broth.


Bak kut teh can be ordered mixed in one bowl, or as in this case, veggies separate (in the same pork based broth). The vegetables are napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms and rehydrated shiitake mushrooms. I think there's some pickled cabbage or something in here as well.

Here's the bowl of bak kut teh with meat.


This is my individual serving. Abby made sure I got a nice piece of intestine (that round piece), as well as some good pieces of tripe, and some meaty belly. Hmmmmmmmm...intestine... Behind it, is my little sauce dish - each person mixes up some soy (thin or thick) with some raw garlic and chili if you want it to dip the meat for some extra flavor. Interesting contrast of long cooked meat against raw, thick soy sauce, raw garlic, and raw chili.

As with all things like this, the most important thing is to wash the intestine properly and wash it t h o r o u g h l y, which this had been. The soup itself tastes a bit like a warm, savory herbal tea - with some cinnamon-ish flavors, as well as some ginseng-like flavors, a touch of bitterness, and of course, pork. I wouldn't necessarily choose it over a bowl of cereal, but I'm not a good Asian in that respect, anyway.


Later that day, we stopped for a snack around tea time. Apparently one of the trendy dishes in Hong Kong style coffee shops is a dish called oven baked rice. It's steamed rice (Japanese style), with a sweetish, thin tomato sauce, a thin slice of pork, covered with cheese and browned on top. Yeah, cheese. Mozzarella cheese. Kinda like rissotto alla pizzaiollo (rice made by the pizzaman), if there was such a thing. It's hard to wrap your head around it, but it's not offensive to eat. Actually, in Hawai`i there are those who eat rice with every meal, including spaghetti, so it shouldn't seem so outlandish to me. And now that I'm thinking of it, it seems more like a Japanese interpretation of Italian food. BTW, this restaurant is called Kim Gary's, and it was packed, at 4pm. It's packed all day.


For dinner, I was taken to a local favorite called Ka Soh's for special fish noodle soup, among many other tasty dishes. This is the starter of acar. In Bahasa (the Malay language) c has a "ch" sound, so it's pronounced ah-char, I assume it's related to the Indian pickles called achar. These aren't quite as heavily spiced as some Indian pickles, they have a sweetness from rice vinegar and some sugar, and they have some peanut and sesame to round out the flavors a bit.

According to my hosts, they take a good quantity of fish bones and heads, make a stock, strain out the bones, then reduce the stock to intensify the flavor and then enrich it with some evaporated milk, hence the white color. Ginger figures prominently in the flavorings, and the somewhat thicker laksa noodles are preferred for this dish. Usually, in European cooking you would not reduce a fish stock because it's not thought to intensify the flavor the way it would with a meat stock - and so is only cooked for a short time. I would have to say that it wasn't a very intense fish flavor, but it could be the milk that muted it somewhat. Even though I'm not a soup person, this was quite delicious and different. They also offer it with deep fried fish instead of poached as seen here, but I preferred this version because the softer texture seemed more appropriate. The crust of the fish distracted from all the love they put into making such a nice broth.


Some frog (not just legs!) and crispy ginger slices. Yummy!


After some time to settle, at a separate place, we stopped for a late dessert. I'm not sure if my buddy is pulling my leg here, but the story is that they use turtle shell as the source of the setting agent (gelatin?) in this dessert. According to him, this one didn't have the traditional taste, which is just as well. Harmless enough, but this one tasted like grass jelly drink, sort of like vegetable soup and black tea with sweetener but no milk. Not my favorite.


Around Kuala Lumpur

Currently about 12:45am, early Sunday morning, December 4th, in Kuala Lumpur.

!!Happy birthday, Gia!!

I had a more elaborate entry composed, but the computer I was working on in this Internet cafe decided that I should start over. So here's the run and gun version.

Beef ball noodles, dry style, with iced Chinese tea and the communal chili sauce.

From this well-known shop next to my guesthouse.

The Petronas Twin Towers are the semi-official icon for KL.




I think this may be the perfect bite of Hainan Chicken Rice so far on this trip. With some crispy pork belly added, because they had it, with crunchy cucumber, some green onion, and ginger/chili sauce. It's also on Tengkat Tong Shin, across and two over from my guesthouse. The place across and one over is pretty good as well, but the chicken is chewy.


On a different day, for take away, with char siu added instead.

From the first night in KL at the nyonya restaurant, petai (stinkbeans) with a shrimp paste/chili/garlic sauce. There's a strong "green" flavor in these beans, and an odiferous side-effect the next day.


At a night market, this street vendor is making large ming jiang kueh, a crisp pancake containing sugar, crushed peanuts and sometimes fruit. This one had a really crunchy texture, so naturally I really liked it. [This is also called appam in Tamil]


One for Dad - roots of a ficus growing toward the ground on it's "host" tree.


This cart is making and frying you tiao or oil stick, or around here they're called yau cha kwai. Fresh fried dough of any kind is hard to beat, but even so, these were really nice - not greasy, barely sweet, and the you tiao had good strong texture. Below is the menu - each piece is 60 Malaysian sen, or about US$0.16.



Similar to roti canai, this has margarine and sugar added for a buttery, dessert type of roti. The gent at the shop called it roti platha, which I'm guessing came from roti paratha. I admit, I'm usually a snob about using real butter, I'll go get French butter for certain things, etc., but there's an intensity about margarine that works. Like "butter-flavor topping" on popcorn at the movie theater. Of course, my first thought was to substitute ghee, but the margarine tastes pretty darn good.


Wings seem to be many people's favorite part of the chicken, and they like them all kinds of ways, but at a lot of hawker stands they sort of pre-smoke them up top, then move them lower to crisp them when they're ordered. Then they're served with fresh chili/ginger sauce


I must admit, I knew next to nothing about Malaysia, and it surprised me in a good way. Some people don't like it since it's so modern. Sometimes, walking on the streets or in the malls felts like I could have been in Newport Beach, or Van Nuys, or Beverly Hills, or Chicago. But maybe because I went into some of the older parts of town, and the less developed areas, I got to see a little more of the everyday life of some of it's residents, rather than the bright and shiny side the government would like to present. Bahasa (the Malay language) uses Arabic letters and has many borrowed words which are phonetically spelled, like kompleks and telekomunikasi, so it's quite easy to get around. I'm especially thankful to the Tan family, who were so generous in their time, knowledge, and hospitality.

I'm off to Phnom Penh, Cambodia tomorrow, then Siem Riep to see Angkor Wat. After that it will be Vietnam, possibly Thailand for another few days, then India. For those of you scoring at home, the visited countries count is currently 5, and the passport stamp count is 4.

December 02, 2005


Stupid I just figured out that Java is not enabled by default on the BlackBerry. I've just enabled it, and I should be able to post this from the mini-browser on the BlackBerry.

If you can read this, it also means I'm jumping around because I can post without having to find an Internet cafe.