January 02, 2006

More Hanoi Eats


This is one of my favorite dishes that I've had in Vietnam. As a qualifier, you should probably consider that I'm not really a soup guy. I've been confronted by that almost daily since soup and soup noodles are a big part of Vietnamese food, and I've had soup or soup noodles once or twice a day everyday since I've been here. But the fact is, at home I rarely find myself craving soup. And when it gets right down to it, if you force me to choose, I prefer rice to noodles. But dammit, this is full of good stuff. It's called my van thanh - the word my in this case signifies angel hair thin wheat noodles. [It's a Vietnamese type of wonton soup] There's some thinly sliced pork, and a crisp, pork-and-mushroom filled wonton that drinks up some of the pork broth and lends a bit of rich, golden brown flavor. [I forgot that it also has 3 boiled wontons and a slice of poached liver, as well] Most people doctor it up with a shot of chili sauce and/or chilies in vinegar, or some sea salt or spice (MSG). If it's offered, you might also give a squeeze of lime or calamansi. This bowl is VND 10,000, or about US $0.63.

Predictably, a triple hit of pork will make me like a lot of things. [Actually, I guess it's a quintuple hit]

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January 01, 2006

Happy New Year from Hanoi!


Currently about 3pm, January 1st, in Vietnam.

This is a lotus flower from the pond at the Temple of Literature. It doesn't have much to do with the New Year, except that it's Asian-ey, and I'm in Asia. New Year's Eve was low key - I went out to dinner at Cha Ca La Vong, a restaurant famous for one dish - fish marinated in turmeric and cooked at the table. I walked around for a bit, and aside from people burning ghost money and so on, it didn't seem very different from any other night around here. I think they save up all the festivities for Tet, which is the lunar new year, or it's also called the Spring Festival.

Wherever you are, I wish you a happy, auspicious and productive 2006!

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.