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Vietnam

Hanoi Snapshot with a Serving of Bun Cha

June 3, 2011

We were quite charmed by Hanoi.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, and spent much of our time exploring this quaint area. We found it to have the bustle of a busy Asian city yet still oozing olden-day charm. Many of the old buildings are preserved or restored. It was all rather gorgeous.

We explored on foot, getting very much lost and happily stumbling across old open houses

Corn on the cob…this actually tasted pretty terrible, so let’s just focus on how pretty it is, shall we?

There were markets on practically every street-corner.

And there was Bánh Chưng frying on the street, the smell was incredible…

We rested our feet and refreshed ourselves with a glass of diced fruit with sweetened condensed milk. Here we are, hanging with the local kids, trying (and failing) to blend in.

and then there was…

Beautiful Bun Cha

Bun Cha is a very popular dish in northern of Vietnam. It consists of grilled pork, vermicilli noodles, greens (lettuce and herbs), a bowl of fish saucy soup and a plate of crunchy fried spring rolls. To me this felt like a fairly random combination, but I was very keen to try it.

There is one restaurant that is supposed to be the place to go for bun cha in Hanoi, located on the corner Hang Non and Hang Manh in the Old Quarter. We ended up eating at this revered restaurant a different day, and it was nowhere near as delicious as the first one we ate at, below.

For breakfast on this exploration day, we decided to follow our instincts and eat at a restaurant we stumbled across. At around 9am we found ourselves at 3 Nguyen Sieu. The sweet waft of grilled pork in betel leaf and the sight of large vats of soup bubbling away drew us in.

This dingy, narrow little eatery was screaming, “eat here! Eat here!”.

And so we did.

And so we fell in love with bun cha.

And so I find myself often dreaming of this dish.

And so I find myself questioning the honesty of the lady from whom I purchased this enormous hat off the street, who ensured me it looked good…

At least my head was warm.

My belly was also warm. This dish was just incredible.

You dip the cold noodles into the sharp, sweet sauce/soup, pick up some pork and crunchy vegetable and pop that delicious salty, sweet bundle into your mouth. Heavenly.

The bursting flavour of the soup was phenomenal, like nothing I had ever eaten before. I was loving every mouthful. It was a complete revelation.

…..

Hanoi has so many gems, more hidden ones than exposed. I only wish we had longer to explore every nook and cranny of this charming, gentle city. I just know there are so many more delicious and exotic eats to be had. I suppose another visit is in order…

Heidi xo

Hanoi Cooking Centre, Part Two: In the Kitchen!

May 20, 2011

And so here we are, in the kitchen of the Hanoi Cooking Centre. In case you missed it, here is Part One of this fabulous day of market touring, chef observation, learning, cooking and feasting! It all sounds rather grand doesn’t it?…well it kind of was.

We were presented with a little gift upon settling into the class- an apron and recipe booklet, which included all that we were to make this day. Fabulous. I do love a gift that is both practical and nostalgic. In my experience of overseas cooking schools (3 and counting), the good ones do love to hand out customised aprons.

We had two young trainee chefs, Koto students, guiding us through our menu. Forgive me for forgetting their names, it has been four months since our trip! Our instructors were super friendly and clearly excited to be teaching the class, in fact it was their first class flying solo. They did a tremendous job. Their English was quite good and they were truly thrilled to be passing on their skills and guiding us through these fun couple of hours.

Both instructors stood up front and demonstrated how to cook the meals, as we prepared ingredients and helped in the cooking process. Some components, like the pho broth, were already made, and we didn’t exactly have free run of the wok, but we really felt like we got our hands dirty and picked up some valuable tips. Ben and I always wish we could cook everything ourselves though.

Enough chatter, let me show you what we got up to in the kitchen! As I said in Part One, we signed up for the Vietnamese Street Food class.

First up, we tried the Bánh Chưng. Tracey bought this for us at the market after seeing me positively buzzing with curiosity and incessantly asking questions.

The dividing…

and the tasting… it was quite nice. A mouthful of glutinous rice, slightly claggy, with some bits of meat in the centre. Apparently it is even better fried. Well, I can understand that, who couldn’t.

A quick taste of Beef Phopho is always welcome. The broth had been prepared earlier, and we simply observed the assembling of our bowls. Delicious. Absolutely delicious. A subtle broth which I could happily eat every single day for the rest of my life.

Our bowls were topped with noodles, beef strips, fresh herbs and fried doughnut logs, of which I’m not a huge fan. These logs taste a little bland to me.

Herby Omelette. This is apparently popular with kids before school, or as a general snack. Often the omelette is devoured in a baguette, yum! This was really delicious. So fragrant from the herbs and the egg completely melted in your mouth.

With a sprinkle of this, to finish.

Rice Paper Rolls. No surprises here, really. I’ve had a lot of rice paper rolls in my time. These ones were especially delicious, though, thanks to the supremely fresh and plentiful herbs. We added already cooked thin beef strips, loads of fresh vegetables and herbs, crispy shallots and rolled away.

Banh Tom – sweet potato and prawn fritters. These were fun to make!

We made a batter and combined it with sweet potato strips and shrimps. These were really yummy – crunchy, sweet and very flavourful. If you want to try them out at home a) be careful of the oil, and b) see this link here for what looks to be a good recipe.

Peeling vegetables for our Goi Du Du, green papaya salad. I adored these little peelers.

This salad…what can I say apart from wow?

Ok, I’ll try to say something more. Fresh, sharp, soft, crunchy, amazing, yes. Yes. How was that? Check out Anh‘s recipe and make something similar and beautiful yourself (link).

These bananas were as incredible as they looked. What makes banana even better? Grilling it, and letting the sugars caramelise down to a ridiculous log of sweet, heavenly lusciousness. These babies were sprinkled with sugar before letting a blow-torch go to town on them.

We used the bananas in our dessert, Che Chuoi, bananas in coconut soup. Finished with a sprinkling of peanuts, this dish was light, sweet and all-round scrumptious. A quick recipe search led me to these links (1, 2, 3), so now you can try this delightful dessert yourselves.

And that concludes our delicious day. We ate our creations with a glass of wine, as we chatted to our new cooking class comrades. I would definitely recommend Hanoi Cooking Centre to travellers looking for a fun day out, where you get to learn about a foreign cuisine, pick up some cooking tips and indulge in a fabulous feast! At a tidy 50 USD, this class really was very enjoyable.

I am still after the best ever overseas cooking class, where you get to purchase and then make everything yourself. Am I dreaming? Perhaps they don’t exist. One can only hope…hope and partake in as many cooking trips as possible. Hey, it’s all in the name of research. And cooking class trumps museums, we established that, right?

Heidi xo

Hanoi Cooking Centre, Part One: To Market!

May 18, 2011

I must apologise for my disjointed travel posts. I have been trying to weave them in with my at home posts, however I fear this has not been very successful. I do so wish to blend my daily life with my travel adventures (plus a little sprinkling of eating out here and there). I have so many travel tales to tell you! Bear with me as I find my feet in this regard.

And so here we go, back to Vietnam

We had two full days in Hanoi. One was spent exploring the town at a beautifully leisurely pace, and delighting in our very first bowl of Bun Cha. That day was perfect. I shall tell you about that day in the future.

Our other day in Hoi An was spent at museums….well, that was our intention. Actually at the last minute we found a Trip Advisor review for Hanoi Cooking Centre. And then we saw more reviews – raves, rather. Suddenly our plans changed. Cooking class trumps museums, right?

We signed up for the Vietnamese Street Food class. It was just Ben and I, plus two fellow hungry participants (a friendly couple from California), in the class – lovely and intimate. Bright and early we turned up, excited to learn, cook and eat!

The first part of our class involved a tour of Cho Chau Long Market. That is Ben in the picture below, and not some super keen random person. Although it would have been brilliant if that were the case.

Tracey Lister, the lady behind Hanoi Cooking Centre, was our guide, and what a fabulous wealth of knowledge she is. We soaked up every educated and fascinating word she spoke. Tracey is a revered Australian Chef who now calls Hanoi home. She was the first chef/trainer at KOTO, a charity that provides street kids with vocational training (it’s a fantastic organisation).

This was a great local market, no tourists here… besides us 🙂 Other tour groups do pass through here also, but luckily on this morning we were the only ones. Tracey took us right around the market, showing us a whole range of exotic foods. It was such a feast for the eyes!

Bánh chưng – it was coming up to Tết, when this glutinous rice cake is traditional made and eaten.

Betel Nut – a mild narcotic that is culturally important, both in the chewing, giving and receiving of the plant. You’ll often find old ladies chewing it in South East Asian countries. It’s addictive, slightly carcinogenic and can stain your teeth – fascinating!

Meat Market! No dog today though. Tracey informs us that this meat is super super fresh, i.e. just killed this morning – squirmish, yes, but also respect for the freshness of their produce.

Steamed Pigs Blood – I’ve never tried this…and I don’t know if I ever will. Something about steamed blood always freaks me out. I wonder why…oh that’s right, because it’s freaky! No, no, just kidding – I don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just something that I have never ever seen before, nor grown up with. I love to try new things, so perhaps I should give this a go…

Insides…outside. All coiled and on display, ready for purchasing.

Banana Flower – another new ingredient to me, it’s fantastic thinly sliced in salads.

An array of all sorts of weird and wonderful fish pastes!

Loads of fresh seafood, eels and all. Tracey picked little lost, limp fish up off the ground and popped them back in the water. How sweet of her. We all looked on in amusement/shock. I love this place. Certainly different from our decidedly controlled, tame markets back home.

Fresh eggs.

I’m not sure what this is…any ideas?
* edit: many of you had wonderful, ideas, as it were! You have identified this to be pickled bamboo shoots, thank you so much for your help!

After overloading our senses we left the market and headed back to the cooking school. We were bursting to start cooking, the market tour left the four of us positively buzzing and inspired! Next up, Part Two: In the Kitchen

Heidi xo

BBQ Street Food in Hanoi

April 21, 2011

After a Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City and a lovely five days in pretty, peaceful Hoi An, Ben and I set forth to the north of Vietnam. We arrived in Hanoi at around 7pm after a long day of travelling, which left us rather tired and hungry. A good feed was in order, but bed was also beckoning. Hence we resolved to not venture far from our hotel in search of food.

Folks, the foodie Gods were shining down upon us that night. For we only had to walk three minutes before stumbling upon a street-side delight, the smell of grilling meat enticing us to pull up a tiny plastic stool.

As soon as we sat down we were presented with our very own portable grill and plates of food – beef and pork, vegetables, tomato and pineapple – a real bounty!

Salt, lime juice and chilli makes an exciting dipping sauce.

This Korean BBQ style meal, where you grill your own food on a convex hot plate, was a lot of fun. I am always a fan of interactive food! The smell coming off the grill was enough to make us jump up and do a little dance. But we didn’t – we were already standing out enough as it was.

I think the meat had been marinating in oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and the beef was just delicious, so tender. The pork was a bit fatty, so I left most of those pieces. It was all about the beef! And when the onions started to caramelise in the meat juices and get all crispy….oooooooo it was spectacular.

If you’re ever in Hanoi and up for some street food, I recommend you visit 48 Hàng Tre for street food BBQ delight.

Replenished, we headed back to our hotel and slept very soundly indeed. We stayed at The Jasmine Hotel, and were thrilled with their location and service. The next day we were up bright and early to explore charming Hanoi. What a gem this beautiful city is. More stories and adventures to come…

Heidi xo

Red Bridge Cooking School

April 1, 2011

One of my favourite things to do while travelling and experiencing different cultures and their food is to do a cooking class. What better way to cement all your food memories than by learning how to make the dishes yourself?

I spent a bit of time researching our Hoi An cooking school options. In the end it came down to two, Morning Glory and Red Bridge. We chose the full day class at Red Bridge simply because they afforded us the chance to learn how to make pho. We were happy with our choice. Although it was not as hands on as we would have liked, we did get to do quite a bit of cooking ourselves, and the food was delicious. A highlight of this day was seeing a local organic farm and shopping for ingredients at the market.

First up we had coffee while discussing our plans for the day.

Visit to a Farm

We then caught a mini bus to a local, organic farm, where we saw a lot of beautiful fresh produce.

And I picked veggies while wearing a hat.

This guy was very sweet and playful. And he lent me his hat. A cute gimmick.

They earn a small amount from these tour groups, and you get a drink to boot!

Shopping at the Market

The market was fabulous. We saw rice sheets being cut into noodles. See the brown coloured noodles – those are the Cao lầu.

Our guide showing us some sliced-up banana flower.

Market meat.

Look at all that morning glory (& just casually strapped on the back of a bike!)

Cooking Class

Our chef and tour guide was friendly and a little cheeky. He was a graduate of Koto, a program for disadvantaged youth across Asia that teaches the kids life skills and provides them with learning opportunities.

Gearing up!

Look at all the goodies!

Getting help with my apron, slightly embarrassing.

We learnt how to make Beef Pho (yipee!), which was our main aim of the day, and it was a lot of fun. It was very helpful to see how to do each step. Although it only simmered for 1 hour, it was still delicious. I can only imagone the flavour after simmering for 8 hours!

I was so trhilled to learn how to make our own rice noodles! You place rice and a little water in a blender and mix until a smooth paste, like a pancake mixture.

You then steam it over hot water…

…before oiling it up and slicing into strips.

Ready to go, vinegar chilli sauce and all.

You then top the noodles and beef with the lovely broth…

…true beauty…

The Lemongrass Prawns in Banana Leaf (Tom Nuong La Chuoi) were so delicious, really moist.

Wrapping up the banana leaf was a lot of fun.

The dipping sauce was made of lime juice, salt and pepper, and was utterly divine!

We also made Chicken and Banana Flower Salad (Goi Hoa Chuoi Ga Nuong)

Grilling the chicken.

Toasting some rice crackers to serve alongside the salad.

And last but not least, we learnt how to make a delicious Cha Ca. I am so in love with this dish!

To date, our favourite cooking class in Asia is the Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok. Perhaps nothing will top that… But this sure was a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed learning how to make rice noodles – how fabulous was that?! I would certainly recommend this class for a fun day of shopping, cooking and eating. Plus, you get to talk all things food for 8 hours – how fabulous is that?!

Heidi xo

Phantastical Pho

March 23, 2011

After leaving you with our deflated experience of Pho in Ho Chi Minh City, I feel a little sheepish. You see I like to think of myself as a bona fide Pho lover. And, as I feel my love is true, I should stand by Pho through thick noodles and thin, for better broth or worse.

But to the first bowl I had in Vietnam that didn’t live up to my inflated expectations, I turned a cold shoulder. That is not how you treat a loved one. I am so sorry, Pho. Please forgive me…

I want to make it up to you with a tale of Phantastical Pho.

I had no doubt that whilst visiting the beautiful land of Pho I would be presented with a heavenly bowl, yet I was unsure when it would come to me. It turns out, the chosen place for this holy experience was Hoi An. Being on the central coast, I was not sure what broth flavour to expect. Hoi An is closer to the south than the north, so perhaps this would mean the flavour would be sweet? Well it was on the sweet side, but not too sweet. More like “Sweeeeeeet!” (said by an Aussie teenage surfer in the early ‘90s)…

Initially when I walked past this hidden restaurant, I assumed it was someone’s house. Actually it probably is. But what I mean is that I thought it was out of bounds to hungry tourists. And so, day after day, we would pass by this little place on the way into the Old Town and watch the locals drink together from steaming bowls.

One day we tried our luck. Ben, the conglomerate of races he is, went in first (he liked to try and convince people he was a local). Wearing his most charming of smiles, he successfully secured us a table. And so we sat on our plastic stools, surrounded by discarded tissue paper, and waited for our breakfast.

Excited much?

And then it came…

Wow.

All the elements came together to create one bowl of bliss; a broth that was not overwhelming, yet could stand alone as a beautiful, aromatic soup; fresh, slippery noodles; oh my goodness, melt-in-your-mouth, super thin slices of tender beef ; bunches of fresh, vibrant herbs positively bursting with fragrance and flavour; and a touch of chilli – just a touch. Sweeeeeeet

Heidi xo

A Lazy Afternoon before Morning Glory

March 21, 2011

On day four of our visit to Hoi An, we had quite an Indulgent Day. Shopping, eating, pampering – you know, the usual. Naturally, after all this grand exertion, we found ourselves exhausted. And so we retreated to the inviting couches of the Yellow River Restaurant, where we whiled away the afternoon in a lingering, lazy fashion.

Contentedly we sipped our coffee as we read our novels. In Vietnam Ben was preferring his coffee hot, while I tended to favour mine over ice.

Hot or cold, it is hands down best when your coffee is served with separate coffee and sweet milk layers – all the better to mix yourself, my dear 🙂 I do so love to play with my food.

We also engaged in some quality people watching. I love observing life from (not so) afar. All of a sudden, it appeared that we were being watched too! And with great interest, I might add. What a cutie.

As the clock ticked on we got a little peckish, and so we decided to share a mango shake. Our drink was very much like a lassi – super refreshing and took the edge off our hunger perfectly.

After more time reading in our comfy little cove, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We had a reservation at a fancy restaurant, you see, and dusty feet and a sweaty brow would not suffice. This was a little bit special, as usually we opted for street food as our dinner. However we had heard great things about Morning Glory (who also run a very popular cooking class), and so we decided to depart from our usual eating habits and brave the restaurant scene.

Morning Glory, named after the delicious vegetable, is a beautifully laid-out restaurant, with comfortable, spacious tables complemented with soft, golden lighting (note, whilst this was incredibly pretty, it did not allow for very attractive photos).

The room felt relaxed but the vibe assured. The open kitchen in the centre of the main room gave us the welcomed opportunity to watch the famous Ms Vy or Ms Lu in action! The smell of fancified street food sizzling on the hot plate was an utter tease, enticing us to order more. What a sneaky and, as it would turn out, effective technique, for we complied with an eager order.

The menu is quite large, with so many beautifully composed dishes to tempt your taste-buds. The list of soups, grouped according to their long-believed health benefits, was a favourite section. After much serious discussion, we gave our order.

These cocktails were a little sweet for my liking, but very easy to drink. Luckily the alcohol content was minimal, otherwise I am sure there would have been even more ordering taking place at our humble table for two.

To start we ordered the chả giò (spring rolls), which had a cute name, along the lines of “3 friends”, referring to the three types of meat used to make this delicious treat. A delicate, crisp casing filled with succulent pork, prawns and…oh my, I have forgotten the Third Little Pig – three is a crowd, clearly, but not when it comes to taste. These really played to my preferences – strong flavours that all worked together beautifully. We were in heaven. I have stated previously that I am often disappointed with spring rolls in Australia, and this had also been to case in Vietnam…but not anymore. These little parcels were utterly divine.

White rose are pretty, delicate little dumplings filled with shrimp and are a local delicacy (along with Cao lầu). We found them similar to Cantonese dumplings, yet not quite as delicious. So after trying them a couple of times we didn’t bother with them again. If you are keen to try them, I am sure you would be in safe hands at Morning Glory. They also do shrimp paste on sugar cane, which is another popular local street food.

Back to our starters, we also tried the barbequed pork skewers with rice paper, green banana and fresh herbs. Interactive food is always fun – fill, roll and dip, it’s fabulous. We had tried this dish on our very first night from a street vendor, and fell in love with it. Hence we were very keen to try a restaurant version as a comparison. Honestly, I preferred the street version. If I can attempt to articulate why this was the case, I would say that the street version tasted less “done up”. There you go 🙂 However Ben found them both equally good – and he’s right in that Morning Glory’s version was really very delicious.

Our last starter was the chicken rice, and it was so delicious. Simple, clean flavours – utterly scrumptious. The rice was al dente, the shredded chicken moist and the additional flavourings of herbs and spices friendly, not overwhelming or ostentatious. It was a happy dish.

When we both saw this next item on the menu, we instantly agreed we simply had to try it – prawns cooked in a coconut. Yes. And it. was. good. The prawns were fresh, plump and sweet – just the way I like them. The coconut flesh was soft enough to spoon out and eat alongside a mouthful of prawn or mushroom. It was delightful, so creative and well, fabulous.

After hearing that we simply must try the caramelised pork at Morning Glory, we gave it a go. It was beautifully tender and perfectly caramelised. The flavours were quite familiar to us, in that it was similar to Chinese dishes we have on occasion. And so on this night of enthusiastic ordering, we didn’t pay much attention to this dish (even though it as very yummy). So much to eat, such limited stomach space 😉

I was keen to try a soup, and so we chose a fish soup, which was supposed to help balance us internally…?? We were impressed, although I can’t say if it really helped to balance things… A beautiful, full-bodied broth, similar to Tom Yum with the hot and sour to and fro. The fish was meaty and the vegetables crisp. We loved this soup – fresh ingredients and lovely strong flavours, all dancing beautifully together on the palate. One, two, three, one, two, three – it was a glorious, graceful yet spirited waltz in my mouth.

* On our last night in Hoi An we visited Morning Glory again, for a somewhat less indulgent meal. We tried the caramel fish in claypot (so yummy) and eggplant also cooked in a claypot – it was a claypot kind of night. We were very pleased again, but our choices on our first visit were better. Try the spring rolls, chicken rice and prawns in the coconut, in particular. And we never got around to trying the cinnamon beef, which sounds fabulous.

I really recommend this restaurant to those who are lucky enough to visit beautiful Hoi An. Comfortable surrounds, with top quality ingredients and spot on flavours. And all for very little cost, too – between 15-30,000 Dong for starters (0.75 cents to $1.50) and 30-120,000 Dong ($1.50 – $6.00) for mains…I know, right? Hey, this is Vietnam! And boy is it delicious.

Heidi xo

A Delightfully Indulgent Day in Hoi An

March 17, 2011

When you visit Hoi An, you’re more than likely to come away with a few tailor made goodies. Whether shoes or suits, coats or dresses (or in our case, all of the aforementioned!), you can easily grab a bargain – and one that fits you like a glove, to boot!

Back home I rarely shop for clothes. I find it so expensive, and as I am perpetually saving for more travel (and a house, and a wedding) I don’t find clothes shopping a necessity. Rather, it is more of an indulgence. I may want a cute dress, but I don’t need it. So it was nice to forget my rules get a some pretty clothes made on this trip, all while still staying within our budget.

That is one of the blessed things about travelling to Asia instead of Europe, you can afford to treat yourself and indulge a little…

Choosing your tailor can be an overwhelming experience (read the Buy section here for tips) – there are just so many to choose from, and they all raucously vie for your business. We strolled around for a while before settling on our tailor, the lovely Ngan. How did we pick her? It was quite simple, really, we instantly felt a connection with Ngan. She came up to us as we were passing through the crowded cloth hall and was friendly, confident and assured. We just knew she was our tailor. It sounds corny, doesn’t it? But it’s true, we just knew. It was love at first stitch…

I took in some pictures of clothing I wanted copied – the classic Burberry Trench Coat and a Valentino dress (big call, but she came through). Ben got 4 slimline suits made, as well as a bunch of business shirts and some casual ones too. We also had a suit and two shirts made for my brother, Jackson. Just in case you’re interested, the suits were 120 AUD each and the shirts 15AUD each. My coat was 90 AUD my dress was 60AUD. We were thrilled with them all! I absolutely adore my new coat and dress. I don’t have pictures of our goodies yet, as we are currently in the process of moving apartments and everything is packed up. No doubt I will be flaunting my new coat soon, though 😉

We (read: Ben) bargained the prices down a little (mainly the shirts) but honestly, it is not like in Morocco or other places – the price they quote you is usually very good, and in the end you may get it down a little, but what for…to save $5?

Ngan was the perfect tailor and hostess. On our last day, as we picked up our purchases, she brought over some Cao lầu and we sat in her little nook in the cloth market and enjoyed a meal together. I was sad to say goodbye.

We also had some shoes made by a different lady – cute booties and work flats for me, and a great casual pair of shoes for Ben. They were between 20-35 AUD for each pair, and they’re fabulous.

After all that intense shopping, it is incredibly important to replenish your stores… with some Cơm bình dân (which, according to noodlepie, means “food for the workers”).

We visited this little stand, just outside of the Old Town, for a serve of chicken, tofu, vegetables, egg, rice and soup. There are loads of Cơm bình dân restaurants all across Vietnam, a popular place for locals to fill up on the cheap.Our meal was really yummy! Well, the rice, tofu and vegetables were. And the soup, which is apparently flavoured with the rau má leaf (thanks for this information, Linh!), was also delicious – very refreshing, good for cutting through the heat of the chilli. The chicken, on the other hand, was not so great – very little meat and quite fatty. But we were quite impressed overall, especially for a dollar…

Staying hydrated is also necessary when indulging. A fresh coconut off the street from a man with a machete and a cart full of coconuts (and branches) is clearly the ideal choice.

Happy coconut juice dance…

And lastly, we felt it prudent to undergo a little pampering.

A haircut for Ben – please note the hilarious pictures on the walls. Clearly they served as inspiration for Ben’s hairdresser, who was 100% rockin’ the look.

And I treated myself to a little manicure. However my manicurist was decidedly unimpressed that I requested a clear polish. When I pointed out my desired colour (or lack there of), she let out a big sigh. Sorry, lady! I know you were pulling for lime green.

Tough day, hey 😉

Heidi xo

Exploring Hoi An

March 15, 2011

Vietnamese Iced-Coffee, cà phê đá, and an English language paper. The perfect way to start to your day? We thought so.

After our Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City (links to parts 1, 2, 3 and 4), we caught an overnight train to Danang and then a taxi to pretty little Hoi An – see a recap of this journey here. Unfortunately, our photos from the first 2 days in this beautiful town were lost *sigh*. I cried. Let’s move on…

Day three in Hoi An started like this…

Chilling in a little cafe just outside of the Old Town, fuelling up for the day ahead.

We ordered Cao lầu to share, which is a local delicacy.

This was our second Cao lầu, and probably our favourite. Hoi An is famous for Cao lầu, a dish consisting of beige-coloured rice noodles topped with thin pork slices, bean shoots, herbs and bits of thin, crispy rice cracker. Water from an ancient well is used to make these special noodles, and this gives them a unique flavour and chewy texture. See this fabulous post for a more detailed, educated explanation of Cao lầu. While we enjoyed trying this local delicacy, we weren’t particularly enamoured with the dish. Just our personal preference, I suppose. I can’t quite pinpoint where these blasé feelings arise from – perhaps too much blatant love for Pho?…

Also a part of the dish was this pretty, club-shaped herb. See how attractive it is?…

Don’t be fooled, my friends, for this is a devil herb. This gross greenery was everywhere in Hoi An, sneakily popping-up in our meals. Ben and I could not stand it. Usually I am a herb lover, but this was bitter and sharp and utterly unpleasant. We asked many locals to identify it for us, hoping to get an English translation, only the same name in Vietnamese kept popping up “yap ga”. Is this correct, can anyone pretty please help? I would like to know what it is so I can expressly avoid it in the future 🙂

We also shared a Bánh chuối. During my research I stumbled across recommendations for Bánh chuối, it’s English translation being ‘banana pancake’. “Yes. I will definitely be trying this”, I told myself. And so try it we did. It tasted just as it looked – like any regular pancake filled with banana. It was yummy, especially with sweetened condensed milk drizzled on top. No gastronomic feat, but tasty nonetheless. This pancake wasn’t fried – I have seen pictures of many fried versions, and while initially delicious, I am sure, they must be oily and a little heavy.

After filling our bellies and catching up on the news 😉 we set off to explore the Old Town…

Everywhere I turned there were gorgeous, ageing yellow walls with quaint, coloured wooden shutters. The old and wise trees were accessorised with pretty little golden lanterns. I found myself enamoured with these beautiful buildings…

We also spent a bit of time wandering around the An Hoi Islet, just across the bridge, which is a more raw, untouched area.

Visiting this side of the Thu Bon river affords you a beautiful view of the Old Town, especially at night. We would sit with a Bia Hoi (“fresh beer”, popular throughout Vietnam) and watch the twinkling lights of twilight in this sleepy little town.

Hoi An really is an enchanting place.

Heidi xo

Chasing Cha Ca

March 8, 2011

Sheraton Rooftop Bar and a Cocktail, or two…

Our first evening in Ho Chi Minh City started off with a little evening stroll, where we watched the city come to life…

This place was brimming with locals and tourists alike, all lining up for woodfired pizza. It smelt and looked amazing! Ho Chi Minh City, we were impressed.

Later on, I stumbled across this street snack – I have a real knack for finding food wherever I go 😉 It was a custard-type dessert, and was quite nice, but nothing I will pine after or rush to re-create. Oh, and it cost around 25cents. Can anyone translate this sign for me? It was next to the lady who sold us the sweet, and I snapped a picture of it hoping to be able to translate it once I was home. Taking a punt, I see the word “Flan”, and it did indeed taste Flan-ish…?

We then found ourselves at the Sheraton Rooftop Bar, as was recommended by a friend. Cocktails ensued. Martinis and a Cosmopolitan. It was two for one… hey, When in Ho Chi Minh City! Perching high up on the 23rd floor, cocktail in hand, is a fabulous way to see the city, which appeared to be quite Cosmopolitan from this viewing point and time of night – see? The second cocktail was purely a topical refreshment.

But enough about the drinks, let’s talk food!

* I would like to disclose right here, right now, that I wholeheartedly believe my love for the following dish to be in no way enhanced by the somewhat enthusiastic number of beverages consumed on this beautiful night, the first night of our Asia trip.

Cha Ca

When researching what food we should try while in Vietnam, there were a few dishes I came across again and again. One of them was Cha Ca. Countless travellers posted online their praise for this dish – some in particular were really quite firm and insistent about it. Ok, duly noted 😉 But what is it and where can I get some?…

“Cha” means grilled (or possibly fried), and “Ca” means fish. This dish is all that and more – much more.

Cha Ca originated in Hanoi – in fact, there is a street named after the dish! Many streets in Hanoi are named after a food or something that is produced on that street. Cha Ca La Vong , a restaurant in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, originally started serving Cha Ca to enraptured patrons over a century ago (wow!). They now have a branch in Ho Chi Minh City, which serves up the famous fish dish. Many report that this chapter is even better than the original, which apparently often disappoints. I cannot compare the two personally, but we were certainly thrilled with our Cha Ca experience. So much so that after our meal I almost started dancing down the street to “I’m every woman”…No? Too much? Is it really just me who breaks into a Chaka Khan song whenever I hear or see the words “Cha Ca”. Apparently so, I apologise.

And so after taking in the view of the city from 23 stories high, and enjoying some cheeky cocktails, we caught a cab to Cha Ca La Vong, 3 Ho Xuan Huong Street, District 3 for our highly anticipated dinner. Dear friends, it did not disappoint.

There is only one dish on the menu, so as soon as we sat down a small burner was brought to our table – our meal was cooked right in front of us! Every now and then a waitress would come over and give a courtesy stir, to which we would sing our praises with “oooohs” and “ahhhhhs”.

There was also some prawn cracker-style bread as an accompaniment, which I was not particularly fussed with.

Once cooked, we topped our bowl of fresh rice noodles with the fish and herbs, before scattering with fresh chilli and peanuts, a dash of fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.

Oh my…

How do I describe the beauty of this dish? It was…exciting! The use of dill in Vietnamese cooking really surprised us. I have so much to learn about this fascinating cuisine! There were other fresh herbs in this dish too – coriander and basil. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I absolutely love how the Vietnamese use herbs as noteworthy ingredients. Adding more than a simple sprinkle really allows the dish to sing in a way that is so foreign to other styles of cooking. The food tastes heightened, elevated to a whole new, special place.

The flavour of the tumeric, in all it’s feisty yellow glory, with the meaty snakehead fish was just gorgeous. I am not all that familiar with this fish, and I really enjoyed the flavour. Together with the crunch of the fresh spring onion and the fragrant herbs, with a sour touch of lime and the soft rice noodles, it was an incredibly stimulating and downright delicious meal.

I must admit, however, that one sniff of the mam tom (fermented shrimp sauce) was enough, and I steadily pushed this stinky, stinky goo far from view. I appreciate that this is an acquired taste. I simply do not wish to acquire it.

We loved this dish. It was a real standout during out visit to Vietnam. The combination of flavours were just insane. Cha Ca is something we will definitely try to recreate at home. I would absolutely recommend this restaurant to hungry travellers in Ho Chi Minh City as a delightful place to try this very popular dish.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go do a little Chaka Khan dance…”Ain’t nobody, loves me better…”

Heidi xo

p.s. thanks to Ben for naming this post. He thinks it’s an ingenious title. I wasn’t so sure, yet every time I suggested a new name he shut it down, “Chasing Cha Ca!!” Ok, ok.