Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Connecting rather than skimming

I am so lucky to have a connection to Vietnam that gives me a constant inside track to the country. I am married to a wonderful woman that is Vietnamese born and she has many wonderfully helpful family and friends.

Beyond being a great wife and best friend, she helps me connect to the real Vietnam and to the food that is the reason for the blog.



Why bring this up when you probably will not marry a Vietnamese person?

Well you too can seek a deeper connection to a country by spending some time before you go developing your own personal connection to the people and culture.

The Vietnamese, like many in the world are eager to learn English to advance in business and their professional careers. Some start learning English quite early but lack a native speaker to practice with to improve. That is were you come in; there is many Vietnamese that are online to connect with English speakers to improve their skills. You can explore some aspects of Vietnamese life and what is something that would be interesting to do when you come to Vietnam. This of course is a longer term commitment than hiring a guide but it can become a friendship you can enjoy for years to come.

Where do you find these eager learners? well I can not endorse any site or service but try a google search Vietnamese seeking English practice and give it a try.

I have learnt much from my wife about the beauty of Vietnam and even more via her connections in all regions of the country. It brings a richness to travel that no guidebook can match. You also can learn what to be wary of while you make your way through the country and to understand the rational to some of the things you see here.

You may not make a lifetime friend eager too show you around the country but you can make friend that will be a resource when you finally do come to Vietnam. At least you may learn more than another cat video on youtube can show you :).

You can skim through countries with tours that show you the tourist traps or you can spend some time reaching a greater understanding of the people and place that is Vietnam.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Change happens

Coming back to the village we see  that the pace of change is on a scale that Canada has not seen for a century. When I first saw the village in 2002 it was just a few years beyond dirt floors and mud walls. My wife's family had one of the most modern homes in the village at that time. Still there was no windows and they cooked with wood fire; but a western flush toilet and hot shower made it certainly posh in comparison.

As you walk around the village today it is almost unrecognizable as it has changed even in the three years we have been away. Certain parts bring back flashes of days past but those are becoming less each time we go back.

What was once a small shack is now a four story home that is built like there should be buildings on each side to support its precarious structure. Tall and thin, like a tree alone on the plain. The interesting part is that the families do not normally use the upper floors but build high to show their success for all to see.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2016 Vietnam planning

Well everyone we will be in Vietnam January first. Getting ready is going to be half the fun (not really) as we have to bring presents for relatives and friends. Love bringing the gifts but the packing of the bags is a complex process of pack, weigh, repack, weigh, repack until you meet the airline weight restrictions.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Family cooking

As we traveled around we would pick up dishes to try with the family back in the village; my wife is very good at tasting and decoding a dish so she can reproduce it herself. We also would make dishes that they had not tried from other areas of Vietnam.

The following was a Duck and bamboo soup my wife made:

The duck

The yummy broth

Getting it assembled 

With all the veggy toppings

Bamboo goodness
Making of La lot leaf wrapped ground pork. It is a dish we had in Hanoi and of course my wife had to show she could make it better; she did. The house had two types of related La Lot plants, she used one we do not get to eat in Canada. It is more peppery than the other.

The plant we got the leaves from
Rolling it was not quite as easy as the other leaf 


We lost quite a few because the design of the holder we used

Nothing better than a open fire to increase the taste

My attempt at being artistic
 I did not take a photo of the finished product as it looked the same as any leaf rolled product and I was too busy eating it :)


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Duong Lam ancient village and the not wine

West of downtown Hanoi is the city of SonTay which use to be in another district but with the expansion of the Hanoi city limits is now in west Hanoi. Near Son Tay is the tourist site Duong Lam ancient village (map) which I would say is a great reason to take the time to leave down town Hanoi. 

The connection to this food blog is that this place does showcase they way village life was in the past including the raising of crops and production of food. The town has been mostly kept as it was before modernization and it allows a visitor get a feel for historic Vietnam. 

Of course I always look for food related pictures but I do want to showcase a few of my shots of this old village. 


Entrance to village

Planting schedule for village


Fields

A shop
Production of 'Wine' in the village





The fermentation 

distilling the wine
Ready for sale

Turns out it was actually rice moonshine; I bought a bottle of red and one of white and ended up only having a sip of both as the stuff was strong.



Stopped for tea too, could have had a quick smoke from the  metal pipe too if I was so inclined
Tried a different tea made of a leaf that is picked from a tree once a year. The leaf on the glass was an example  given by the lady that owned the place. Tasty tea.

Wet noodles on the street and happily not me too, Hanoi



Walking around at night you see a whole new series of little places to eat set up where ever there is a spot to cook something. During the day the building has a shop selling you something or just a bare piece of pavement but at night it is a restaurant. It can be as small as a single pot, a table and a few mini (for me) chairs. Hang a small sign and there you go, restaurateur to the masses.

I have taken many photos of such places over the years as I am impressed by the ability of people to find a way to survive by their own initiative. As a lot of the small restaurants I see in buildings are glorified holes-in-the-wall establishments; the street level restaurants literally are just working out of cracks-in the-pavement places.

My wife says that these places have usually been in their spots for years and normally are passed down as the person stops working. The places tend to serve one item or type of food but can approach a full service restaurant in the variety of dishes they have.  

Some places are open only during one part of the day, depending on the type of food some open for the early morning, others lunch and many at night. 

The little place we stopped at, no address to tell you as it was just on the side of the street, had a wet noodle dish that we decided to try.



I liked the dish once I poured the soup in as the sauce on the noodles was a bit sweet for me. It was a nice small bowl noodles served on the street. I had a interesting moment when I sat on the tiny chair as my squatting skills are poor. You lower your rear until you feel like your going to fall over, then quickly place the chair under you and hope it does not collapse as you rear comes crashing down. Once years ago the chair did collapse to the merriment of the other diners as I ended up sprawled on the dirty pavement. 



I love walking around the streets at night as there is always something good to eat.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The modern invasion - Chain restaurants / coffee shops



As Vietnam grows and modernizes it also starts to have more and more chain restaurants / coffee shops. Yes that can be seen as a unwelcome invasion to all the people wanting a unspoiled country but to me it is a sign that the people are starting to enjoy some of the rewards of their labour. Yes it is more complicated than my simple explanation but I will leave that up to others to discuss.

When I go to Vietnam I also take time to taste the new tastes that the people are eating in the form of fast food and coffee shops. As these mainly foreign restaurant chains come into Vietnam they sometimes modify their menus and recipes to appeal to the Vietnamese market. Here are some I tried:

1) Lotteria a burger and chicken restaurant from Japan.

This was the first fast food chain I ever tasted in Vietnam and it was a life saver for a white guy who missed a  taste of a burger and the convenience of a fast food place. Yes it was a bit different than home but after a few months of eating Vietnamese food I needed a burger. You would think I would like their beef burger the most but it was their shrimp burger that I loved.


I have gravitated to another place for my shrimp burger but Lotteria was my first.

2) KFC  yes the chicken place we all know; I took my future wife here years ago to have a taste of North American food (yes not the best example). I have to say the chicken was better tasting than our fast grown variety but the rest of the meal was the same as in Canada. From that first location we saw years ago, I have seen the chain expand at a fantastic rate right across Vietnam.

3) Pizza Hut We took a few of our younger Family members to Pizza Hut to have a taste of home; of course they liked the non North American tasting pizza rather than the one we liked. The place had some different appies and salads but mostly the same as here. The big thing I noticed that a large pizza there would be considered a small here; we ended up ordering a lot of appies to fill the gap.

4) BBQ chicken a Korean place with great chicken and shrimp burgers; had to go there twice for the unique taste. The bbq chicken was great tasting but my wife thought it was not as good as their smoked chicken; tangy and slightly spicy.



   And they had a great shrimp burger that is now my favorite one in Vietnam.




5) Trung Nguyen coffee shops, a Vietnamese company that makes kick ass coffee that would walk the dead. I love the taste and the shops. I use to frequent Highlands coffee but agree with my relatives that highlands coffee is a weak version of the strong brew Vietnamese like to drink. This is not to say that Highlands coffee is not a good place to go as they have a wide assortment of delicious drinks and food besides the coffee. The perfect mix of Trung Nguyen coffee (as formulated by my brother-in-laws' wife) is number 5 coffee (a blend) with the S type (strong flavour).  As we had some weight restrictions I brought back some of their G7 instant coffee that is pretty good. I should have tried the weasel coffee but never got around to it as it was expensive.

6) Burger King  saw it but did not go there.  

7) Mochi Sweets  a Japanese sweets company with to die for sweets. 


I had this one.....so good


8) Laughing cow cheese (yes not a restaurant) this has been a staple of mine since I first traveled through Vietnam as it is everywhere and keeps without refrigeration. It is also a favorite of the Vietnamese and their children. For a cheese lover like myself it was a welcome treat when I craved a bit of cheese and crackers before bed time.