Wednesday, January 27, 2010

KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant, part II

Next was a beef dish made with La Lot leaves; it was
stir fried and tasted much like the Bo La Lot dish we have at the restaurant. The onions added a nice flavor note to the dish but the la lot leaves were the dominate flavor for the dish. The beef was tender and were a nice balance to the peppery taste of the la lot leaves.

The meal was accompanied by a clay bowl of rice that was baked. The cooking technique made the rice firmer and with a crunchy layer were the rice touched the clay pot. The bowl came with two serving paddles that I suspect were an authentic touch but for me it made serving myself difficult.

Next up was a great bamboo and pork stir fry that was very tasty with large chunks of bamboo.

KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant, the best Hue to eat

We were so lucky to have traveled again with sinh cafe (now called Sinh Tourist) Vietnam as they are not only a good company, their staff in Hue directed us to an excellent restaurant serving traditional Hue food. KHÔNG GIAN XƯA restaurant should be declared a world heritage site as the look of the place and food represent the traditional Hue food so well. The place can be located here and it is worth the drive. It was so good we went there twice and would have gone there more but we booked a few tours that kept us looking at the real world heritage sites in Hue. As this mostly a food blog I will leave others to talk about the areas' attractions but I will say that Hue is a great place to get a feel for the history of Vietnam beyond the American (we call it the Vietnamese) war.

Now to the experience of Khong Gian Xua restaurant, we were impressed the minute we walked into the restaurant; the atmosphere was a reproduction of the the ancient buildings of the region that we have seen examples of during our tours. The main difference was the restaurant was in pristine condition with examples of Vietnamese art / culture on the walls. I took a couple of photos but the restaurant website has better ones to show the look of the place. I would love to do a restaurant in Vancouver just like this one as it is so impressive that it sets the perfect tone for the food to follow.

The table was set with an assortment of condiments for our meal, picked mustard leafs, picked egg plant, fish sauce based dipping sauce, and a fermented shrimp based sauce.

We started with a Bitter melon salad made with shrimp, it had a nice spicy fish sauce based dressing and caramelized onions on top. The bitter melon was not too bitter and was nice and crunchy. the sauce was a nice spicy balance to the fresh bitter melon. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and great with the melon. I am always happy to find dishes that are made with bitter melon that taste great and this is now one of them that I love. Bitter melon can take some time to gain a taste for but once you do it is a treat that is suppose to be good for you.

Have to stop writting right now as we are going to eat :) good reason to stop.

We have found our Hue (pronounced way)

I have been looking forward to traveling to the ancient capital
Hue to experience the food and sights that are only found in this beautiful city. Of course we first experienced the food, of course :).


First order of business after getting to the hotel was a stop at a nearby v
endor for a Vietnamese treat called che (ja). I have many types of che in the past but this was a new one for me to taste. The contents were great, tapioca coated coconut natal, sweetened red and yellow beans, roasted peanuts, coconut cream and sweetened tapioca flour paste. The best part of the whole drink was the toasted coconut on the top of the drink. The toasted coconut gave the drink a special crunch and added a lot of taste. The coconut gave an added texture not found in most other Che I have tasted and as it was toasted it stayed crunchy to the end. I will have to try making this toasted coconut for our drinks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our first street food

It has been almost three years since I have tasted street vendor food in Vietnam and it has been way too long for me. Street food is always something tourists are told to stay away from when traveling but I have learned that the taste is worth some discomfort. I have had my A & B hep shots and a course of stuff to stop me getting sick so I feel a bit more confident in eating on the street.

The first place we tried was a small street vendor that sold mainly chicken pho; it was recommended to us by the taxi driver after we told him we wanted to eat street food. The place was just a small tarp covered spot next to the main street. The place had a couple pots and a glass display case with the pre-cooked meats. Of course there was no refrigeration for the meat and I knew that the meat would have been cooked hours ago. It was typical of most of the very small places in that it did one or two things such as pho very well but that the menu was just one or two items. The seating and tables were the typical Vietnamese small size (we would use them for children to sit at) that I can not sit at as the seat will break; the owner gave me their one large chair to sit with so I could at least be able to eat.

My wife had the chicken pho which is pictured left .

I had the beef pho which was basically chicken pho with cooked beef added rather than chicken. It
was delicious but not what we would think of as pho as it was not spiced the same way. The beef I had was tender with a bit of a grisly crunch. The soup of course was a chicken broth but with the beef it took on a bit of the beef flavour. I eat every drop of this soup and loved it. A great reintroduction to the great taste of Hanoi street food.

The beef pho is pictured to the right, the picture is a bit blurry as I must have been to eager to taste the soup. Oh well the taste was worth it.

The owner was very happy to have me as a customer and asked my wife why I came to her restaurant. It was explained that I love street food and crave the real flavors that can be found in the small places in Vietnam.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The start of our journey

Small village an hour west of Hanoi

Arrived in Hanoi and made our way out to the village The village was near. Son Tay about 35 kilometers west of Hanoi. The trip was an adventure as it was all back road travel weaving in and out of traffic and taking the chaotic route in stride as our driver was certainly careful as he had a new vehicle.

Had a simple but wonderful meal of beef stir fry and ginger chicken. The really interesting and tasty treat was a noodle I encountered last time I was in the village in 2006. It was a thin rice noodle that had been allowed to slightly ferment. It was stuck together in bundles and served cut into smaller pieces. The taste was a touch sour with a bit of effervescence from the fermentation. It made the noodles seem alive and the plain rice noodle was raised in its taste profile from a bland noodle to a tangy treat that danced on the tongue.

I kept taking pieces of the noodle and just savoring the unique experience that would most probably be against the health board rules back in Vancouver.

Barbequed pork of my dreams

Also had some great barbecued pork roasted over a open fire and so delicious and crispy. I had been think about this pork since I had it two years ago. It is different than the southern style but it has its charm in that it is simple and tasty. It is less sweet than the southern style so I really enjoy it straight off the skewer.

The pork is normally put on skewers with pork fat between the pieces of meat but I asked for it to be made lean. It tastes better with the fat but I look better without all the fat :). The pork is marinated for about 30 minutes then cooked over a small fire.

After it is cooked it is either straight into the mouth or dipped into a little fish sauce.

We don’t need any stinking alarm clock, or how I wanted to stuff a rooster in a speaker!

Night in the village is relatively quiet with an occasional bike puttering by the house

Morning comes early in the village, very early, way too early. Around 3:00 am the roosters think it is time to wake up and they make sure you join them. One starts then it spreads across the village. The house rings with the piercing call of the rooster doing what roosters seem to do the best; wake me up. As they stop and you finally start to begin to enter dream land the church bell starts ringing and as luck goes I am just a couple of properties away from the church. The church has a very good bell that wakes you with the strength of its peals to get ready for church.

Again you wait for the bells to stop as they do but wait they let you start to drift off again just to have a couple of more rings to remind you that you should be going to church and not back to sleep. As I have been a visitor to the village a few times I know to just wait for the next reason not to go back to sleep.

At 5:00 am the local announcements start broadcasting across the village from speakers on poles set up around the village. I ask what the announcement was about and was told it was starting with morning exercises... all the exercise I wanted to do at this time was to take our friendly neighborhood rooster and stuff him in the nearest speaker. I focused on the rooster as he kept speaking up as each new interruption to my sleep occurred.

The speakers blasted out music and local announcements for awhile just long enough for me to think I could fall asleep with the music as background noise. But no, I had forgotten the family geese that decided they needed to greet the day with their honking; as they were just living outside our bedroom window they were loud. I think at the time I gave stuffing the geese in with the rooster serious thought until I remembered I was just too tired. I finally did fall back to sleep as the world outside quieted down and decided to get on with their day.