Flavors of Southeast Asia

I have been and still am a fan of Anthony Bourdain and his programs, in which he travels the world trying out different foods, some of which had never crossed my mind to try.  His program was really entertaining because, in addition to the food, he talked about the history of each place he visited.  Bourdain was a great admirer of Vietnam and its food, and having been there I agree that some flavors are unique to Vietnam, as well as to Cambodia.  It’s a shame I can’t share my opinion with him on Instagram 😦

When we arrived at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) we first stayed in the Hotel Sofitel for one night.  That next morning we went for breakfast in the hotel, and I can assure you that never in my life have I seen a hotel with so many options for breakfast.  There were sections devoted to different cuisines, such as Asian, in which my favorite was the dim sum.  Also there was a French pastry section, Italian (were they’d make you a pizza to order), and American with bagels, french toast, and omelettes.  Really impressive!  If I had thought at that time to go on a diet, it would have been an impossible mission.

The breakfast at the Sofitel

During the eight days that we were on the cruise, we had a variety of meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The chef tried to keep the menu varied so that it was never monotonous.  One day he made a special meal dedicated to the street food of Cambodia, which as a trip highlight, but of course I did not try it.  Luckily there were many other nice foods to try instead.

Impressive, right¨?

Our last day on the boat we were at port where we needed to get to an ATM, and we were tempted to get a little snack, but looking at the signs we were a little discouraged (look at the photo) 🙂

I invite you to try to pronounce the food names, let alone know what they contain 🙂

Once off the boat, our itinerary took us to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where we needed to find some good eating, and of course we did.
One was the restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak run by the French chef Joannes Riviere who uses mostly products from Cambodian farms.  His menu is therefore ever changing as he prepares his dishes with seasonal produce.  He offers two tasting menus (I think we had one with 12 dishes) with small portions and impressive flavors.  In addition, the place was lovely:  a large house decorated in a minimalist style, with a large terrace and impeccable service.  At the end of the dinner Joannes stopped by our table and asked us what we thought of dinner.

Upon returning to Vietnam we went to Hoi An, a place that really fascinated me.  We arrived in the afternoon, and later went on a walk in the town (I’ll tell you more in another post), looking for a place for dinner, when we happened on Le Fe, a really pretty place that had a pond of koi in the middle of the restaurant, which you could feed if you dared.  Here’s my video of it.

Koi always get my attention;  they are delightful and I love it when I see them in the Japanese Garden in Buenos Aires.

The service in the restaurant was incredible.  Our waitress asked us if we knew how to eat each dish that we were served, and when we answered in the negative, we were given a mini-course on how to eat … of which we really took advantage.

I’ll tell you one thing that I learned.  In the following photo, you’ll see some leaves that seemed to me to be decoration (evidently I didn’t understand anything).  You take one of these leaves, add a little sauce and then one of the little round bites which were made of shrimp, wrap it up and into the mouth … it was incredibly delicious and I learned that no part of the meal was to be wasted.

Crab and chicken, which we ate with chopsticks

The next day we signed up for a food tour, in which we were to visit various places for food so that we could try different dishes.  Me met two very enthusiastic young women at 3:00 PM, figuring we would not eat lunch beforehand because we would be eating too much.  A big mistake!!
We started with a visit to the rice fields which are only 10 minutes outside of the city.  Then we went to a kind of factory where a guy was in charge of cleaning the rice and getting it ready for sale:  I cannot describe odor of shit, yes shit, excrement (whatever you want to call it) in that place.  It almost killed me, and our guide telling us things that were absolutely inconsequential to me because my focus was on not breathing through my nose.  That’s when my bad mood started, which when it starts is very difficult to stop.  Anyway, I bring this up because in every trip there is always a side of great enjoyment and a B side, which I also want to share because that is what my posts are about: what I liked very much and what I would rather forget, but that today makes me laugh because, ultimately, it was not so serious.

So that you can see I’m not exaggerating 🙂  What an “ass-face”!!!

As you may have noticed, this tour started poorly and the worst thing is that it continued to go downhill.  Our first food stop was a little cart in the street, with low chairs for seating, the specialty of which was a soup so dark that it looked like tar … I didn’t even try it.  My “asshole face” (this is the direct translation of the Argentine expression “cara de orto”, which is a ruder version of the more common Spanish expression “cara de culo”, or “butt face”, meaning a very displeased face) was even more evident because the soup worsened my mood even more… Now I look back and laugh, although at the time it was not in the least funny. 

The soup is called black sesame;  I love sesame but in this color, no :-).  The unusual thing is that people stopped by on their scooters, buying a little soup in a plastic bag to heat and eat at home.

Continuing with the tour things began to improve and there was a change of attitude on my part … well, I started to smell good things and my hunger passed, that easily 🙂
I am a bread fanatic and in Vietnam, due to the influence of the French, they make baguettes which, just in thinking about them right now, makes me drool like Pavlov’s dog, and no bell is ringing…

The place chosen by our guides was Madam Khahn Bahn My Queen.  It was a little stand on the street with a separate room to sit and enjoy your baguette.  Impressive!!  You can add pork, chicken or vegetables.  That warm bread and its ingredients evidently cooked slowly over open flame makes the bahn mi an unforgettable dish.

Our tour then stopped at a place where we ate bahn cuon, which is like a roll of a very thin rice pancake filled with different vegetables and pork or chicken, if you don’t want to be only a vegetarian.  Very delicious.

The end of the tour was in a really pretty place to have an egg coffee, which is coffee, sweetened condensed milk, and egg … although this seems a strange combination, it’s a delight. 

Thanks once again for coming with me on this adventure. And thanks to Barnaby for helping me with my travels (travails?) in English :).

In my next post I will tell you about my experiences with the food of Hanoi, this time without a B side 🙂

Publicado por Laura Tullio

Soy una persona en constante movimiento, me encanta aprender cosas nuevas, viajar, la buena mesa, caminar por la naturaleza y detenerme a mirar todo lo que pasa alrededor.

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