Still exploring the flavors of Vietnam

Before concentrating again on the food tour, I want to tell you that a few days ago I received a surprise gift from one of my friends from Argentina. It’s not the first time that Eleonora has surprised me, and I think that doing it again will “leave me dry,” a rather old phrase that means giving someone a heart attack 🙂 . I love the Italian exaggerations that course through my veins.

Giving a bit of the back story (and it is not an “ass story,” a concept that I will explain sometime), she and Juan appeared by surprise in Portland for our wedding (only surprising me because everything had been arranged). That day I almost had a heart attack. This time finding this beautiful package delivered to my house, taking into account that we do not know when we are going to see each other again because of the virus situation, it filled me with joy but also moved my cuore. Thanks, Ele!!  And for the moment I prefer not to have any more surprises 😉

How well this body cream would have served me during the visit to the rice factory 🙂

OK, now we get back to the trip. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and as we had made a change of plans, it turned out that we had a few more days to visit it than originally planned.
Because we were feeling brave we hired a food tour by Vespa…. yes I know, the traffic and everything else … but I would have missed something truly authentic if we had not encouraged ourselves to travel the crazy streets on a motorcycle. And today I can say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. We were picked up at the hotel and before going to eat we posed in a few places and started the adventure.

Continuing on our way to food, our first stop was at a place where the specialty was Bahn Cuon, which is like an empanada (turnover) of very fine steamed rice dough, which can be stuffed with vegetables or meat or both. To eat it, in addition to using chopsticks, you dip it in a broth, and it really tasted delicious. It should be noted that we did not choose either the menu or the places, they took us to restaurants known for each specialty, checking with us beforehand if we had any dietary restrictions.

Our second stop was at Bun Cha Huong Lien, a mythical place because it was visited by Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama, and from that moment, the place has become hyper-touristy.  It may not be the best bun cha on the planet but it is impossible to be in Hanoi and not go there.

The historic visit

Here I show you a bit of the tour from one place to another. As I mentioned earlier: an unforgettable experience.

And I dared to make a video while traveling

From there we continued on to try pho cuon, again the main event was rice dough but cut and assembled in a different way. Simply impeccable.

Writing about this makes me hungry
The guys happy to be photographed
I was surprised by paparazzis… but did not care 🙂

From here we went on to a place where we were served fish and snails and although it seems unbelievable, I tried one … full of sauce … luckily I have no picture of this event 🙂
But I do have a picture of the guys who drove the Vespas and guided us on the tour, who did everything wonderfully. They drove the Vespas with great skill, not going very fast and making us feel very safe despite the chaos of the traffic. I tend to think it was an organized chaos.

The end of the night was with my favorite dessert, egg coffee, where I also tried coconut coffee, which is served cold and I didn’t like it that much. We were already full but something sweet always feels good.

On the next day we chose an excursion, a little less risky, that consisted of shopping at a market in Hanoi and then cooking those delicious dishes that we had been trying throughout the trip. It was an unforgettable experience for two reasons.  The first is that the markets are very different: the noises, the products, the disorder, while we were looking at the fruits or waiting for us to be attended by motorcycles with people who were also shopping. And obviously the smells that are special in any market that you visit. I am particularly sensitive to what I smell.

And the other thing we learned is that preparing Vietnamese food takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. It was a lot of fun having a cooking experience with other couples from different parts of the world: Australia, Germany and Indonesia. And the geniuses who were the true cooks who made all the preparations. A real pleasure.

A sample of the experience
I do more posing than cooking…. that’s how I roll  🙂 🙂

Thank you very much for having accompanied me to eat in Hanoi, I hope you liked it and I’ll see you soon. And special thanks to Barnaby who helped me with my English and supports my crazy ideas 🙂

Seguimos saboreando Vietnam

Antes de volver a concentrarme en el paseo de comidas, te cuento que recibí hace unos dias un regalo sorpresa de una de mis amigas de Argentina. Eleonora no es la primera vez que me sorprende y creo que de hacerlo nuevamente me va a “dejar seca” frase bastante antigua que se refiere a matar a alguien del corazón 🙂 Amo la exageración italiana que llevo en mi sangre.

Haciendo un poco de historia (y no es una historia del culo, concepto que alguna vez explicaré) fue cuando ella y Juan aparecieron de sorpresa (solo para mi porque estaba todo arreglado) en Portland para nuestro casamiento. Ese dia casi sufro un bobazo. Esta vez encontrar este bellísimo paquete en mi casa, teniendo en cuenta que no sabemos cuando vamos a volver a vernos por toda la situacion del virus, me llenó de alegría pero también se me movieron las estantarías del cuore. Gracias, Ele!! Y por el momento prefiero no tener más sorpresas 😉

Qué bien me hubiese venido esta cremita en la visita al lugar del arroz….

Bueno, ahora si arrancamos con el viaje. Llegamos una tarde de domingo a Hanoi la capital de Vietnam y como hicimos un cambio de planes, resultó que teníamos unos dias más para visitarla de los originariamente planeados.

Así que porque nos sentimos valientes contratamos un tour de comidas en una Vespa…. si ya se, el tránsito y todo lo demás… pero no me hubiera sentido parte de algo tan autóctono si no nos hubiéramos animado a recorrer las locas calles en moto. Y hoy puedo decir que fue una de las mejores experiencias de mi vida. Nos pasaron a buscar por el hotel y antes de ir a comer hicimos un par de poses y arrancamos con la aventura.

Tampoco esa pose 🙂

Yendo a los lugares de comida, nuestra primera parada fue en un lugar donde la especialidad era el Bahn Cuon, que es como una empanada de masa de arroz bien finita, hecha al vapor y que dentro puede tener verduras o carne o ambas cosas. Para comerla, además de usar los palitos, la sumergías en ese caldo y realmente tenía un sabor delicioso. Cabe aclarar que nosotros no elegimos ni el menú ni los lugares, ellos nos llevaron a los restaurantes donde mejor servían cada especialidad, chequeando previamente si teníamos alguna restricción alimentaria.

Nuestra segunda parada fue en Bun Cha Huong Lien un lugar mítico, porque fue un restaurant visitado por Anthony Bourdain y Barack Obama y a partir de ese evento, el lugar se convirtió en un espacio hiper turístico. Quizás no sea el mejor bun cha del planeta pero es imposible estar en Hanoi y no visitarlo.

Una imagen histórica del lugar

Acá te muestro un poco del paseo de un lugar a otro. Como te comenté anteriormente: una experiencia inolvidable.

Y me animé a hacer un video mientras viajaba

De allí continuamos para probar el pho cuon, nuevamente la protagonista era la masa de arroz pero cortada y armada de una manera diferente. Simplemente impecable.

Escribir sobre esto me da hambre
Los chicos felices de ser fotografiados

Acá íbamos camino hacia un lugar donde nos sirvieron pescados y caracoles y aunque te parezca mentira, probé uno… lleno de salsa… por suerte de ese momento no hay foto 🙂

Pero si con los chicos que nos llevaron y guiaron por el tour que lo hicieron de una manera maravillosa. Manejaban las Vespas con mucha habilidad, no iban muy rápido y nos hicieron sentir muy seguros a pesar del caos del tránsito. Tiendo a pensar que es un caos organizado.

El final de la noche fue con mi postre favorito, el egg coffee, donde también probé el coconut coffee, el cual se sirve frio y no me gustó tanto. Estabamos llenísimos pero siempre algo dulce sienta bien.

Para el día siguiente elegimos una excursión, un poco menos riesgosa que consistió en ir de compras al mercado en Hanoi para luego cocinar esos platos tan ricos que habíamos probado durante todo el viaje. Fue una experiencia inolvidable por dos cosas, los mercados son muy diferentes, los ruidos, los productos, el desorden, mientras estuvimos mirando las frutas o esperando que nos atendieran pasaban las motos con personas que también estaban de compras. Y obviamente los aromas que son particulares en cualquier mercado que uno visite. Yo soy particularmente sensible con lo que huelo.

Y la otra cosa que aprendimos es que preparar las comidas vietnamitas lleva muchísimo tiempo y un gran esfuerzo. Fue muy divertido hacer la experiencia de cocinar con otras parejas de diferentes partes del mundo: Australia, Alemania e Indonesia. Y unos genios los verdaderos cocineros que estuvieron detrás de todas las preparaciones. Un verdadero placer.

Una muestra de la experiencia
Yo más en pose que cocinando…. una linea de conducta la mia 🙂 🙂

Muchas gracias por haberme acompañado a comer por Hanoi, espero que te haya gustado y nos vemos pronto 🙂

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 🙂