Sunday, December 30, 2012

Goodbye 2012 and Last Minute Misadventures

Well ...this year has simply flown by... has been an amazing one and I usually find myself in a very reflective mood when this season comes around.. Managed to squeeze in one more dinner with a lot of people I didn't really know except of course my friend Barbara from www.thedropoutdiaries.com ... was a fab evening eating at a local Vietnamese restaurant... and as usual had loads of fun... eating fab food and meeting wonderful people. Even James Pham from http://flyicarusfly.com was there..


None of the people in the pic above are any of the people I have mentioned... but its the only pic I have of the evening... Note to self... take more pics at the right time... one of them is James Clarke...who was an interesting travel blogger I met... but forgot to ask for the name of his blog... Blast !! another note to self... ask the right questions at the right time



Christmas finally came.. amidst all the excitement... Barbara called me and invited me to a Christmas lunch and my girls and I were most excited about having Turkey with all the trimmings... turns out Barbara was so excited about the Christmas lunch idea she didn't take the time to read all the details.... it was an ad for Christmas... (that part she got right) with a special Christmas SANDWICH!!


Another note to self... be sure to ask the right questions at the right time of Barbara next time she invites me out....But we had a wonderful time nonetheless.. met a very nice American couple who were visiting from Thailand... and since their work is all online... now travel the world and live in different places... when they tire of a place...they simply pack up and move... I was totally in awe...That there are people who are so free in spirit and willing to follow their heart completely is truly amazing...Barbara is like that too... and I am grateful to have met her and connected with her and to call her a friend..


Our Christmas concert happened.... did I mention I joined the choir? and we managed to have two beautiful performance if I do say so myself...


And even managed to make some good friends from the experience... our next performance will be in May and the music director has something quite challenging for us this time... shall let you all know when I do 


After no turkey on Christmas day... I decided to treat my daughters to lunch and we decided to try out this place called Banana Leaf. Now there were mats on the table already but when it came time for the meal they supplied us all with banana leaves... so it stands to good reason that we were meant to eat on them.. I .. trying hard not to look out of place ... or that I didn't know what to do... calmly served myself onto the leaf much to the amusement of my daughters... only to find the waitress strolling in with plates ... she then proceeded to calmly lay plates for my girls and ignored my stuffing of self with food on my banana leaf. Needless to say... I tried to walk out of there with as much dignity and elegance as I humanly could...



And of course.. our traditional annual do that we have... or try to have every year... some of my friends ask me... how come you have a tree? and my answer is... I find it pretty... I like the lights and the colours... so I put one up... simple... and this time at the party... I decided to try out Tania Fatmi's idea of doing a Pavlova as a dessert... and I had just seen Nigella's last episode of Nigellissima... with the Cappaccino Pavlova... that I decided to be brave and try it...


Now it may not look like much here but it turned out FABULOUS and it was wolfed down in moments I assure you... when I was doing the baking... I was so encouraged by the great results that I went ahead and did another pavlova but this time a strawberry one with great results...


Now I have to say that pavlovas are ridiculously easy to make... look totally impressive and taste divine... totally worth the effort...which really isn't that much I have to say... if you are interested I will be happy to post the recipes up ... In the meantime... I wish you all the very best for 2013... may next year bring you better and more wonderful things your way... more discoveries... and friends.. and much joy, love and laughter... ...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in Ho Chi Minh

Well 2012 is drawing to an end... and its been quite an eventful year for us. We moved from Pakistan to Vietnam... started to discover Ho Chi Minh and make new friends. And here we are at Christmas time.. almost a year since we came, and its so nice to see the whole city decorated for Christmas even though Christmas doesn't seem to merit a public holiday in many establishments


The city has emptied out of a lot of our expat friends as people prefer to go home for Christmas...or for people in Pakistan or India... its cooler weather to visit in...I was amused by a friends update on Facebook where she was in a panic... she is a teacher at a school and they were in quite a tizzy...

"Just spent the last 30 minutes helping the kids collect all the atlases and globes from around the school - why? - because we have to remove all reference to the 'South China Sea' and rename it the 'East Sea' otherwise the government will 'shut us down'. Less than 12 hours and counting..."

Yes apparently logic sometimes loses its way in Vietnam too...


I have been so good... going to the gym regularly and starting to see a difference thank God... the other day I noticed a shop right next to the gym which I thought was a place to buy a SIM card for mobile phones and maybe cigarettes.. apparently it doubles up as a hairdressing salon too... have to love the place...

Now I leave you with wishes for a very merry Christmas... and a happy new year... may 2013 be a wonderful year for all of us...I leave you with a funny video which if you are from the subcontinent you may find amusing... if not... maybe just weird... either way...hope you enjoy it :) Talk to you all soon :)







Monday, December 10, 2012

Rediscovering Ho Chi Minh with Friends

Did I mention I had guests? It has been a mad month since I got back to Vietnam... first up.. I arrived back from Pakistan and had some old friends come to visit 3 days later. My daughters also had some major evenings coming up which meant they both needed to make some wardrobe purchases... trying to balance guests needs with the kids... while trying to get over fatigue from jet lag and illness was quite a challenge.. my older one is relatively easy to shop for.. my youngest ... well... is tougher... though at the end of it they both managed to get lovely things ... 


Another major challenge was trying to figure out what to show our guests... Now Vietnam is an amazing place... but it also all depends on the interests of your guests... Sadly my dear friend Barbara Adam from saigonstreeteats.com was not around as the family had gone to Cambodia to vacation, otherwise a food tour is a MUST for all guests visiting. They weren't too interested in the museum... which though is a very depressing visit...but if you enjoy history... is fairly decent. 


But it is depressing... and my guests understandably just wanted happy memories to be built while on holiday. So ... shopping I knew would be a hit... and merrily led them down to Saigon square, Russian market... and of course Taka plaza where they went nuts! 


Also... they were very interested in the embroidery from Vietnam. Not the tacky kind one finds in any souvenir store... Now I knew I had seen a beautiful embroidery place somewhere... but couldn't remember where exactly... This is the kind of embroidery that is so beautiful that if you didn't know better.. you would think it is a painting... luckily my app Foursquare came to the rescue and we were able to locate the embroidery place..




When one first walks in ... one sees the craftswomen at work right in front and of course the finished pieces are hung on the walls... or on screens... incredible work.. last time I had come .. I didn't find anything I liked... but this time there were a few pieces that were absolutely stunning.. my dear husband noticed I had fallen in love with one piece and immediately snapped it up despite my protests while my guests made a few purchases all the while salivating over this one huge landscape that was seriously amazing... Pricey for sure... the one that had all our eyes glued was worth about $15,000 yet despite the price tag... my guests were trying to figure out a way to take it back with them. The workmanship was unbelievable.


Yes the above pic is embroidered ... its not a painting... they are that good!!!! which justifies the price tag I guess... some pieces take a year to finish.. and sometimes they have 4 artists working on them... so if you are planning a trip to Vietnam... do look for the XQ hand embroidery place... not sure how long this craft will survive... but while its still alive... and if you like art.. you may just find a piece here you love 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vacation and back



So I went back home for what I thought was going to be a vacation. I had made a list of all the yummy things I was going to eat in my hometown Karachi..diet be damned.... and the first week or so would be spent with friends and family in the North ...Lahore and Islamabad. That was actually a really nice time... hectic... but great... then I flew to Karachi


So it turns out the "flu" I picked up in Vietnam... remember me moaning about it... and my cough that just wouldn't let up.... ? turned out to be some weird mean funky bacterial infection...which was then underestimated and it blew up in my face .... so two weeks I spent more or less bedridden...running ridiculously high temps.... and then by the time I was somewhat recovered and able to get out and do stuff... twas time to come home!!!!!!!! so in effect...was away for a month...hardly got to meet everyone I wanted to... AND could barely eat anything...which was a blessing in disguise as I shed a few pounds in the process... so I guess all's well that ends well.

Three days after I got in ... we had some old friends visit us from India. Was wonderful to see them again after years...

So of course we set about the task of introducing them to our new home... 


All in all we had a fab time. In the meantime I have started a new blog titled the Rectangle Content which basically reviews shows and will start films too but right now focused on television productions. Plan to start another on design and interiors.... but will keep you posted on that front.... till we meet again... ciao!!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Back to Being Fighting Fit!!!

In case you are wondering where I disappeared to... I have this faint notion that there are people out there who actually do worry... I have been ill... what started out as what I thought was a simple cold... turned out to be a whopper bug of strong Vietnamese proportions, rendering me useless for a good two weeks. Not that I lead a very useful life at this point to begin with but you catch my drift.

What made matters worse is I tried to not be completely useless while sick and since I am on the PTO committee ... and had an important email to send out to all the parents of my concerned grade... I tried to do that in a semi comatose state. Note to self: NEVER SEND OUT MAIL WHILE SICK NO MATTER HOW FINE YOU FEEL AT THE TIME. needless to say.. I made a classic mistake... where it looked like a generic mail going out to the parents and now I look like a complete idiot.. have to have a coffee morning next week where we introduce ourselves to the parents where I shall have to make a public apology... very mortifying


On the one day where I finally felt strong enough to get out of bed and had enough cabin fever to spur me into action... my husband and decided to try a new restaurant that has just opened up in District 1. Le Steak de Saigon... and OMG!!! am so glad we went... their steaks were cooked to perfection and you can choose which sauce you want to have accompany your succulent slice of meat...



The restaurant is warm and cosy and like Le Bouchon.. has a friendly welcome ambience. They are sister restaurants run by the same people so it stands to reason that the same level of quality is to be expected... definitely worth a visit and the food was fantastic!


Finally went back for Choir practice... except that was quite an adventure...for some reason .. in my fevered brain I thought the group was meeting every week at a restaurant round the corner from the University where we practice. Since I had missed a week due to my illness I thought would be a good idea to bond with the group over a meal. I dutifully made my way down to the restaurant at 6:00 pm to join them for dinner. First of all.. the place was a nightmare to find as it was in a quaint little lane off a main road...and when I finally found it.. there was noone from the group there! I did spot a few "white/foreign" faces though and spent some time questioning all random foreign looking customers if they were there as part of the choir. Some of them had a look that hinted at calling in the men in white coats for me and i soon gave up my line of discovery of kindred spirits. 

Have to say though... the rehearsals are coming along nicely .. and even the classical piece has shaped up quite well... looking forward to our December performance. Will be a fund raiser and quite a nice evening I think. Christmas music, some classical music ... we have quite an ensemble and great voices so should be something fab. 

I hope to post tomorrow about a fantastic chicken stock that has medicinal value. It helped me get up on my feet. Wont do it today as my blog has already gone on for far too long. but it feels good to be back in the seat doing my thing again 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Back to Reality

Now that the gorging over the weekend is over and done with... not to mention my continued gorging since I had discovered these great food trails mentioned in my previous 4 postings... today was finally a day of "normalcy" for me... The week seems to fly by... kids are all grown up and incredibly busy so barely get to see them for an hour or so in the evening when we try and catch up with each other for food stuffed down their gullets before they rush off to bed or back to homework...(I hope) while husband comes home tired after the long day and I'm wondering what happened to my family... all the wonderful quality time we all spent together... the laughter...the fun.. everyone seems to have a life except me... WTH???



So it wast truly time for me to set off and make my own discoveries.. I did what any rational thinking woman would do... I signed up as a volunteer for all kinds of activities at my kids school and I am now a class parent... not sure what that means exactly but will be fun finding out... for me atleast anyway...today was coffee morning with all the ladies of the PTO and met some interesting people. It is wonderful how many amazing women I have met who were all doing great things before moving here and left everything to be with their spouses... was nice to have a tete a tete with women willing to share from the heart


Once that was done... next step was greeting my new maid. Yes Mrs Chi finally left and we got Mrs Lee. I am beginning to suspect the agency that sends us the maids is trying to get them trained by us before moving them forward to more lucrative employers... Mrs Chi was probably the owner's mother in law they wanted kept busy whereas poor Mrs Lee and I just could not communicate. It all became very clear when after a week of trying to explain to her that I would like her to cook a meal for us for our lunch... she finally brought me a brochure for a cruise ... she had to go


So ... we finally hired a Filipino maid.. and I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to be able to communicate with the people around you at home... sigh... she understands me ... and what she doesn't know she can ask me and I can teach her... lets see how this one works out... Next step... time to get out and see how much I really learned from the food trails... I returned to the Pho place to see if I could order on my own and get what I wanted.. and YES I was successful... quite a delicious break was had by me...


Felt so liberated to know how to get somewhere... know what to do when I got there.. how to place an order and what to do with the order when i got it!!! yayyyy!! Progress!! Got home at a leisurely pace and thanking God it was Friday... the family will hopefully spend some quality time together and I'm trying to convince my man that we should get away for the long weekend somewhere.. will be nice to get away from the hustle bustle of everyday life and just enjoy each other's company... well ...their hustle bustle.. I just seem to be waiting for them to free themselves... its different when you have worked your whole life with something or the other and then... nothing... but still waiting for inspiration and hoping something comes to light soon as to what shoes I need to wear next... lets see


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seafood Trail...

So... Barbara told me about the Seafood trail that Saigon Street Eats were going to be offering their clients and I decided to go on one to see what all the fuss was about....


And oh my gosh gluttony shall abound ... first of... my advice is come hungry.. as there is so much food you want to have a good appetite for the feast that this amazing couple has in store for you. Secondly...empty your bladder and bowels before you venture out as public toilets are... well... not a place you want to be caught in with your pants down... literally....

Now these guys don't take you to the places that the foreigners frequent...but to the authentic local places of repute... first stop... snail street


so right from the outset ... you can see all the offerings and choose what you want... but there is not only the choice of seafood...there are also ways that you can ask them to prepare them for you... garlic and tamarind...or lemongrass..or coconut butter... ALL delicious options but was wonderful to have Vu basically in control and gettng things sorted...just as well....


as the untrained eye will not be able to make any sense of the menu...and of course to have us be guided as to what to do with all the bowls and things put on our table...



First step when presented with a bowl of salt and a lemon in it... its to make your own sauce...so squeeze the lemon into the bowl and sort of swirl the spices around in the juice to make a dipping sauce for your barbecued prawns or crab or whatever you like really... and yes it is delicious



First food to arrive are the crabs... and they taste incredible.. simply prepared with spices and thankfully already cracked so easy to get to the sweet meat. Now tradition here is you throw the shell down on the floor when you're done... and so when a party gets up from the table.. the more trash they have around the table.. that shows its a restaurant that is successful and sometimes the shell will be left to show other potential customers about the satisfaction of those before them... personally I wouldn't want to walk into a place with previous customers shell mess but it seems to do the trick here


Next addition to our table were these mussels cooked with peanuts and then one adds fish sauce and chilli on top. Since these are an aphrodisiac and the East is all about Ying and Yang.. the salad leaved provided are now put to use... the leaves are supposed to calm you down so you don't go out rushing into the street and start humping poles or whatever... so add a leaf to each clam that you pick up to eat...


After this we get delicious prawns ... that to me were intimidating as I am used to having prawns already shelled and cleaned...but have no fear I shall try to walk you through the process of getting those babies safely into your mouth with minimum trouble


Now don't get grossed out by my directions... it really works and once you get the  hang of it... those delicious prawns will be devoured at alarming speed... so pick up one... and rip the head off ... next you attack those little legs.. and rip away...think of it as therapeutic... or a replacement for what you would like to do to someone at work perhaps...



then the rest of the shell one can peel off and voila... nice plump cooked prawn ready for eating.. and here is where you use the dipping sauce you made


See... as easy as pie....or prawn as the case may be :) Now if you are out and about on the streets of Saigon and you decide to opt for water.. naturally..bottled but you want ice ..but are afraid to order some or use it as you are not sure of the quality... and easy way to see if its safe or not is to make sure there is a hole in the ice...that means it was made in a machine and generally should be safe for consumption..don't you love all these tips that were given out ?



Back to the food... next up were clams cooked in a lemongrass sauce... and OH MY GOD.. totally divine...just pick up a clam and drink the deliciousness from it as if it were a spoon... you can add some sauce to it if you like but WOW.... definitely worth the try.. at this point I just wanted to marry the table and live right there forever...


Now the most curious thing on the menu that evening were the micro snails.. I didn't even know one could eat these...but apparently you can... with a safety pin...


... and yes they were delicious...these were prepared in coconut butter.. and the method is simple..push the pin into the opening of the snail... or the front door... as Barbara fondly calls it and you will find a hard nail like object.. you don't want to eat that.. so remove carefully and what is left behind is the meat that you will love..impale on the pin and try to safely navigate pin to mouth without damaging your lips, or tongue... or anything else....the sauce the snails are cooked in... is from Heaven itself ...and we decided...


... that it was time for some rice cake.. or bread...don't know what its called... its a crisp bread made of rice... and perfect to soak up all those wonderful juices!!

Last curious item on the menu.. a snail that came in a size I did not even know existed...


Now this is a much pricier item on the menu of course... but there was enough meat inside that was thankfully already sliced up for us to go around the entire group... so everyone got to try it... and slightly tougher meat than the tender seafood we were used to...but still good... 

Next it was time for us to walk to the next eating spot.. and we could have gone somewhere for some veggies as we had nothing but meat here.. but we just opted for the Hot pot.. and we chose.. the crab hot pot.. again a pricier item...but so worth it...


And thus I came to the end of my Seafood Trail ... I am so glad I ventured out to try this.. the flavours still are alive in my mind and  I hope to go back some day to try all those wonderful things again ... I hope if ever you are in Ho Chi Minh or Saigon... you will be adventurous too and choose to make Barbara and Vu your companions through this culinary feast... was certainly worth it for me

The Education of Moi (Part 3)

We are finally at the end of my review of the Pho Trail that I took with Saigon Street Eats and there was so much packed into those 3 hours that it had to be broken up into three parts on my blog. Not only was it a food feast but we got to tour around and get priceless nuggets of information. This last part is about our trip to the temple. On our way.... we saw a monk.. and Vu... who apparently is quite a softie... went over to give him some money... apparently even 5000 VND will suffice if you come across one and are feeling charitable


and after going through all the madness and variety and noise of the market ... we finally arrive at the temple... its hot..no getting away from that... but suddenly it is a lot quieter 


And when one enters one is suddenly transported to a wide open (quieter) space of green and lots of trees...


The tree behind the ladies sitting on the bench is the Buddha flower tree...


The Flower on closer inspection is beautiful


 We were pretty hot and bothered after our walk through the market so we sat for a while to enjoy our fresh coconut juices that we picked up along the way and the desserts we had procured... Barbara was having fun with the dessert called Porkskin seeing as I don't eat pork


But there is no pork in this dessert so for those who don't eat pork...this is a safe dessert to eat as its made of rice and sugar basically


Next it was time to finally get inside the temple..now there are three stages... the outer part of the temple is just the general prayer area I guess...still very ornate and beautiful... notice all the Chinese characters on the pillars... there is a reason I am pointing those out to you now which will become apparent a little later...


My understanding is one can put offerings at this altar but then there is the second stage of the temple. To be fair ...this isn't really a temple for Buddha... this is what Vu calls a Lanh.. (hope I spelled this correctly... which is a temple built in honour of someone important or brave and the people believe worshipping at his temple will bring them luck, or wealth or whatever is weighing on their minds... kind of like the subcontinental version of a mazaar I guess...


At the second stage we were met by this strange mythical creature... is it a frog..? with large horns? just couldn't figure it out


Then Vu spoke to the custodian here and apparently these are part of the ribs of a whale that were then used as decoration to this creature... If I am getting this wrong and someone has more info on this... please do share...


The next indication that this is certainly NOT a Buddhist temple is a stuffed tiger in a cage..where one is supposed to donate money for the upkeep of this shrine... from my understanding Buddhists are never supposed to hurt any animal... so don't think a stuffed tiger would have met with approval.. but as I said before this is a Lanh...


And behind the stuffed tiger is a replica of the horse that the General ... for whom this shrine has been constructed... owned and rode on apparently. Notice crazy eyes... Barbara told me she had seen one lady pray at this horse too so I'm assuming it has some kind of importance in the ritual too


The altar inside is very ornate and lit with candles and covered in fruits and incense...


And then one finds the fortune sticks. I really don't know what to call them and Im sure there is a local name for them.. These are sticks that look like popsicle sticks with numbers on them and apparently tell ur future... Superstition runs very high here... but you don't just pull out a stick and hope you get the right number...


You have to light an incense stick using the lit candle... say a word that the custodian told me... (sorry I forgot it) but don't worry if you go with Barbara and Vu they will translate for you and tell you what you need to do...


then you shake the can of the sticks pretty violently up and down till one falls... and the second one has fallen out... you stop shaking... you don't want all the sticks on the floor... the custodian was quite alarmed at my shaking abilities but apparently I managed ok before the Gods of Bad Luck were thumping on my soul


Then you take the stick that fell out to the custodian who then reads it and nods approvingly before handing you two wooden objects that you have to go back and roll out again...


one of my thingymebobs fell upside down and one fell behind me instead of in front... but the reaction I got from the custodian was of smiles... and translated into success for my plans... or success for well picked stick... not sure which ... then comes the fun part


One apparently rushes across to another room which has cupboards with numbers and bits of paper inside and you pull out the coinciding number from your stick... hmmmm... starting to feel like I'm in an episode of AXN's Amazing Race...


Found it!! Thank you Vu... and apparently we can't read it ourselves.. we have to go back to the custodian and get him to interpret the findings... and the whole time I'm thinking... Allah make me rich... Allah make me rich... Allah make me rich... don't think the temple people would have approved at all...


so the wise old man is given our slip of paper and we wait while he tells us of our fate....


Then he gets up and thumbs through a calendar to inform me of my lucky days this month to start a new business that will apparently be met with great success....


Vu was trying to explain all this to me but I kept getting distracted by the beautiful lanterns in the background... "where can I buy one like that" I whispered to Barbara... "only seen them in the temples" she whispers back... crap I think... that would be a really cool thing to have... note to self... keep a look out for these...


And finally we are in the third and innermost section of the temple... sort of santcum sanctorium of this shrine... and I'm still oggling the lantern.. this time the yellow one...


When I turned to my left this is what the window frames looked like through the iron grating.. very beautiful and ornate....

Now... do you remember I asked you to notice the Chinese characters on the pillars outside the temple? Well look closely at these characters hung up inside... apparently when the French got to Vietnam..they introduced the latin characters ...but these words of wisdom though written in Latin characters are done in the Chinese style... We could have gone for lunch after this tour but we were still full from the delicious Pho we had eaten so Barbara drove me home with a detour of the small alleyways in the middle of the city... very exciting....

And that was my real first insight into Vietnam and food and sights and sounds.... got me all excited to discover even more... I hope you feel the excitement too and feel adventurous enough to make some discoveries of your own too.. maybe you have some discoveries to share here? Next I will be writing about the seafood experience on Snail street... !!

To PRINT