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... !!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Education of Moi (Part 2)

So where was I? oh yes ... continuing on with my Pho trail with Barbara and Vu



.. now not only is this an exploration of food but also the markets along the way... and what good is a market in the Far East if you can't find your local Chinese Pharmacy with all kinds of jars and drawers filled with mysterious things that promise to be the cure to any thing you may be afflicted by. I know many who swear by these medicines even where modern medicine may have given up  hope


Almost right next door we found a silk shop with the traditional Vietnamese dress being worn by a mannequin in the window. It is very similar to the dress worn in Pakistan and India... except that the slits on the side go all the way up on the waist... the little bit of skin that shows there as a result is also nicknamed the "triangle of Paradise" :) Sadly .. my triangle doesn't resemble anything like Paradise I assure you


We keep on walking and came across some very dodgy looking jars with strange things in them.. apparently pickled tofu.... supposedly delicious... if you like Blue cheese... I love blue cheese and I hope to work up the courage to try one of these concoctions one of these days...but today was not the day for bravery


We started to head towards a temple.. which was on our list of places to stop in on, when we saw some betel nuts and what I know as Paan leaves. Now if you are from the subcontinent or travelled there you may be familiar with this. An after dinner digestive that consists of paan leaves wrapped around delicious sweet syrupy.. 'stuff' or you could have one that isn't sweet. (Sweet one is delicious btw) BUT these were NOTHING like that


So you see the purple thing in the background? That is a vile tasting limestone thingymebob that they spread on the leaves and hand over to you to chew on... along with a betel nut.



.. again.. I was chicken but I was curious so Barbara was a good sport and tried one for us... and these are the results we got... a picture is worth a thousand words for sure


yep don't think I will be opting for that taste adventure for sure...now since we were getting closer to the temple... the market now was starting to change in nature... one now came across stuff one would buy to place as offerings at the altars


beautiful flowers... these were things of course i would expect... then we came across strange objects and Barbara explained the customs...


Now what you see here is what they call "Hell money" which basically means you can buy photocopies of nice big dollar bills ... or...


Paper replicas of gold bars .....


some nice clean shirts with a camera and even....


that's right... a house ... and then armed with these treasures one would head to the temple and burn these offerings there with an understanding that all these items would then be sent over to one's loved ones in the other world for them to use and enjoy


Before we got there we did continue through the market and found all kinds of wonderful things like different kinds of rice all piled up for you to choose from.. Jasmine, broken, black, blood, Thai ... every kind of rice you can think of except of course... my favourite... (Murphy moved to Vietnam with me) Basmati rice


If you remember I mentioned in my last update how you couldn't get out on a food trail without coming across pork. It seems to be the meat of choice in Vietnam... well they love it so much... they even named a dessert "pork skin" ... I assure you...no pork in it... just rice and sugar... but just goes to show how much pork is loved


Vu however opted for a purple looking thingy... which apparently would taste the same or very similar but its just a matter of which colour one prefers


My idols Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver would have a field day with the piles of different foods waiting to be picked and used in food.... shrimp to sweeten one's soup... dried eel... squid... anything you want under the sun...its all here


and for the more adventurous... if you feel like trying frog...  you can get 'em fresh and then chopped up as you like....ech

I assure you ...they were all alive and kicking up a storm but couldn't escape as they were tied together neatly with orange ribbon...

What i found interesting is this fruit that I still need to try called Soursop... apparently wonderful in milkshakes... and has very strong cancer fighting properties... of course not really pushed by modern doctors as a possible deterrent or as an aid in treatment



The last part in this series will be about my temple experience which I don't think I would have had if I had just visited the temple on my own... from fortune telling from a number in a cupboard to meeting all kinds of icons of animals... that's all in the last part of my series on the PHO Trail with Saigon Street Eats... so if you are in Saigon or travelling here... you must make this a part of your itinerary for sure... tomorrow I shall finish this series and hopefully move on to something else. Oh and on the personal front... finally got back to the gym today... lost power 10 minutes into my workout.. so had to stop short... I think the Temple gods took pity on me and rewarded me with one more day of sloth for my good behaviour :) 

To PRINT