Foodie Friday – We So Miss Vietnam

Vietnam is a food lovers paradise.  There’s no need for fancy restaurants, although there are plenty of them. Sidewalks are packed with people eating at small tables on chairs suitable for 4 year olds, slurping down noodley concoctions that you may or may not like. Beef broth and vermicelli noodles, yes!  Pork heart and blood broth with noodles, no thank you. The system of picking the fullest place may not work here since people have many interesting palates. Thanks to Shane and Arielle we had some recommendations already, but exploring new foods is our favorite hobby so we were thrilled to venture out for more.

Balewell

Hoi An gave us an introduction to one meal restaurants.  Balewell has been open for 22 years and has served the same exact 4 item menu, that is printed on their napkins, each and every day.  You actually don’t order, you sit and are served each item. We had a lesson in proper eating techniques by the sister of the owner who treated Amando like her son, even feeding him.  Rice paper, herbs/lettuce/cucumber, chicken or pork off the stick, shredded carrot and radish, finish with spicy peanut sauce.  Repeat all of that but add an omelet made with bean sprouts and you’ve now got what sort of resembles a taco. But wait, there’s more!

The Most Secret Place On Earth

Hanoi Cinematheque during July and August featured “Vietnam on Film” every night.  We decided to stop over one evening and see a film they were showing on Laos, “The Most Secret Place On Earth”.  Here is the short bio on the film:

“The Vietnam War was the most intensely mediated war ever.  However, next door in neighboring Laos, the longest and largest air war in human history was underway, which eventually made Laos the most bombed country on earth.  This “secret war” was the largest operation ever conducted by the CIA, yet to this day, hardly anyone knows anything about it.  Candid interviews with past and present players combined with previously unseen footage from the war as well as the current struggle in Laos tell a story that hasn’t been documented in history books. As we journey into Long Cheng for the first time since the end of the war in 1975, the film tells the gripping story of the operation.  The film features interviews with State Department, CIA and Air America officials, as well as Hmong general Van Pao and some of his critics – Fred Branfman and Professor Alfred McCoy.”

For anyone at all interested in Southeast Asian history, has been to Laos, or curious as to why at one point Laos had the most remote, yet busiest airport on the planet, I recommend the film (made in 2008).  However I’ll need to follow up with more reading when I get home because it left me with a lot more questions than answers. 

Hue

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Our third stop in a city that starts with an “H” was Hue, located in central Vietnam.  A motorcycle ride took us into the countryside to visit the tombs of emperors, see more rice paddies, and ride back along the perfume river.  A bit more of a mellow pace than Ho Chi Minh and a few less tourists than Hoi An made this a city I wanted to stay in. Continue reading

Born in the USA

“Where you from?”

“Guess”

“Singapore?”

“Nope.”

“Malaysia? Netherlands? Indonesia? Cambodia? Laos people? Myanmar? Iran? Syria? India? Thai people?”

“USA.”

“Oooh, America yes, many different color people. But you’re not a real American. You look different from her.  She is a real American.”

I’ve had these conversations too many times, but yesterday, a local actually said, “American, but you look Mexican.” I was stunned, floored actually. For the past five months I’ve heard things like, “You look like my people (pick a country), but bigger [insert wide hand gestures].” Or, “You look like fat Indonesian.” Thank you. The color of my skin throws off a lot of local people, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve also heard, “Oh American, you very lucky.” Indeed I am. As Warren Buffet puts it, I’m a winner of the “genetic lottery,” because I was born in the USA.

If America friended Vietnam on Facebook, I’m sure the relationship would be listed as, “it’s complicated, but the food is freaking amazing!” I thought after Malaysia and Thailand, everything else wouldn’t be able to compete, but after a little over a week traveling up from Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, Hue, and now Hanoi I can say without a doubt, Vietnam is foodie paradise. The small fires in the street, the incessant honking, crazy heat, tough women, eratic driving, trash, and overall madness all fall deep into the background the moment a bite of food goes into our mouths.

Going out to watch a movie about the war in Laos, pics coming later. Peace

Foodie Friday – Vietnam, Where Soup Flows Like Wine

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Everywhere you look people are eating soup…pho of course being the popular choice.  But all kinds of soup, noodles, pasta, chicken feet, beef, pork rinds, vegetables, you name it, and no matter the weather, soup is being mowed down.  So today we took a field trip to the “lunch lady”.  We found her on a gastronomy blog and Anthony Bourdain has also paid her a visit.  It took us to a different part of the city off our little map, across a very busy street, and down an alley to the base of an apartment complex.  She makes a different soup every day and today we were served the following (thank you gastronomy blog): “Thanh’s bun bo Hue on Fridays is a huge draw. The broth has a deep lemongrass flavour and just a hint of spiciness, and there’s always a generous amount of tender meat. Thanh avoids gristly meat by adding a whole pineapple to the broth, which tenderizes the meat and imparts a bit of sweetness to the broth.”