It’s Sunday evening…I’m sitting on my patio in Hanoi listening to Valdy singing Peter and Lou. “..winter’s frozen lake” seems more than a world away.
Besides moving into my apartment and trying to find finishing touches… throw cushions, a cutting board, a wine opener …this week was all about food. In my office I work with about 14 people. They are all under 30 and they are wonderful! They are very good to me and seem to be very good to each other. We all go to lunch together every day and one girl pays…she collects 40,000VND (~$2.00) per day from everyone…I’ve been eating very authentic food. Only four or five of my office mates speak any English, so lunch conversations are usually in Vietnamese. They are teaching me the name of each food in Vietnamese. There’s a test tomorrow, so I’m going to cheat and practice with Google translate tonight.
On Monday, we had a going away lunch for three professors from the Philippines. Twenty of us, including all my workmates from VACC, the President of Tra Vihn University, the Vice-President of the VACC, and the professors from the Philippines went to a very upscale restaurant and enjoyed two hours of Vietnam! Canada! Philippines! Yo! cheers. Yes, the cheers were indeed accompanied by shots of vodka but this entry is about the food. ..And the food was amazing. It included salted turtle shells (not my cup of tea), skewered prawns (don’t know what they call them here but I recognized them and enjoyed them); grilled tofu (don’t knock ‘til you try it), grilled pork; grilled chicken, and a dish I thought was liver. I’ve eaten this particular dish at dinner in the old quarter….I thought it was a very tender liver…turns out it’s boiled pig’s blood. I’ve included a photo here, so you can see where I may have gone wrong. Anyway, with such a bounty on Monday, I opted to skip the boiled blood.
I cannot believe how good Vietnamese food tastes! My first “OMG” moment was Bun Cha…Bun (noodle) Cha (pork). I’ve been hunting down awesome Bun Cha for weeks now and I got it down pat…only “street-food” restaurants (those on the sidewalk with the short seats at short tables with no menus and no English) serve Bun Cha with the grilled pork in a bowl of hot broth with noodles on the side. The Vietnamese don’t just use herbs for cooking; herbs are a main ingredient. So, cilantro or basil will always be full leaves in a broth and other herbs are just in shared bowls to be added to your meal or broth.
Then there is the coffee…Why have I not, in 50+ years, thought that yogurt with thick, sweet coffee would be a good idea? Add ice cubes and it’s amazing! (I will use amazing often to describe the tastes of Vietnam and I make no apologies.)
Yesterday, all settled into my new digs, Ashley, who lives in the building, took me to the market. Yep, this is a typical Asian market, where everything you could possible think to cook is available. And yep, I didn’t think to take my camera (Pictures later I promise). I bought lettuce, tomatoes, passion fruit (which the lady let me try first), green beans, red onion, and mint. That all of this cost me less than $4.00 is not the best thing…When I used the red onion I couldn’t believe that it had three times the flavor of any red onion I tasted in Canada…Holy Crap! Red onion is a staple of mine….I’ve been eating second-rate veggies all these years?
On the way home from the market Ashley and I stopped for a Saturday brunch at a bookstore/café in the neighborhood. I ordered porridge with stewed apples, cinnamon, and maple syrup. Nothing has ever tasted better! For the next nine months I will enjoy Vietnamese food…but for cheats…apples…maple syrup…I love my new neighborhood!