You really didn't think, what I think you thought, right? That paints a pretty scary picture in my mind's eye......
Right after my post on Tri-Village, I received an email from "Dave" who asked me about.... well, basically skin, and where I've had the best dishes. The wording was quite interesting, and really cracked me up. So I thought I'd do this post as a companion to the mmm-yoso raw! post. Just for some fun...... After all, there are few things better than fried animal skin. What's interesting is that some of our favorite skin dishes aren't from anywhere here in the US. Even this one, from a future post.....
Wouldn't make the list.....
And in spite of what most folks think; this stuff:
Fried Chicken Skin from Pollo Pinulito in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala:
Man, you gotta hand to the country that is home to Pollo Campero; they sure know how to fry chicken. And this little shop in the village of Santiago, on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala made some very good fried chicken skin.
I could smell the seasonings from outside the place. When we entered, that chicken skin, just out of the fryer was calling to me.
I actually carried that bag of chicken skin by boat from Santiago to San Pedro, and then on the next boat to Lomas de Tzununa, then up 400 steps from the muelle to our room. Was it worth it?
I'm not quite sure about meeting the snakes though. I think I'll pass on that next time, though that snake ruou was fantastic!
Cuy skin from dinner in Cusco:
I've probably mentioned our Cuy dinner in Cusco maybe a thousand times. But it is without a doubt, one of the most memorable meals we've ever had. And that skin on the Cuy, simply seasoned with olive oil, huacatay, and salt, was better than any lechon I've ever had.
And while we felt a bit uncomfortable meeting our dinner's siblings. It really didn't stop use from nibbling on those delicious crunchy toes and feet of the Cuy.
I know, I know.... I've shown waaaay too much skin today! But I hope you enjoyed the post. I hope I answered your question Dave!
Maybe I should've made a few resolutions for the New Year. First on that list would be "completing things I started sooner....." I realize that I did part 1 of this post on December 30th. I could, of course make it sound even farther "upstream" by writing something like "last year".... Of course, I still haven't finished my posts on Guatemala, or even Thailand, I hope to get those done before we leave on our next big trip. So without further ado..... these are in no particular order, but it's the meals that the Missus and I talk about most often.
I've always been fascinated by markets of all shapes, sizes, and types. You learn so much about the people who live in these destinations, by checking out the market..... The Sunday Market at Bac Ha is well known as a gathering of the various Hill tribes. The Can Cau Market is less well known, but we found that we enjoyed it more.... it was less touristy, and it seems a bit more laid-back, not that the term "laid back" in anyway describes anything in Vietnam.
Here in the hill country of Vietnam, the colors worn by the people are vibrant and colorful; the Flower H'mong, Red Zao, Giay, the Blue H'mong.
We had made it clear early on that we don't do tourist food, and ended up eating where everyone else was; sitting on low benches a few inches above the hard-packed dirt.
The fare was simple, boiled pork, noodle soup, pickled greens, and the star of the show, Ruou Ngo, the local "moonshine" poured into used plastic water bottles from "Jerry cans".... the equivalent of 50 cents got your 16 ounce water bottle filled to the brim with Ruou.
And then the inevitable happened, we became the current novelty.... Our guide approached with cups of Ruou telling us that two of the gentleman sitting across the way "want to have a drink with you, because tourists never eat with them. They are very happy and proud that you would eat the same food." This of course, was only the beginning, of a scene we've encountered almost everywhere we've been in SEA, "they don't believe you're American. They say that you cannot be American, you don't look like Americans. Americans rarely come here, and those that do are afraid of the food, and won't drink with them. They take their pictures and leave right away."
Just as we are curious about the lives of people who seem so exotic and different, they are just as fascinated with us. You'd lose so much by keeping things at safe distance sometimes.....
What sticks with me was a toast the proprietor of the pork stall made before we left. Finding out that the Missus is Chinese, he made the following toast: "to Vietnamese and Chinese, we are brothers and neighbors, and brothers sometimes fight, but in the end we are still brothers". In the end, we are all brothers, under the same moon and sun......
Peru was a delicious and fascinating trip, and words cannot describe Machu Picchu.
Without a doubt, one of the highlites of our time in Cusco was dinner with the family of a friend of ours. We were told that they'd be making us a meal of Cuy, something that got me rather excited. That excitement was dampened when I had a terrible meal of Cuy the night before. Man was it bad, but there was a reason for that I was to find out later.
This family opened their home and hearts to us. And the Cuy was wonderful!
Crisp skin like roast pork, Cuy is all dark meat, and does taste like dark meat pork. I nibbled on the legs, the little bit of meat by the back spine is fabulous. And of course we had a drink after dinner to "kill the Cuy" as they say.
So why did that Cuy we had the previous night taste so bad? It was because they were fed a diet of meal that included fish and other ingredients to make them grow large quickly. The traditional food for Cuy is Alfalfa.
We spent a wonderful evening talking about all sorts of subjects..... humor is universal! When it comes down to it, we are more alike then we are different.....
I usually don't do posts on fine dining and the like in San Diego. Like I've written many times, there are many other great food blogs and sources for that kind of info. Our meals during our travels are a different story.....
At the time of our visit in 2007 Astrid y Gaston, Gaston Acurio's flagship restaurant was on Pellegrino's top 100 restaurants in the world list. The concept of Novoandina Cuisine was very interesting to us. The unique cuisine of Peru had us entranced, and Astrid y Gaston really delivered.
Of course the Missus got Cuy, yet again.
Appetizer, drinks, and mains for two, for the equivalent of $80/US! Plus, a glimpse of the future of Peruvian cuisine.......
- Dinner at Tamarind: Luang Prabang
After attending the Tamarind Cooking School, we made reservations for dinner at Tamarind. And what a dinner it was, I had to do two posts to cover the meal. The meal we made reservations for was called the "Adventurous Lao Gourmet", and after checking out the local Wet Market, I could only imagine what we'd be having.....
And for the equivalent of $12 per person, this degustation style meal surely delivered.
From various "Jeow" (dips).....
to "Fish Poo".....
And steamed pigs brains.....
And of course, the various insects..... some of which I enjoyed more than others.
Even beyond the "look at what I'm eating" attention seeking thingy, I learned so much during this meal. Joy, one of the owners presents each course, and explains a bit about each dish.
Remember the quote from Brillat-Savarin: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." Well this meal displayed to me resourcefulness, "Thao" a wonderful Jeow made from Spyrogyra, what some call "pond scum", salt-pickling, fish curd, and yes, even "Fish Poo" where the intestinal matter of the fish is used for preservation displays one of the most basic means of preserving food without modern refrigeration. The steamed pig brains is a cherished item, as Joy told us it "what you'll make for your children if you love them."
All of which was eaten with that Lao staple, sticky rice.
There's a peaceful, gentle, friendly tolerance we encountered everywhere in Laos.
Vientiane was quite a contrast from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and even Nong Khai. Sometimes you happen upon just the right meal at the perfect time. And this was it. There are a huge number of stands along the Mekong river. For some reason, we decided to stick with the one we first passed early on. It was wasn't a huge set-up like the other stands, but the folks running the stand seemed so warm and friendly.
Sitting on a makeshift bamboo platform, I could feel all the tension and worries lazily drift down the Mekong. Of course, the Beerlao didn't hurt!
Some of the food, like the stir fried Morning Glory was good.
Other items like the whole fish, was just okay......
What really sent this meal to the "memorable list" was the act of thoughtfulness by the folks who ran this stand. You'll have to read the post to get that story. Let me just say, that along with being the best Nem Khao I've ever had......
It was a great introduction to the thoughtfulness of the folks in Laos.
And hey, that sunset wasn't too bad either!
So there you go...... Five memorable meals. There are a few more that I could probably add.
But it's those five that we talk about the most.....
You know, there's a song I've been listening to quite a bit lately. To me, it's got a great hook..... but I also realized that there's a line of the song that always makes me smile:
Yes, in Hanoi they spell it "Banh My", not Banh Mi. And most of the stands we came across only have 2 basic types; Banh My Pate(where you choose your meat), and Banh My Trung(egg). I had thought about not doing this post since I never managed to take a good photo of the Banh My in Hanoi, even though we had a few of them. The best we had was from this little stand next to Pho Cuong on Hang Muoi Street.
The drill, at least for us was pretty easy....you order a Banh My Pate, a Baguette is put into the little toaster tucked into the side of the stand, and the lady pointed at different meats.
You nodded yes, or no to what you wanted. In this case the Cha Lua(lean pork sausage), and the Fatty Red Pork Sausage next to it. The Woman cuts a chunk of pate from the block, places it into a little pan, and heats it up to melt the pate.
We usually decline the butter. The Woman smears a good amount of pate on the warmed roll, adds the chopped meats, tops everything off with cilantro, wraps the sandwich in newspaper, bags the deal, and you're good to go. For 8,000 VND(50 cents US).
So what's the difference between this, and what we get here in San Diego. Well first, I found the pate to be a bit creamier, and milder in flavor. It is quite good.
The second thing is the bread:
The baguette is very light and airy. In fact, if you bit an end off, you could almost deflate the whole deal. It does have a bit of chew, and a nice light, yeasty flavor. The crust is thin and super flakey; the Missus said it explodes like a croissant. The crust is not hard and crusty...in other words, you won't tear the dermis off the roof of your mouth.
I've spoken to a few people who have been to Vietnam about the baguettes; and some of them are surprised I enjoyed the bread so much. They consider it cheap bread, without substance. I think of it as heavenly, both light and flakey. In fact, the Missus and I miss this type of baguette. Everything we've had since we returned has seemed too hard, not flakey enough, and much too doughy.
Here's an okay Banh Mi Trung.
We had this at the Airport in Hanoi. Pretty greasy, too much butter, and the egg was oily. The baguette was the same though.
As far as I'm concerned, this could be the "breakfast of Champions" for me:
You recognize this right away:
Classic, Chinese-style steamed bun. This one was bought on the corner of Duong Thanh and Bat Dan. It looked so good, so we stopped and asked the Woman how much it was. Unable to understand us, a young man eating on one of the stools told us 5,000 VND. Which was no problem. Except to this woman, who understood "5,000", and proceeded to give the guy a piece of her mind. She than made the sign of "four"......we still gave her 5,000 VND, but being the honest vendor she was; she gave us change! You gotta love her honesty.
The filling in these is an interesting mixture of pork, bean thread, and cloud ear fungus. And it is all topped off with a quail egg.
It can be a bit on the greasy side. But, along with the Banh My, was really great for the train ride to Sapa.
It will sit in your stomach for a looooong time.
I was amazed to see a vendor carrying these around in her baskets.
We called these Mountain Apples while growing up in Hawaii, but I now know they are more commonly called Malay Apples. I don't recall seeing them since I left the Islands. The Missus, never having tasted them, bought a few. And they were just as I remember, a bit tart, with crisp meat, and sometimes a mild bitter finish.
Along with calling Iced Coffee with condensed milk Cafe Nau Da, instead of Cafe Sua Da, there's an interesting pronounciation for "R's". Ruou, is pronounced Zeee-ot, and Rieu Ze-ew. It didn't make much difference for us, because we butchered things pretty bad anyway. But it was made apparent when we inquired about things, and ended up spelling them. And we'd get; "oooh, Bun Ze-ew!"
So just a few items I had waiting for the moment to post. I hope everyone is keeping cool this hot weekend!
Leaving Hanoi without trying some Bun Cha would have been criminal, we just could not do it. The mere thought of Bun Cha is enough to send me into full blown salivation mode. We decided to go with the highly recommended(by at least a half dozen people) Bun Cha Dac Kim(aka #1 Hang Manh). By watching the constant stream of motorbikes parking and leaving, and the foot traffic, you knew that this was the "right" place.
An SRO(Standing room only) crowd of customers, wedged elbow to elbow, on 4 floors no less, speak to the popularity of the place.
All this activity going on in one small space. Check out the cooking/prep area. Somehow, when I read about restaurant designers discussing "Open Kitchens" I don't think they have this in mind. Check out the heavy duty wristband on the gal manning the "fry station".
You'd better bring your "A" game, when ravenous customers are practically looking over your shoulder!
As good as this Young Lady was, she had nothin' on the gal assembling the Bun Cha.
Twisting, turning, moving, at a high rate of speed within tight quarters, she had more moves than Richard Simmon's stunt double!
After waiting for a short while, we were guided up the narrow stairwell that reminded me of the time I toured a submarine, and ended up on the third floor. They managed to squeeze us in at the end of one of the tables, and I sat; "half cheek" style. We placed our orders, well, this place serves Bun Cha and Nem Cua Bể(Fried Crab and Pork Spring Rolls) so there's not much "ordering" to be done. There was one Woman who ran the floor, with 3 "runners".
And blam-blam-blam, everything arrived in a flash. Fresh herbs and lettuce.
What seemed to be the standard Bun(Rice vermicelli) in Hanoi, mushy and sticky.
A mild fish sauce with pickled papaya.
And the star of our show, the meat! All to complete the ubiquitous Bun Cha, classic street food gone good....
As the grilled ground pork meatballs and thin slices of grilled marinated pork covered in broth arrived, it hit me. Here I was, having what I consider to be one of the 2 or 3 "classic" Northern Vietnamese dishes, what I've often times ordered as "Bun Cha Hanoi" on various menus....in Hanoi! Reality was a bit different. The meat was a total polar opposite of what I'd thought it would be. Going against character, the meatballs were very, very soft, like Mom's best meatloaf, . The slices of pork were much more tender than anticipated as well. The broth and Nuoc Mam Cham(fish sauce based dipping sauce) were very mild, almost borderline bland.
The Nem Cua Bể were nothing like any Cha Gio I've ever had.
The very thin rice paper was light and crisp, and without any hint of oiliness. The filling was light, like an airy crab mousse. The Missus dumped all Her meat into my bowl, and went to work on the Nem Cua Bể......
While eating we noticed something that we saw repeatedly in Vietnam and Cambodia; greens and vegetables were eschewed. More than half the people left all the fresh herbs and lettuce untouched. This was explained to us later; "we are a poor country, most times our standard meal is vegetables and rice. When we go out, we want meat." Duh(smack to my forehead)....I shoulda been able to figure that out myself.
Total for the meal 80,000 VND(approx $5 US). This was the most stuffed I felt in Hanoi.
Off to Sapa we go.....
After a full day visiting the Museum of Ethnology and Hoa Lo Prison(aka "The Hanoi Hilton"), we had to head off to catch our train to Sapa. Banh My in hand(that's a whole 'nother post) we were dropped off at the train station. As we walked toward the station, the Missus heard me humming:
"What are you humming?" "He's leaving, on the midnight train to Sapaaaaaa..." "Ugh" "How about.... When my Baby, When my Baby smiles at me I go to Sapa..." "Just stop it, Okay!"
And this is where our next "adventure" began. We entered the train station, and could find no indication of trains headed to Sapa.
I had remembered reading that there was a separate station for destinations North of Hanoi, so I went outside to look around.
And to the right of the main building stood the "Hall of Passengers Before Entering Into Railway Station for Northern Lines"(what a mouthful). So we walked into the waiting area. We had been told that we needed to "exchange" our tickets for "real" tickets, but couldn't figure out where. Finally, we saw a group of tourists enter, and their Guide (Danny from Saigon) explained the process to us. Before the train leaves, the Ticket Agent will man the "counter" and exchange our tickets for boarding passes, and he told us he'd give us the "high sign" when the time was right. Just as always, after some confusion, everything worked out. (Thanks Danny...) About a half hour before boarding time, we got the sign....but no one was at the counter! Danny pointed at the stairs:
And there She was, motorbike helmet and all, our Ticket Agent, sitting on the stairs handing out boarding passes. Now here's where Beach had really helped us out again; even though reservations were tight, he had arranged for us to have an entire 4 berth cabin (all the 2 berth cabins were sold out) to ourselves. Thank God! It seems that all Vietnamese Males like to chain smoke, drink, and talk really loud. And for some reason, our cabin kind of reminded me of something I saw earlier in the day.
Happily, our cabin did lock from the inside, and I wouldn't have to be worried about getting "shivved" in the night, nor anyone getting "too familiar" with me..... In fact, water was provided, and the bedding smelled like bleach, which in this case, we were happy about. Just be glad none of the photos of the "WC"(No, not that "WC") came out......
Due to the noise factor we didn't get much sleep, so we were ready to go when we arrived and people were being roused at The Gulag Lao Cai at 5am.
As we had experienced before, the arrival was controlled chaos. It was pitch dark at the Lao Cai train station, and we were herded onto mini-vans for the hour-and-a-half drive to Sapa.(30,000 VND, just under $2/ US)
We had not made plans for Sapa, other than what Beach had done for us. And we could see nothing in the darkness as we drove. We would just be dropped off at a destination of our choosing in Sapa. Would things work-out for us?
Would it be worth the effort?
Well, here's the view from our $15/night (versus the $10/night - no view) room in Sapa:
Our time in Hanoi was running out, with all of the activities, and sight seeing, it seemed that our last day in Hanoi just snuck up on us. And still no Bun Rieu. It's not like we hadn't tried, it seemed that we were always too late, or too early, as in the case of the food stalls at Dong Xuan Market and Bun Rieu Nam Bo. We even attempted to find the stall at 23 Bat Dan recommended by on of our guides, and the staff at Hanoi Elegance, but to no avail. After walking around aimlessly, we settled for Bun Rieu Cua from the stall down an alleyway, right off of Hang Bac, just a block and a half from our hotel.
This alleyway was usually fairly crowded, but at this time of the morning, it was nice to actually see some pavement.
And it did look rather delicious.....
This lady was really nice....we managed to order using, the point method, and either the "no" nod, or the "thumbs up". After trying to keep up with the process which was completed in a flash, with minimum wasted motion, you could tell she was a pro.
From the rinsing of the bowl, to the heating of the noodles, it was difficult to follow.
But the result was one mighty fine looking bowl of Bun Rieu.
On the positive side; this was one super hot bowl of soup. We've had many a bowl of lukewarm Bun Rieu. Also, the crab cake had a nice pungent-briny flavor, and nothing we've had approaches the flavor. We found the broth to be very mild, and lacking any real tangy-sour-salty-savory flavor, even the addition of garlic and fried shallots really didn't help much, and the bun was way too soft. The mix of greens provided was very fresh, and the chili paste was potent.
Being unable to hit any of the recommended Bun Rieu stalls was probably our biggest regret of our stay in Hanoi, but perhaps on one of our future trips. Still who's going to really complain about a 15,000 VND(just under $1 US) bowl of Bun Rieu.
The Missus was intent on visiting the Museum of Ethnology, but it was still much too early. We decided to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake. As documented in Wandering Chopstick's post, it seems like all of Hanoi turns the area around the lake into a giant gym in the morning. In the aprk across the street from the lake, there's gigantic exercise class going on.
As Peaches and Herb would say: "Shake your groove thing, shake your groove thing, yeah, yeah Show 'em how we do it now"
Well, maybe not, but they sure had the moves down.
There are several sections that have Badminton going on. From just friendly games (here's the Missus getting smoked by Grandma).
To some really, very competitive games. We stayed to watch the game for a while, and boy, Mom sure had a nasty forehand!
Of course there's Tai Chi.
And what was a sidewalk became a place to "pump you up!" I don't think I've seen cement weights in a very long time......
And there were those that gave new meaning to the phrase "no pain, no gain", my neck hurt just watching this guy.
By this time, I, ummm, was getting a bit thirsty. We crossed the still only mildly busy street, and headed over to Highlands Coffee. Not much to say about the place, other than the coffee is pretty expensive by Hanoi standards, and was not nearly as good as we've tried in other places.
The best thing about Highlands Coffee, which is situated on the third floor of a building right across the street from Hoan Kiem Lake, is the view. Which even on a hazy morning is quite nice.
Meanwhile, the Missus was preoccupied watching people crossing the street. Her photos don't convey the abject terror struck in our hearts watching first a dog:
Then a Blind Man crossed the street.
We were a bit late with photos and missed the part where about a dozen motorbikes were zooming around the guy. Amazing stuff.
It seems that Hoan Kiem Lake is the venue for weddings, or at least wedding photos in Hanoi.
We saw at least a half dozen wedding parties while walking around the lake. It made for a pretty surreal scene, the Bride and Groom, surrounded by dozens of tourists. So if you're the couple in this photo we apologize, but the Missus and I think you were a beautiful couple. We send you both our best wishes for a long and happy marriage!
During the planning stages of our trip, I started making my list of dishes, and a few places that I wanted to check out. Of course, being a fan of Cha Ca Thang Long(tumeric fish with dill), I had the famous Cha Ca La Vong, made popular by Patricia Schultz's 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and seen in every single travel show on Hanoi, on my list. But after asking around a bit, and reading a post or two, we thought that'd maybe we would try elsewhere, and on Beach's and a NY Time's article, the lower-keyed Cha Ca Thang Long Restaurant seemed to fit the bill.
So upon our return to Hanoi from Halong Bay, we dodged the endless procession of motorbikes and walked on over to Cha Ca Thang Long.
At first glance it seemed that the restaurant hadn't taken down the Christmas decorations! But the interior of the restaurant was very clean, and I guess red is the color of choice.
Every table comes equipped with a brazier loaded with heating gel.
And a rather large bowl of scallions and dill.
And in an instant, all of the ingredients of Cha Ca arrive; the wonderfully spicy, but sweet orange chilies, shredded scallions, skinned peanuts(a very important detail.....a gentleman told me the peanuts have to be skinned), a bowl of wonderful fresh herbs...
A plate piled high with Bun....
Both the Missus and I each had an entire set of ingredients......it was turning out to be quite a collection of plates and bowls. Meanwhile, one of Young Ladies, started toward us with 2 little bowls, as she approached our table she spoke to us in Vietnamese. As soon as we replied in English she stopped dead in her tracks and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen, and came back with two different bowls. These had Nuoc Mam(Fish Sauce) in them.
Laughing, I told them, "no-no, mam tom, mam tom, shrimp paste....please!" "You want shrimp sauce?" "Yes, yes, please......"
And while the fish sauce was quite nice....pungent and biting like a stiff drink of whiskey, the Mam Tom was a revelation. Rich and savory, pungent as expected, but it had been whipped until foamy, making it very light. and there was an unmistakable sweetness, with a mild sour flavor. The Missus went through 3 bowls of this stuff, and 2 little bowls of the chilies during the meal.
The brazier was lit, and our pan of fish arrived. I went to start cooking, and with a smile, the Young Lady, waved me off, and started cooking the Cha Ca for us.
Her own version of quality control I guess. She mixed in half of the dill and scallions, gently mixed everything together, and served us.
Our observations on the meal? Strangely, the dill had almost no flavor, which threw off the overall flavor. The fish was very moist, tender, and without any hint of the dreaded "muddy flavor", but was on the bland side. I had been expecting this to be a tad oily, but that was not the case at all. The Bun was very mushy and sticky. Kind of a mixed bag for a meal. Though the fish was very moist, compared to the version a good friend's Mom made for us, the flavor came up a bit short.
The service was probably the best we had in Vietnam, amazingly efficient, and generous. As soon as we were out of something, they would bring out replacements until we told them to stop! The price was also quite good 160,000 VND for 2. About 5 bucks each. The based on the what we heard and observed, the clientele was completely Vietnamese.
Cha Ca Thang Long 21-31 Duong Thanh Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
"Market....." Nice word. What comes to mind, when you hear the word "market"....or "Asian Market"? If you live in San Diego, it might be this:
But if you happened upon Hang Be Market located on Pho Gia Nhu starting on the corner of Hang Be in Hanoi, instead of fluorescent lights, and tiled isles, you'd see this.
Though it's more likely you'd get run over by a motorbike than get your shins rapped by a Little ol' Lady pushing a shopping cart at Hang Be! I thought I'd do a little comparison of sorts, there are a few similarities, and maybe a few differences.......
I know 99 Ranch Market is pretty well known for the variety of veggies and fruits.
Actually, I think the fruits at 99 Ranch Market are not a strong point...many of the offerings are often over-ripe, bruised, or of low quality. Still, there's always a nice variety. When it comes to "greens" 99 Ranch Market always has a nice selection.
At Hang Be Market, you won't find the huge stacks of oranges perilously stacked, but you will find a good variety of different items.
You gotta love the Dragon Fruit in Southeast Asia, it is leaps and bounds better than what I've had in the States; it is much sweeter, and the Missus ate the stuff by the kilo. And lest you think this is all locally grown; the oranges are from China(quite good), Dragon Fruit and Durian from Thailand.
A note about prices:
You'll notice quickly that most places won't post prices, so you'll have to bargain. The Missus had a very original way of bargaining.....She was especially frustrating for one lady. She would bargain hard.....the lady always wanted something like 25,000VND per kilo, the Missus would start at 15,000 VND....and so forth. Finally they'd settle on 18,000 VND. By then, the Missus was so tired, She would just hand the wad of money to the lady who'd just pull out what she wanted! Why bother bargaining? I guess the "bargaining fatigue" was just too much. Regardless, the Missus bought 2-4 kilos of Dragon Fruit almost everyday.
It was fun seeing uncommon(for us here in the US) items for sale, like Betel nuts.
99 Ranch Market has a pretty large meat department.
And though the signs are sometimes unintentionally humorous; looks like the "prok for stew" has been selling pretty well today. There is a nice variety of items from the butcher counter and prepacked trays of meat.
No white coats and hats, or the "singing of the saws" at Hang Be.
Just fresh meat on metal tables, meat is ground to order.
And some items screaming "I dare you to eat me"!
It is all fresh....
Ah yes, the Seafood Department at 99 Ranch Market.
For many people I know, 99 Ranch Market is the place to go for fresh and live seafood in San Diego. There's always a good variety, and the prices are reasonable.
At Hang Be Market, the variety might not be quite as large, but as with the beef, everything is fresh.
And most of it is caught locally.
And if it's not still alive.....
It's still "breathing". These were bought up in an instant.
Someone requested a photo of Rice Paddy Crabs.
Here's one of my favorite photos from Hang Be Market.
Even more stuff. Teas and spices from 99 Ranch Market.
Teas and spices from Hang Be Market:
A pretty large variety.....
And of course there is that staple; rice. We found the rice in Vietnam to be of very low quality....full of grit, lots of "brown bits", and unpolished.
Fresh Bun looks wonderful; pure and white as the new fallen snow, it is brought to the market in baskets lined with banana leaves.
One of our Guides told us how Bun was made; rice is first fermented, then ground and sifted. Water is then added to form a dough that is kneaded. The dough is then pressed through an aluminum sieve with tiny holes into boiling water. The Missus's verdict? "Too much trouble, why don't you just eat rice?"
And then there are those things that catch your eye:
So what's going on here? This gentleman is burning the hair off a pig's feet.
And those items that would be pretty hard to find in the states.
One constant we found in every market, was a barber!
We visited Hang Be Market 3 times, once during each period of the day, during the morning, afternoon, and evening. Each visit offered something different. And on one of the visits, I started comparing the market set-up of Hang Be Market with 99 Ranch Market. Strange, I know......
Miss Oishii Eats visit to Hang Be Market can be found here.
Someone tell the Ham Missus not to quit Her day job....
During our trip to the Handicraft Villages around Hanoi, we spoke to our guide Mr Hung, regarding food in Hanoi. Among the places recommended, was a place for Pho, Pho Cuong. We mentioned that we hadn't enjoyed our previous encounter....but Hung assured us that this place was "the best", and very close to our hotel. As with all the recommendations we received, whether by people we knew, or by people we met in Vietnam, this rec' was seconded, this time by one of the staff at the hotel. I was still not sure if I was ready for another bowl of Pho, but we went to the alley right in front of Dong Xuan Market, and found the Bun Rieu booths weren't ready yet...so I thought what the heck. And ended up just up the street from Pho Thin.
As we arrived, we realized that we had walked past this place yesterday, and I had remarked about how busy the place was.... The Missus, walked right up to the cooking area; fascinated at how quick the whole process was.
The young man with the pad and the pencil is right at your table when you sit......I now know where all the Pho places in San Diego get this.....
The photo on the right is one of the Missus's favorites; She always cracks up when She sees it....."You could place that Guy in any Pho place in San Diego. He has the universal Pho gear....white shirt, pad, with pencil at the ready. We should take photos as all the places we go to, and do a line-up, and see if people can figure out which one was taken in Vietnam!"
Meanwhile, the Missus was checking out the entire process. You gotta give it to these guys....they didn't even blink when the Missus walked over and watched them make my Pho Bo Tai Chin.
First the noodles go for a dunk in the boiling water:
Then the meat....rare beef, and fatty beef(like brisket), is given a dunk.
All covered by the broth, scallions, and a sprinkling of pepper. Meanwhile, even though your Pho is ready in a flash....your check hits the table even faster!
The broth, was darker than the version I had earlier....
I really like that all soups are served scalding hot. The broth was just mildly beefy, but very salty....very salty.....
The rare beef was a slightly chewy, but not bad. I enjoyed the fatty beef, nice flavor, if a bit high on the fat-sinew scale. The noodles were a bit wider than noodles in the US, and the texture was more like Bun...it had no elasticity. Better than Pho Thin.......
After finishing my bowl(16,000 VND - $1), I told the Missus; "ok, no more Pho, no matter who recommends it......"
The Missus waited to eat(other than the Banh Gio we had earlier) until we returned to the hotel. Right outside the Hanoi Elegance 2, on Ma May Street were a group of street vendors.
One of whom sold this....red bean porridge.
Which the Missus couldn't wait to get Her hands on.......it brought back many childhood memories.....and She even waited around until the woman finished making the Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Mung Bean Filling.
She grew up eating these in China....brought back nice memories for Her. We also, met a nice young lady who worked across the street, and had a delightful conversation. She practiced English, and asked many questions, and we got to ask about life in Hanoi.
All of this happened before 8am! Soon enough our van loaded us up for our trip to Halong Bay.....
In Vietnam, they don't tell you anything, Part 1:
After the 3 1/2 hour trip, we entered a crowded parking lot......hundreds of people milling around.
The driver pulled up, and simply said, "ok, you get off now...." And every question asked was answered with that statement, "you get off now...." So we all got off, and kind of huddled together, and just waited..... the driver drove off......and we waited. Eventually someone came around to meet us, collect out passports(!), and walked off......and we waited.....and finally we were herded onto a boat that ferried us out. But it was a fairly disconcerting hour and a half.... When we returned from our overnight boat "cruise", we watched the same thing happen to the next batch of "wide-eyed and confused" travelers....
It was overcast, but that just added to the sense of mystery.
And some of it was stunning....
If a bit crowded....
One of our favorite parts was the walk to Hang Sung Sot(aka "The Amazing Cave").
We enjoyed the walk through the cave, and our Guide Lan, was amazingly kind, and very patient, especially with a very demanding, rude, and borderline bi-polar visitor....who would be making demands and being very rude one minute...and a second later would be sweet and nice! One of the features of this cave, which is comprised of 2 huge chambers is the "phallic rock"...which is illuminated by pink lighting!
The view from the cave is simply beautiful......it's where the first photo was taken. Also, off to the right is a view of an enclosed lake.
Which I found beautiful.
This merchandising lady was very resourceful.
She was on one end of dock when we arrived....and moved to the other end as we left.
Our cabin was cozy.....we thought it funny that the shower is in the middle of the bathroom....how do you keep the toilet paper dry??? ;o)
And even though it was near the engine room, and the kitchen, that wasn't an issue, because we were up early anyway. Lan was an excellent guide......She had spent time in China, and was fluent in Mandarin, and had a blast chatting with the Missus.
Everyone anchors in the same spot for the evening, and it almost seems like a city on the water.
Thank God for jet lag......we got up at 430 am, and managed to have a few moments of peace. No sunrise because of the overcast skies, but we'll take the wonderful solitude....most everyone else had been up late, except us.
The following morning we moored at one of the floating villages.
Kayaking around the village and bays was enjoyable.
Even with the intermittent drizzles.....
The Missus was proud of Her "kayaking classes", "aren't you glad I took kayaking classes? NOW ROW...."
And She did take some nice photos....
Sorry, no photos of the food....which wasn't bad, 6-10 courses every meal, with some interesting items, many of which seemed Thai-Khmer influenced...and some odd things like French Fries. Most of it was mild as to appeal to the most pedestrian of diets, which we expected. I did manage to take a photo of the galley...
We also got to know a couple from Minnesota, currently living in Singapore, visiting with their son, who was impressively well mannered and behaved. Thanks to them(thanks Tomi!) we got a lead for a driver in Siem Reap.
Someone did email me, asking if Halong Bay is worth it....I'd say without a doubt, yes! Perhaps just once.....the Missus and I thought that things were a bit crowded(many, many boats), lots of fumes, and when you actually get close to the water you notice the amount of oil...and plastic bags/bottles in the water. I'm hoping this is eventually addressed, because it is a treasure.
The crew of the Santa Maria were very nice, and the price of $97/each is very reasonable. There are only 8 cabins on the Junk, so you are able to carve out your personal space.
We were still pretty full after our wall to wall multi-course snake meal, and pretty wiped out as well. We had been running on adrenaline since arriving in Hanoi, and it was starting to catch up, we were tired, and needed to slow things up a bit. Luckily, making a decision for dinner wasn't very hard, on the previous evening we had seen a lady making Banh Cuon right around the corner on Hang Bac....and it looked pretty darn good. So we walked on over and had a seat on the little plastic stools, and decided to share an order of Banh Cuon. It was fun watching our sheets of rice flour being turned into, nice elastic noodles.
Speed and economy of motion were in full display.....
While the noodle was cooking, a full complement of side dishes and garnishes were set out, including some fresh herbs, a hot soupy nuoc mam based dipping broth with Chả Quế(cinnamon pork sausage), limes, and sliced orange chilies, which, in addition to being mildly spicy, had a nice sweet flavor.
Several times during the process, the Missus made a play for the Banh Cuon.
But the Woman would shake her head and make the international sign to stop......I guess no Banh Cuon was to be eaten until it's time!
These noodles(almost like Cheong Fun - but more delicate), though not the best we had on the trip, had a generous amount of minced pork and cloud ear filling, and the fried shallot topping was quite tasty. It is also deceivingly filling......total cost 20,000VND(about $1.25 US - I'm pretty sure we were charged "tourist price" on this, but that's fine).
Sufficiently satiated, we decided that we just needed to try Bia Hoi, aka fresh beer, brewed daily without preservatives, and low in alcohol content, we thought this would make a nice little night cap. We stopped at a little stand, full of plastic kiddie seat and tables, and had a seat, knees tucked almost to our chins, on a little corner of Hang Buom.
This light, highly carbonated beverage is a microbrew in name only.....the fragrance is that of beer, but the taste is very close to that of non-alcoholic beer. It is very cold and refreshing, and best of all, a glass costs about 20 cents US! In spite of what we read, all of the Bia Hoi places we passed were full of tourists. We chose this one because, even though it was full, it didn't look as packed as others....and there were a few locals having a brew. We sat next to a table fo 4 Asians, 3 guys and a woman, and wouldn't you know...they start talking in Chinese! Turns out they're from Guangzhou..... The Missus was having a nice conversation with them, when the young man to our right starts talking in Chinese as well. He's from Taiwan......what are the odds????
As the Missus's conversation passed from one topic to another....I managed to sneak in 3 more glasses of Bia Hoi, and finished off the remainder of Hers. 5 glasses of Bia Hoi - 15,000VND(less than a buck!). You know....maybe I can get really used to this......
What to do in Hanoi at 430 AM.......
Yes, jet lag was rearing its ugly head....it was 330am and the Missus and I were wide awake. So what to do? Well, Hanoi seemed a very safe city...we decided to take a walk at 430 in the morning...there's no way I'd do this in most places, even at home in San Diego, but there were people out and about...many of them Women. The great thing was how few motorbikes there were on the road. But what the heck was going on at 430 in the morning? Well, after walking all the way up past Dong Xuan Market, we noticed some activity on one of the streets just East of the market....taking a left on Pho Nguyen Thien Thuat we stumbled onto a street live with activity....
So you've heard of all those early morning wholesale markets, that sell to the various restaurants..... Welcome to Hanoi's much smaller version of Tsukiji Market. Except instead of fish....
It was full on, wall to wall beef.....
The street was full of hacking, haggling, and hurrying, as beef and pork was divided up, bought, and driven off on the backs of motorbikes. Bones were cracked and chopped right on the asphalt.
And purchased for what could possibly be todays or tomorrows Pho.
And since we need to give pork equal time. This little piggy went to market....
And never made it back home.....I saw one of the ladies divide this guy up in less than 5 minutes! I wouldn't want to get on Her "bad side".
Around the corner is the produce section.
All headed for a food stall, and possibly a small plastic table near you......
It was quite a sight, the chilies were beautiful, and the veggies fresh. What else would you expect from a wholesale food market anywhere? All while the rest of Hanoi slept.....
I hope you'll excuse the photos....we took all of them without the use of the flash......
Fish sauce or hot sauce anyone?
We felt so lucky to have stumbled onto this lively impromptu market...a few hours later, you'd never have known this place even existed.
As we walked back toward our spot for Banh Gio we noticed these ladies hard at work dividing up, and bagging charcoal.
Talk about hard, dirty work!
We were on our way......to breakfast, and later to Halong Bay.....but the memory of the women bagging charcoal somehow remained on my mind for a while.
After "meeting the snakes", and a couple of shots of snake wine and tea, we were dropped off via motorbike back at the restaurant. The Missus and I decided to go ahead and have our "9 courses of snake". Even though it seemed somewhat touristy, you only live once, right?
We had also invited Hung, our Driver, and Huong(who couldn't make it)...we had noticed that most times Drivers and Guides and their customers would part ways during meal times...the Tourists usually having a hearty meals, and the Guides would just wait, hang out with other guides, or run errands.....we wanted to reverse that notion, and made it a point to eat with our drivers and guides as much as possible, what better way to learn about the place you're visiting!
Soon enough various garnishes, were brought out including the salt-chili-lime dip, some really pungent, but delicious nuoc mam(fish sauce), herbs so fresh and full of life...they almost shone in the sun.
Some rice crackers....
And pickled figs, a nice palate refresher......
More snake wine of course(not as good as what we had just had), rice wine with black bee(strange medicinal-honey flavor), and one bottle that looked like chop suey lizard, snake, and other "stuff".....pretty nasty stuff. Of course this was the one I was told would "make you strong", usually a good sign of something that would want to make you scrub your tongue with a brillo pad after consuming it......
And of course, you could not proceed without....
A glass of blood, which tasted of rice wine, but left a weird coating on my tongue, and bile which was a bit astringent, but tasted mostly of alcohol. Eat, Drink, & Be Merry has a nice post on "snake shots" in Taiwan.
There was one last piece of business....
When they brought the Cobra Heart out, it was still bouncing around a bit....the Missus decided that She wanted it, and I had no problem with that. She chugged it down with a shot two shots of snake wine.
First course - A Hot and Sour Soup.
There are several different types of sour......this was an example of what I can only call "dead fish sour". It was terrible; I started having doubts......
When the next course arrived, snake meat roasted in betel leaf.
A classic "La Lot" (rolled in betel leaf dish), much like what you'd order in most places with Beef. The snake meat was very mild (tastes like chicken anyone?), which amplified the sweetness of the betel leaf. Very nice.
Stir fried(Xao Lan) snake:
The snake was tough as heck in this dish...uninspired.
Snake egg rolls:
Yes, another classic preparation....these were fried perfectly, and in this case the slight chewiness of the snake meat was a plus. Other than that, not much flavor.....but hey it's fried!
Another bland, "tastes like chicken" dish.
Deep Fried Snake Skin:
Topped with some dill, and dipped into nuoc mam....chicharron ain't got nothin' on this dish!
Roasted snake meat:
Not bad....texture like chewy, grilled eel...in fact the fish sauce in this dish made it even taste like a mild eel-chicken in flavor.
Minced snake bone:
This was excellent...went through 2 servings of Rice Crackers! Crunchy texture like roasted rice.....nicely flavored!
Chinese-style medicinal snake soup:
Tastes exactly like it's description...........medicinal soup....
Dessert, which I was so full and never tried......
All in all, a really nice experience, even though much of it does "taste like chicken".....the visit to Quoc Phuong Ecological Farm, and Mr Huong's hospitality made it worthwhile.
And at $10/US a person, I'd say it was, at least to us, a fun experience. After lunch we wanted to make sure and thank Mr Huong; so we walked back to the farm, and made sure to thank him in person. As we were leaving he gave us a signal to wait....grabbed on old vodka bottle, which he rinsed out, and proceeded to fill from his stash of snake wine. Never underestimate the power of "Thank You!"
The last stop on our little day trip was the ceramic village of Bat Trang.
Though Le Mat and Bat Trang are but a few kilometers out of Hanoi, it's amazing how different they are from Hanoi....so peaceful, relaxed, and quiet.
But the relaxed vibe disguises the really hard, tough work that goes on in Bat Trang.
Working the kiln of Bat Trang is heavy, hot, and hard work.
There are a number of shops along the road....
Selling all types of ceramic products
Some ultra mass produced, others looking a bit higher in quality....
As with the other handicraft villages, you kind of wander around, and if you find something that catches your eye, you wander over, and suddenly you're right in the middle of a production line.
We walked down an alley, and right into a workshop.
Right up close and personal...
I'll never look at that mass produced tea pot the same.....so much of what we use without a thought is someone's handwork.
Meanwhile, the Missus had found something that had caught Her attention. This woman, who we'll call "smiling eyes" (when we entered the workshop, you could tell she gave us the biggest smile, even though she had a mask on), was working at her station....she could crank out her pieces at an amazing rate.
Seeing that the Missus was interested, she gave Her a quick lesson...
Then it was the Missus's turn....amazing...from the audience to the production line in minutes! Only in Vietnam!
Everytime the Missus would do something that would potentially mean a few missing digits, Smiling Eyes would come quickly to the rescue while emitting a high pitch "oh-oh-oh".....
Using the "3 strikes rule", after the Missus ruined 3 pieces, She decided to leave this work to the pros!
Plus we were dog tired....
On the way back to our Hotel, Mr Hung stopped at Cafe Hao, and bought us some coffee. Nothing like Vietnamese coffee culture....a cup can last several minutes, or several hours depending on your mood.
His way of thanking us for lunch. This version was the best I had on our trip. It seems we had come full circle, the day started with a cup, and ended with a cup! Now I'd say that's a productive day!