reunification palace, ho chi minh

a last one on vietnam, this time on a historical monument right smack in the middle of ho chi minh city. I don’t much want to go heavily into history, but the idea of dichotomies was strong in my mind: the contrast between the pristine white building and the rather violent history of the place as narrated by our guide (they do a few english-speaking tours every hour), and the decadence of the lounge and entertainment areas at the top of the building against the war-rooms underground.

there is a room below that holds a chart about the number of casualties from various countries, and it makes you think long and hard about the way the world is evolving – and how we don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.

traditional vietnamese rice puffs, mekong delta

these are some proper traditional rice crispies – before viewing this demonstration, I never realised that the traditional goodies made of rice pops were quintessential rice crispy treats, but they really are. made of freshly harvested rice grains popped by stirring through hot charcoal granules, there are sifted and then folded through caramel before being cut into rectangles.

the sifting removes the husk that pops off the exploded rice grains, and the cooks work very quickly with hot caramel so it doesn’t harden before the rice puffs get added.

they are poured into traditional wooden moulds as above, which ingeniously have grooves to make neatand consistent cuts. made with different variations such as sesame and coconut, and even noodles instead of rice – I really like this version – there are packed into clear plastic bags and sealed to be sold in the city and overseas.

it’s an old-school treat that’s been overshadowed by the prevalence of marshmallow-rice-treats, and one well – worth revisiting. you might just realize, as I have, that the oldie is a true goldie.

traditional vietnamese rice paper, mekong delta

I still have a few posts on vietnam to go – this is the result of having a backlog so dense you can barely see the wood for the trees (does anyone watch QI?). but they’re still pretty cool and share-worthy.

this one is about that traditional vietnamese rice paper that we mostly see wrapped around salad leaves and prawns to make a summer roll – or goi cuon. the ones that you see here are made in the same manner as those translucent wrappings, just these are more opaque from the addition of coconut milk.

the lady competently ladles on batter of coconut milk and flour onto a cloth for it to be steamed, before lifting the thin and now-cooked sheet onto the edge of a rattan basket for it to dry slightly, before drying completely on vented rattan mats. some of them have sesame seeds or coconut shreds added to them.

you can buy these large dried rice sheets, and bring them home to toast into crisp shards of mildly sweet cracker, fragrant with the coconut milk and textural with the sesame sheets. they were a little large for us to carry, but I highly recommend them if you’ve got the space.

that last photo is of a rice mill, from which you can get the ever-useful rice flour.

ngon 138 restaurant, ho chi minh

located at 138 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Nghé, Ho Chi Minh. recommendations needed (we like the first floor), website here, tel +84 8 3825 7179.

good seafood in kitschy pavilion-like building. we’ve passed this restaurant quite a few times, and always resisted getting in here – but decided to be adventurous one night, and it was a pretty good thing (unlike our previous adventure at the japanese restaurant). the place is a little more overtly touristy, and while less refined than ngoc suong or song ngu, the food was pretty good, and worth a return. (it’s not as good as the other two establishments though, but that’s not because this was failing in any way. rather, those two are superlatively good)

Continue reading

heike japanese restaurant, ho chi minh

located at the New World Hotel: 76 Lê Lai, Ben Thanh ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh.

pretty darn terrible japanese food at this beautiful hotel in downtown saigon. the worst meal we’ve had this trip – and that’s not just because we had been eating very well, it was also just terrible taken objectively – my dad walked out toward the end of the meal to wait in the lobby because he just couldn’t be bothered any longer.

we’ve been coming to this hotel for years, because their lobby cafe had amazing pho and japanese food. I know this sounds sort of crazy – don’t people escape from their hotels to get decent food outside? – but they did truly have value-for-money japanese bento sets and very good cooking in a fantastically modern cafe. this year though, we arrived only to find that the cafe had undergone a revamp – which was why we ended up at the japanese restaurant. a highly regrettable choice, though it was so bad it stepped right into ridiculousness, and made me laugh.

Continue reading

breakfast at the mekong lodge, mekong delta

last post on the mekong lodge – and what better way to finish, then with my favourite meal of the day. I’m a firm hot-grain-with-a-pat-of-peanut-butter-and-raisins kind of girl (I’ve had this basically everyday for the last six months since starting work) ((and post coming up on how to cook it!)) but sometimes it’s nice to be served something different.

breakfast here has been as it was with the other meals – simple, and wholesome, and full of the clean flavours of food. I despair at hotel breakfasts sometimes, with their gravied-dishes and too-rich spread, always heading for the simple cereal and milk, but this meal was a revelation.

fragrant, and soft-as-a-baby’s-somethingsomething bread that came hot and stacked in a basket, these loaves were amazing. they were a sort of cross between the soft enriched japanese white bread, and a more crust-worthy european loaf, and very good for all that. baked as a literal roll, you could undo it quite easily and it’d steam its way across your glasses (I’m highly myopic) before you go at it with a pat of butter of jam. dream-worthy.

we had more fresh cut-fruit, none of that syrupy monstrosity some paltry places use, as well as half-boiled eggs. if you’re so inclined, get the pancakes too – these are very clearly asian-type pancakes, elastic in the way kueh are, and flat as a crêpe. good with jam, or with a sprinkle of sugar, the way my parents remember it.

it’s been a great time at the lodge, a good escape for city folks like us, and well worth a visit if you get the chance.

more on the mekong lodge found on the heading out for food page, if you scroll down to vietnam | mekong delta.

mekong dinner cooking class, mekong delta (the eating part)

this was dinner after our cooking class – and a pretty good one at that, even if it does sort of show you the abbreviated portions they serve (and why we had to order more). I did wonder at this meal if the problem could be fully accounted for by the fact that we have unashamedly large appetites for seafood and all sorts of good food – but even you must agree that the prawns up there look a little sad on a large white plate (yes, they arrived like that).

Continue reading