Archive for the 'Vietnam' Category

Floating Market and Canals of Can Tho

boat through canal

We’d heard and read so many good things about the Mekong delta in Vietnam, we could hardly wait to book our transportation (instead of going on one of those pre-packaged tours out of Ho Chi Minh City, which we’d heard a few horror stories about) and get down to see it ourselves. A day later, we fully understood that you can’t believe everything you hear.

I was excited for rice fields, floating markets, and cities that were smaller and more laid back than Saigon, which was pretty crazy. But after seeing similar places in Cambodia, I was a little disappointed. I think my expectations of the Delta may have been too high. In fact, it may have been more enjoyable if we had just booked a group tour. With that said, we still managed to have a great morning touring a floating market and some canals around Can Tho.

This is me with the lady who drove our boat. If you go to Can Tho, you will have no problem finding someone to show you around the canals (they’ll find you!) and the prices are really reasonable.

new bff

She didn’t speak any English, but she was really cheerful and fun, and made us jewelry out of palm leaves!

Our day started at 6 AM, just as the sun was coming up because that’s when the market is busiest.

small boat

As soon as we saw the drink lady’s boat, we ordered two coffees with sweetened condensed milk. Vietnamese coffee is the best there is!

drink lady

The floating market essentially consists of big boats full of produce, which are visited by smaller boats that buy that produce. To figure out which boats are selling what, you just look at the poles raised above the boats – they show you what that boat has.

product pole

The amount of produce available is staggering. There are entire boats full of cabbage…

cabbage

or, more my style…watermelons!
watermelons

I wish all this amazing fruit was this cheap and plentiful back at home!

fruits
We made our way back to Can Tho by cruising through an extensive network of canals. It was awesome to see just how vital the Mekong is to everyone’s life – for everything from transportation to brushing teeth, bathing, irrigation and laundry.

After returning to the city, we found a cafe for another iced coffee. I just can’t get enough of it!

ca phe da

Hanoi Highlights

We’re back in Thailand after 11 days in Hanoi.  While we originally planned to travel the length of the country and into Cambodia, we cut the trip short for various reasons. Our plans have changed at least once a week for the duration of the trip (going on 3 months…) which would normally drive me crazy, but I’m learning to embrace it.

Some of my favorite things about Hanoi:

Food in Edible Wrappers:
Banh Cuon (rice flour pancakes with minced pork and mushrooms inside) and Nem Ran (Spring Rolls)
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People-watching around Hoan Kiem Lake
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Seeing unusual things transported by motorbike:

Trees…or a dozen crates of empty beer bottles

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Sidewalk restaurants:

It was a little challenging for Mike, who’s 6’2″, but we learned to embrace the tiny stools!

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Amazing Pastries:
I’m not sure why they served our profiteroles with spoons, but they were delicious!
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Ca Phe Sua Da:

I might even like this better than Thai Iced Coffee!  Incredibly strong black coffee served over ice with sweetened condensed milk.

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Better than sliced bread

What could be better than sliced bread? FRIED bread. I know it sounds gross, but since I started seeing locals dipping fried breadsticks into their steaming bowls of bun or pho, I wanted to try it for myself.

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Look at those beauties. They are basically like unsweetened doughnuts, which might sound like an unlikely candidate for dipping in soup, but when they get soaked with broth they are SO good!

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KFC – A highly cultural experience

Mike and I found ourselves in a new neighborhood with some time to kill, and came across a KFC.  I haven’t eaten at a KFC in the states in years, but for some reason, I wanted to try it here.  It’s the only major international food chain that operates in Vietnam.  This country has no McDonalds, no Starbucks… but it does have KFC.  img_6350

I was amazed when the food we ordered came on ceramic plates with real silverware instead of in cardboard tubs with plastic utensils.

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The portion sizes were actually reasonable!  The coleslaw, mashed potatoes, gravy, and chicken tasted just like at home (which I guess isn’t that surprising).

The best part of the meal was definitely the ice cream cone with sprinkles for dessert!

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Banh My – what a sandwich!

After spending two months in Thailand, I got used to the food, picked up a little of the language, and even learned to recognize some words written in Thai.  Coming to Hanoi has been more challenging than I expected, and I think I’ve experienced a little culture shock.  The language is very different, and alhtough they use a modified version of our alphabet, the letters are pronounced differently.

Fortunately, thanks to some visits to Vietnamese restaurants in Portland and San Jose, I know a few food words.  Banh my (which I usually saw written as banh mi in the states), is a sandwich with various meats on a baguette.  Here, the version I see most often comes with pate and two other processed meats I can’t really identify.  One looks like sausage, and the other, you can see in the photo, is pale beige with bright orange on the edges.

I was a little hesitant about the pate, but with the other meat, butter, and chile sauce, it tastes great.

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It’s served with a big plate of lettuce, tomato, and marinated cucumbers (which are crunchy and sweet), plus a little dish of salt for sprinkling over the filling.

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All the elements together make for an unexpectedly good sandwich!

(And if you’re vegetarian, it’s easy to get a similar version with Laughing Cow cheese in place of all the meat)

Days of Doughnuts and Beer

Not the most mouth-watering combination, but if I had to sum up the culinary theme of the last week or so, that’s a pretty decent approximation (of course noodles were the staple, but that goes without saying at this point).

Mike and I decided to try and spend an entire month in Vietnam without touching a Lonely Planet. We can use the Internet and maps, but we wanted to get by without purchasing a guide book. There is a sudden freedom that comes with not having to stick to a map, looking for one particular café. It opens you up to discovering new places you might otherwise miss. Like DoCo!

Oddly located on an old-fashioned street filled with silk shops and galleries, this coffee and doughnut shop sticks out like a sore thumb with its bright orange façade.
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We weren’t particularly impressed with the doughnut selection at first, until we saw this: the mystery-filled doughnut.
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We decided to give it a try. The filling, it turned out, was blueberry. Pretty tasty!
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Awhile later our wandering led us to one of Hanoi’s many corner beer shops. For less than 20 cents, you can get a glass of pale, malty beer. Not the greatest I’ve ever had, it still does the job quite nicely, and you can’t argue with the price! Plus, the people-watching at these places is excellent.
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Noodles, Noodles, Noodles

Wandering aimlessly all over a brand new city tends to end in one of two ways. One, you get hopelessly lost in a neighborhood that looks a little seedy and wish you’d thought to bring a map. Or, two, you discover a vibrant neighborhood teeming with charming cafes and noodle shops. Fortunately for us, we ended up with scenario two!

We spotted a small open store front, filled with low tables and plastic stools, absolutely packed with locals eating noodles. The sign indicated that the restaurant served only one thing: bun cha. We ordered two bowls (for 18,000 dong each – that’s just over a dollar), and this is what appeared before us:
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A pile of cooked noodles, and a large bowl of shiso leaves and butter lettuce. AND…img_6191

A bowl of faintly sweet broth filled with little charcoal-grilled ground meat patties.
Basically the theory is you dip the lettuce and noodles into the broth with chopsticks, eating them with little bites of meat.

A little while later, we found ourselves in a different neighborhood, with different noodles.

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I thought we were getting traditional pho, but this slightly red broth was more sour/salty, and had noodles, green onions, and a big pile of cooked meat on top. Like the bun cha, it was served with a pile of fresh greens.

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Another noodle soup we recently sampled came with a big slab of liver on top; large, thin slices of heart of palm, and some chunks of meat with the skin still on. It looked a little like chicken meat, but tasted gamier, and I have no idea what it was.
I know what the liver’s function in the body is, and I know this makes it a less than ideal choice for consumption, but when I saw the little boy sitting next to us dipping the liver into a small bowl of chilis, garlic, and fish sauce, I wanted to give it a try. It was fantastic! I love the smooth texture of liver a lot more than the flavor, and the sauce made it nice and salty-hot.



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