Monday, December 3, 2007

what are these?

so i came upon some interesting green things at the market the other day, i am interested in what those stalks are above the celery, and below the rhambutan and dragonfruit. It looks tasty and i am just waiting for the day i have a kitchen and can cook them up.

Also I am interested in what these are? I have only seen them once. looks like lime berries.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A couple of moments I can't quite shake.

Two of the most beautiful, or I should say moving moments, I have had in Vietnam have come just wandering the streets this past week. Both were heart wrenching almost cinematic moments which replay themselves over and over again in my head like I was watching a Iranian movie by Kiarostami, or Makhmalbaf then rewinding it again and again it to my favorite scenes. Except this wasn't a movie but instead real peoples lives which I had brief glimpses into.

The fist occurred when I was riding on the back of a xe om (motorbike taxi). We were on a busy street and I spotted a funeral procession. In Vietnam a small band usually precedes a funeral procession and this procession was no different. The band was sitting on a bench in the back of a small cargo truck playing away and it seemed the van was getting further and further away from the ornately decorated truck which was caring the casket. Soon they were separated by hundreds of cars, and I could barley hear the music playing. Looking at the glossy tear drenched faces of the deceased relatives riding along with the casket it really got to me. There was something about the separation of the musicians from the rest of the procession that made me want to cry. It was such a sad, solemn moment.

The next happened when I was waiting in line at an ATM when I saw an old man with either his daughter or granddaughter. They slowly walked passed on the side of the road briefly stopping for each person, stretching out a frayed hat for donations.. He had on dark sunglasses and a floppy hat, his head was tilted down with one of his hands was on her shoulder as if she was leading him. In his other hand was an old microphone that was attached to what looked like a beat up bullhorn speaker, which was tucked under her arm. From his mouth and out of that speaker came one of the softest most beautiful voices I have ever heard. He was singing what I imagined to have been a sad Vietnamese folksong, slightly distorted and echoey as though it was being sent through some sort of delay or reverb filter. I still hear that voice and I still see them walking.

I don't know how to feel about all this, I feel somewhat like a voyeur into peoples suffering, and people tragedy, but I just can stop thinking about these two moments.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Seals and Bicycles

I choose to believe this signs says "seals riding bicycles are prohibited". Today I signed up for Vietnamese and dan bau lessons which both start next week. I hope learning Vietnamese will not dissuade me from this belief. Because that would be sad if not downright cruel.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saigon Rocks!

So after a little investigation I found out about a little Halloween metal concert with a buffet in some sort of community center/gym/pool called the workers club at 55 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. It took the previous day to convince Kate to come along with me though she was still a bit skeptical. (it might have been the buffet which convinced her, not the fact that she was hungry mind you, just the concept of a Metal Buffet). Anyway when we arrived it was everything i had hoped for, old hairy Vietnamese men rocking out on stage and the crowd going wild. After about 5 minutes i was grabbed by this 6'5" shaggy Croatian man who offered me a beer and a few broken English words. the show was exactly what I needed, to get away from ex-pat and backpacker bars that are the only thing around the area which i live and i find pretty depressing. Later we met this guy named Greg who works for the Australian councilate who led us to this other rock bar where all the Vietnamese rocker kids hang out, play shows, and do something which looks like rock n' roll karaoke. He also spoke of some sort of metal arena called "the golden fish" that exists in district 5 on Wednesdays which sounds promising. It was so nice to meet some non teachers, and people that were interested in seeking out the local scene. It made me feel a lot better about living here. amazing what a little metal can do.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunday Night Bar Food.

So, on Sunday there was an anniversary party for the school I am teaching at. There was food and drinks and karaoke on the roof of course, although it was dominated mostly by the Vietnamese staff. I did manage to get in a Madonna song (get into the groove) that went over fairly well. After the party was shut down a few of us went to a bar near the hotel where I am staying to get one final drink. I spotted a dried squid snack cart rolling down the street, so I ordered one up, and here are the results.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Lunch

For lunch I stopped in at the corner pho shop I am calling, "Pho Ga Mien Ga", because thats what it said on on its overhang, athough it might just be the menu.
I ordered the pho bo kho, a spicy beef pho. The pho itself was ok, full of big chunks of stewed beef and its fatty parts, only a tad spicy so I threw in more peppers and pepper sauce, 'cause thats how I roll. One of the things I am still trying to get use to is the eating of fatty parts, tendons and those small meaty boney pieces. Before I left Seattle, Angela did well to convince me on the virtues of these strange parts and I got in the habit of ordering soft tendons in my pho at Than Brothers whenever I went. It still feels forced thought, its just not my natural inclination to like these things and I definitely do not crave them. I just make do and like the flavors despite the odd parts. Anyway, the most exciting part of the meal was the herb tray to the right of bowl

and this herb in particular. I don't know what it is, but it had this interesting taste that was vaguely familiar, though I couldn't place it. I found it much more interesting than the soup itself which I can still feel my stomach digesting.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A reflection on Seattle Suburban Eating.

Back in Seattle, a group of us which included: Angela Garbes, Matt Hodge, Christina Choi, and Angela's friend Dawn, would venture out to eat in suburban Seattle trying to discover the hidden ethnic culinary delights of the region. Before hand, I would do some research using Chowhound as a guide, then we would all hop either matt's crazy van or cram into cars to explore. I loved finding hidden food delights such as Salva/Mex in Burien and the Armenian Bakery at Crossroads Mall, but my favorite part of the whole experience was Shopping in all Indian/Russian/Mexican/Asian markets, finding interesting ingredients, then getting back together on Wednesdays to cook up a meal under the guidance of our master chef Christina Choi and watch Lost. I think this club could do some serious damage here in HCMC. Come on guys lets make it happen. Although I need to find a place to live soon, because I seriously miss having a kitchen. Its killing me.

Sopping it up.

I love sopping. Whether it be with bread (or even better garlic bread), rice, grains, or anything really. I love getting those special caramelized meat bits, garlic, onions and spices up off that plate and into the place they need to be, my mouth and around its corners. : ) Vietnam seems to be a great place for sopping up those special flavors, especially in the those clay pot or kho to dishes that I seemed to be particularly attracted to. Last night I used some steamed rice as the sopping agent with my dish of luon xao xa ot (eel with lemongrass and chilies).

The eel was great, but I think I liked the the rice with the left over bits just a little bit more.

There is something about that lemongrass flavor when its gets all caramelized with meat and spices that is pretty special. I am starting to crave that flavor all the time now, and I am wondering why I haven't before. No, I am not telling you all where I went, but I am sure you can all guess.

My new life?

So, the past few days I have been going to the school to sign contracts and do teaching observations. Most likely I will be teaching younger kids, which seems pretty intense. I observed two classrooms yesterday, the first was a total mad house, within which the teacher had little control. She told me her nerves were shot after each class with these kids, and after spending just 40 minutes with them, I could see why. The other class was totally different, yes it was total chaos, but it was a beautiful and productive English language learning chaos. Here is a clip I managed to smuggle out of class with my camera hidden underneath my desk.

They are playing a game of ESL charades and this is the last sentence that the students have to guess. I love how this scene includes a student in a headlock, a body slam, then full out rush on the charade mimes all for the sake of learning English. Believe it or not this is the well behaved class!
I have no idea what is in store for me. God help me!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dong Me!

Back to sao dong!

I headed back to Ben Thanh market for dinner tonight half way intending to eat under a new canopy but the memories of my last bites of the pork clay pot and the throngs of people I saw packed underneath convinced me this was the place I needed to be. I was right. Now my new goal is to eat everything on their menu. First of I got a san Miguel beer, or I should say it got me. It seems there are such things called San Miguel Girls who tell you how great it would be for you to order a San Miguel Beer and then disappear, so I did. Plus it was only fifty cents. Food wise, I started out with some Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Dried Beef Papaya Salad), which was great.

The papaya was shredded much finer than I have had before almost rice stick like and the beef was dried yes but not like jerky, somewhat tender and full of flavor. I followed this with the obligatory garlic bread for which I found a new use, which I will get too.

I wanted a clay pot again but this time I went for the fish (Ca Kho To) to diversify it was good of course but didn’t quite have the same flavor as the pork, but does anything really? (disregarding lamb, that is.)

The best part about the clay pot was I remembered to save my garlic bread, so I could sop up the extra clay pot sauce… And that my friends tasted amazing, a final bite for which Angela Garbes could be proud.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

monsoon dinner

So last night I went ot pick up my pants and shirt I had made for me at the Ben Thanh market and decided to get a little bite to eat. As I felt the start of raindrops and the grumblings of thunder in the distance I sat down to eat underneath the canopy of Sao Dong.

This seemed like a good choice because of the numbers of people already there and the now pounding rain. As I started ordering, I had an idea I could outlast the rain while I sampled dishes till the rain ceased. First I had some pork skewers that were standard and delicious, followed by water spinach with garlic and what i am assuming was some fish sauce or paste and grit which i am assuming was dirt. The rain continued, so I couldn't resist an order of garlic bread, a guilty pleasure, but i started to get nervous that the rain might last longer than I anticipated.

I was getting full, but decided to order one more dish, the pork braised in clay pot. It came simmering to the table still hot from the charcoal brazier in a flavorful and syrupy sauce,
it was definitely my favorite.

It became clear that the rain was not going to let up, so I decided to make a break for it. Hunting down a poncho rather quickly I waded through over a foot of water in places for about a mile. I understand why people are all about flip flops and sandals now, and i will be looking for some shortly as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

arrival in Việt Nam and phổ

So, my first day in HCMC or Saigon if you prefer was filled with walking, sweating sleeping and eating. The weather here is hot and sticky and feels much hotter than when I was in Tucson just a few days ago, though the temperatures are the same. Funny how a little humidity can get you all hot, damp and sweaty. Anyway, I ended up eating phổ twice today and not coincidently I think they were two best bowls of phổ I have had in my life. The first was at Phổ 2000, clean and air-conditioned with stainless steel tables near Bến Thành Market, it was nice enough for a president to visit. (Pictures on the wall seemed to indicate that one did, Bill Clinton stopped in for some delicious phổ sometime in the late nineties on his trip through Việt Nam) I ordered a seafood phổ filled with fish, squid, clams and tofu and topped with copped fresh dill. I have to admit, dill is one of my favorite herbs so, although I was surprised that it came with dill rather than basil and sprouts, I absolutely loved it!

I also found this excellent food blog for HCMC called noodlepie and I am using as a launching pad for my food explorations, so I got my next bowl of phổ at Phổ 24 because of noodlepie’s raving review. Again it was really good. The difference between the phổ I have been eating here and in Seattle is mostly two things. First the noodles are fresh, have excellent texture, and even have some flavor! The second is the broth, its just really, really good.