Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Monday, June 30, 2014
Earlier this month, I spent two nights in Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen province in the centre of Vietnam. I joined a group of friends and their company, a group of over 200 people. It sounds not really fun with such a huge group but because they all work in the tourism industry, they do know how to balance between activity and relaxation. I just fell in with the group, wandering around the Vietstar resort eating, swimming and drinking the whole time. I joined a smaller group on an excursion to Gềnh Đá Dĩa, about 30 minutes away by bus. It was the place to observe the sunset where you sit on big flat rocks laying on each other like a stack of plates. On both sides of these rock formations there are nice beaches.
On my second day, I woke up early and went solo by taxi down to the town. About 15 minutes from the resort, the town has enough interest to occupy me for a whole morning. I have to say Phu Yen has changed so so much compared to the first time I was there 24 years ago. The good thing remaining is the quiet atmosphere of the city and its friendly people.
I went to Tan Binh Noodles at 121 Nguyen Trai Street for my breakfast, picking a southern style bowl, which was very much like the Nha Trang beef noodles of my home town. It was just a little bit sweeter but very tasty. The owner noticed me taking photos and he tried to re-arrange the table and told me: don't forget to put it on Facebook. It was so funny!
Walking down to the Tuy Hoa market, the biggest one in town, I wasn't that impressed at first look but as I walked toward to the back, I loved it. I love to see live and fresh produce from herbs to meat and seafood and I had no trouble spending about 2 hours there. The sellers were more than happy to talk to me and some even asked me to take their photos, which is very different to Hanoi. I had a lot of laughs with the vendors there. I bought lots of rice crackers from Tuy Hoa and also rice crackers with coconut, chili and sesame seeds from Binh Dinh which are renowned in the region. I was so excited to see them there.
Then I headed to an eatery serving roasted chicken in fish sauce. The Thien Huong restaurant at 211 Le Thanh Ton Street is Tuy Hoa's answer to KFC but very Vietnamese in style, served with fresh herbs, green tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise mixed with sweet chilli sauce. Open for lunch and dinner, it was packed with local people, which is always a good sign.
My last stop of the day was Cafe Tung at 69 Tan Da Street. According to the locals, this is one of the oldest coffee houses in town, considered to serve the best coffee. I ordered a black coffee which is unusual for me but it was very good. The coffee shop itself looked a bit tacky with the two parts of the shop very different in character; the entrance was red and modern with high tables while the other section was more relaxing with low chairs and tables with lots of plants around. I bought more than a kilogram of coffee back to Hanoi to drink at home.
It was a short and sweet visit but I'd like to go back again for a longer vacation when I can spend more time on the beach and discover more food.
Monday, June 16, 2014
After relaxing on the beach in Boracay, I stayed a few days in Manila and it was so much fun. I met some of my previous street food tour clients and they took me out for dinner and also recommended so many things that I must do in Manila, including shopping.
Between my eating time in Manila, I visited different malls to buy some souvenirs. Malls in Manila are huge and there are too many of them around. I got dizzy and lost in two of them and they only way out I told myself was to walk down to the ground floor and find the car park. It was so frustrating at the time but actually it was great fun walking around different malls to see how local people do their shopping.
I love the weather in Manila as it was nowhere near as humid as Hanoi and I felt more comfortable. Some people may not like it here but I loved it as it's a bit similar to Hanoi. A big crazy Asian city!
My clients took me to a restaurant called Mesa which is located at the Greenbelt Shopping Centre. This is a great Filipino fusion restaurant and always full with locals and tourists. We had way too much food including deep fried pork, fish, stir fried veggies, pigs' feet and then, not that we needed it, dessert! Apologies that I can't give the exact names of the dishes - sometimes you just have to concentrate on the conversation. After dinner, we went to a square where they play live music to drink beer. It's a bit similar to Bia Hoi without music in Vietnam. It was so cool and I loved that atmosphere very much
My clients mentioned about the most popular fast food in Manila called Jollibee and these franchises are always located right next to McDonalds. I don't know why I took the recommendation but I ate the pasta with deep fried chicken. It was really not my type of food.
The only thing I slightly regret is that I didn't have a chance to ride a jeepney around Manila. They look so good and so colourful. This will be one of the reasons that I will come back to Manila. Thanks to my clients that made my trip to Manila so special and hopefully see you again soon
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Boracay made a great first impression mainly due to the shock of the amazing white sand beach and the clear, huge expanse of blue sky. It took me about 5 minutes to think about the beach on arrival as I couldn't believe this beach could be real. I decided to spend most of my time on the beach drinking San Miguel beer and swimming - let's face it, there's probably not much else to do! Oh, and eating, of course.
With my fussy eating, I walked down the main d*talipapa market area to choose my own fresh seafood before bringing it over to be cooked at the restaurants. It was a real heaven for me, eating seafood everyday. The local people cooked the seafood in different styles and they turned out well. Even though I prefer to eat seafood very simply, some of their preparations were interesting and I learned ways of mixing new ingredients. The locals were surprised about how much I could eat and how much of an expert I am at eating crabs and prawns. Once they heard I grew in a coastal town, they understood why. I prefer eating steamed and grilled seafood with a Nha Trang simple dipping sauce: salt, lime, pepper and lots of chili but Pilipino don't eat that way :).
The hotel staff wondered why I kept skipping breakfast. I didn't want to offend them but I never eat hotel breakfasts because then I miss an opportunity for a local breakfast experience. It's just my personal thing but I prefer to take a tri-bicycle or walk down to the market or a local eatery to try the local stuff on offer. That's the best way to learn about the culture and cuisine. I'm a friendly chatty person so locals don't mind spending some time talking to me. They all thought I was from China which is a bit sad but really, especially because of what is happening in our region recently. I do prefer if they think I'm local :).
One big mistake I made when I was in Boracay was going to an Italian restaurant for dinner, upon the recommendation of the hotel staff. The food was reasonable but I would have enjoyed the experience of eating in a local restaurant a couple of minutes down the road, like I'd originally planned. Think I'll stuck with my plan next time.
The nightlife in Boracay is also very interesting. There is a lot of 80s style music being played by bands and DJs and I realized that's why so many Filipino singers in Vietnam are obsessed with the same music. The nightclubs and bars are pretty busy every night but the atmosphere is fun and there is no fighting or other nasty stuff going on.
Boracay is definitely one of my favorite places and I'm pretty sure I'll go back again in the very near future.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
I have to admit that my travels really do revolve around food. Eating, drinking and taking photographs from place to place is my main idea of travel. Most of my friends think I'm crazy and obsessed but I can't really change it. A couple of months ago, I went to Seoul for a week, a period not enough to fully discover the fascinating, lively city. Of course, my itinerary was packed with great food places to seek out, from Korean-style to noodles and dumplings.
Although this is a bit predictable, my highlight was sitting around the grill plates with lots of locals drinking soju, beer and wheat rice wine, called makgeolli. Cooking lovely cuts of tender skirt meat, garlic and mushrooms and then wrapping it all in lettuce is a fun way to eat. On the side, of course, lots of kimchi and different sauces can be used to spice the food up a bit. I observed the locals to see how they eat and to learn local eating etiquette.
The noodles and dumplings in Kwang Jang market were so delicious that I went back twice. I wish I could speak a bit of Korean to learn the secrets of how she makes her hand-pulled noodles and kimchi and tofu filled dumplings so fresh. Lots of people had also recommended the fried mung bean cake, which is a specialty of the market. Served with white onion and soy sauce, they were great but you need to eat where they make it, fresh and hot. I enjoyed the vegetarian cakes better the coloured seafood stuff.
The third dish I liked was the deep fried chicken and deep fried green pepper stuffed with pork, all washed down with big tankards of beer. The drinking culture reminded me a lot of Vietnam, where we often have beer and rice wine on the table, except in Seoul it's beer and soju. One interesting drink we tried was called 'Sweet after Bitter', a big glass of beer containing two shot glasses, one with soju and one with coke! Of course, you have to drink it down in one go!
Topokki, a dish of sliced rice cake with fish cake and a rich sweet chili sauce was not on the top of my list as it was too spicy and too stodgy . I tried it twice and even after a solid evening of drinking, I didn't like it. But the street food tents all over the city have lots of other stuff to try, too.
Visiting market is another way to see the local culture and Seoul's best market is the Noryangjin Fish Market. I spent hours there taking photographs. What an amazing market with so many different types of fish and I loved the way they arrange their shops and also how they prepare the fresh seafood. It was fantastic experience and I don't think I could ever forget it.
Shopping in Seoul is also great with well-known brands and local products but they aren't cheap. I loved looking at the fashion-conscious young local people walking around shopping centres with cool glasses, fashionable clothes and bag fils of cosmetics. They are obsessed with cosmetics, especially skin whitening products. I've never seen so many cosmetic shops in my life. I wonder what they thought of my country-bumpkin tanned skin!
I'd love to go back to Seoul again for another week as I had a fabulous time there.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I like the central coast city of Hue and have been there many times over the years. After a four year gap, I recently visited this charming city again and definitely got my fill of Hue food. We enjoyed very much our stay with La Residence Hotel, fabulously located on the river and within easy walking distance of lots of great street foo
We walked along the Perfume River/ Sông Hương to have breakfast, starting with Bún Hến (clam noodles) and Cơm Hến (clam rice) at 2 Trương Định St. The vendors were pretty funny when it came to bill time. There was quite a long conversation before they decided to charge us 20,000VND - $1 per bowl. I have no problem at all with the price but I did realise that the Hue locals were only charged half what we payed. I said I'm Vietnamese too, you know :). I suggested to her that if she was poor, she should ask me and other people, they probably wouldn't mind donating or loaning her some but cheating is not a good way to do busines
Further along the road, we dropped into two different coffee places where we paid just 7.000VND (35c). It was not the best coffee but it was nice to be treated as a Vietnamese again :). After getting our caffeine hit, we headed to hue's main market, the Dong Ba Market just over the Trang Tien Bridge. As we headed across, I saw a middle aged woman walking along selling bean curd drink. I ordered two bowls and I was ripped off again. I was so upset but just gave her my money and walked away. It seems that Hue people have changed so much, only thinking about instant cash and taking advantage of tourists as much as possible. I felt sad more than angry with them. I've chatted with friends since and they all had similar stories when they visited Hue. Some are even refusing to return, which is a pity!
Anyway, things improved after that. The highlight of my short vacation was the Bún Mắm Nêm from an old lady who has been sitting outside 15 Phan Đăng Lưu St for more than 30 years. It's only 15,000VND (75c) but it was so satisfying after a long walk around the fascinating Đông Ba Market. I have to say that the noodles were really spicy; I was sweating and tears were running from my eyes by the time I'd finished my bowl of noodles. It was fantastic! A second highlight was Huyen Anh restaurant, where they serve grilled beef with noodles and herbs. It was so yummy
By the end of the trip, I'd completely forgotten about getting ripped off. But one thing I have yet to discover in Hue is really good Bun Bo Hue. We had a couple of bowls but I honestly don't think they were as good as what I've had in Hoi An or Nha Trang. When I go back, I'm going to do more research on that one.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Hủ Tiếu Saigon is a signature noodle dish from the south. In the north, it is more of a dry noodle dish, while in Saigon it is clearly a soup. It consists of a choice of egg or rice noodles, a rich porky broth and lots of fresh salad and herb content on the side to counter the meat in the dish. This is one of the dishes on the top of my list whenever I'm going to Ho Chi Minh City. I'm sure there are plenty of people there who make amazing Hủ Tiếu but I love my lady in Bùi Viện street, who serves the best version I've had.
In the last 10 years or so, regardless of where I stay when I'm there, I always eat her noodles for breakfast. It's not just because it's cheap but also about how delicious the broth is: cooked with pork bones for a long time, with incredibly tender meat and the smile she greets me with.
She knows I like to eat fresh bean sprouts, soft knuckles of bone and some thinly sliced pork with not many noodles. I suppose you could say I'm a difficult customer - maybe that's why she recognises me! I enjoy her company and her staff seem to have been the same for years. So she must be a good employer, as well. All middle aged and very funny, sometimes it sounds like they are arguing but it is just a normal conversation. I enjoy being part of their conversation and laughing with it. She told me she doesn't care who her clients are or where they're from, they all human beings and she charges everyone with same price and I like that.