Thursday, 30 June 2011


Hanoi or Hà Nội is the capital and second largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City though Ho Chi Minh himself found his final resting place in Hanoi. It once was the capital of French Indochina and the influences are still visible whether it'd be in the colonial architecture or in the baguettes sold in bakeries and at street stalls everywhere.

The old town is charmingly busy with street stalls everywhere and even the tiniest corner can be transformed to a kiosk, restaurant or tea house.

Taro & coconut ice cream and Green sticky rice. Guess which ones which?

You can see a lot of street vendors selling directly from their bicycles. This one here specialises in baskets and traditional Vietnamese hats.

Bun thit nuong but totally different than the version we had in Ho Chi Minh City.

Döner kebap is a Turkish classic gone German and one of Germany's most popular fast food dishes that has obviously made its way to Vietnam. There are also hot dog stands and speaking about hot dogs, that gets a totally different connotation in Hanoi where you can find a whole street dedicated to dog meat. Hot dog. Literally.

Hoa thien ly are the flower buds of a tree and a Vietnamese speciality similar in taste to jasmin flower buds used in Chinese dishes. It's a delicate slightly nutty flavour and best enjoyed simply fried with garlic or in egg based dishes.

Fried tofu with a chili infused hot hot soy sauce and fresh lemon balm to counterbalance the spicyness. Fresh herbs are an integral part of a lot of dishes and a common Vietnamese phrase translates to "eat herbs when you are healthy, drink herbs when you are sick".

In the evening the pavement is transformed to beer gardens with child size plastic chairs and tables popping up everywhere and you can drink a bia hoi hanoi or five served from kegs situated outside as well. What a way to finish your day.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

VIETNAM: Hoa Lu District

Hoa Lu in the Red River Delta was the capital of 10th century Vietnam and the delta is a major agricultural area with vast areas devoted to growing rice.

Tam Coc - Bich Dong in the Hoa Lu District is a popular tourist destination and it's described as the 'Ha Long Bay of the ricefields'. Tam Coc means “three caves” and they can be explored on excursion by boat along the Ngo Dong river proceeding through a scenic landscape dominated by paddy fields and karst towers.

Vietnam is the second-largest (after Thailand) exporter worldwide of rice and it's no surprise that rice is also called ‘white gold’. The most popular varieties are the usual white rice (eaten during every meal), jasmine rice (commonly used by the upper class), sticky or glutinous rice known as Xôi (steamed rice sweetened and mixed with condiments eaten for breakfast or as a dessert dish) and broken rice (converted to Com Tam by steaming).

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Hoi An has a beautiful old town that has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries due to it's location and the influences from the Chinese, Japanese and Dutch are still present.

Hoi An is famous for their food too. There are lots of local dishes to try here that you won't find anywhere else in the country.

The most popular is Cao lau. Cao lau noodles are made from sticky rice and the dish is served with vegetables, fresh herbs and bean sprouts. In the traditional version the dish incorporates pork sliver and crackling but there's also a vegetarian one with tofu and crutons instead.

Instead of a ready-made summer roll you sometimes get the fresh rice paper, herbs and greens so you can make your own rolls, always to be dipped in the sweet and sour spicy fish sauce.

White rose or Banh Bao Banh Vac is another speciality in Hoi An: rice paper dumplings filled with a pork and shrimp meat paste and then steamed. The presentation resembles a rose hence the name.

And another classic dish from Hoi An. Wantons are fried in hot oil and served with vegetables. Great as a starter.

There are a lot of street vendors selling all sorts of dishes. This lady here sells silken sofu with a ginger syrup or Tau Hu Nuoc Duong in Vietnamese. The tofu is still warm but the syrup is mixed with ice and this combination makes this dish a winner.

Chè refers to a traditional Vietnamese sweet dessert soup or pudding and there are many variations. Some say the more ingredients the better and this one here incorporates loads: red tapioca perls that resemble pomegranate seeds, coconut gel, grass jelly, cream and mung bean paste on top. So many different flavours and textures shouldn't work but they do.

And a more modest version with less ingredients: Chè hat sen is made with lotus seeds and grass jelly cubes.

Cua Dai beach is 5 km from Hoi An on the South China Sea with fine white sand and clear blue water. Some vendors go up and down the beach to sell kites, balloons and rent tubes.

STREETS is a restaurant with a cause. While dining you help support the local community as the restaurant offers an opportunity for street kids to learn a trade and work in the kitchen or front of house. The menu includes Vietnamese classics and with such simplicity it's all about the execution and presentation.

The term Canh refers to a clear broth with vegetables and often meat. In this version fresh herbs play the main role.

Banh flan is influenced by French cuisine and the vanilla flavoured flan is served with a caramel sauce. In this restaurant version of a street food and patissery classic coffee flavour replaces the caramel and you even save ordering an espresso.

Friday, 17 June 2011

VIETNAM: Nha Trang

Nha trang is a coastal city bang on the South Central Coast of Vietnam with some great beaches and for obvious reasons very popular with Vietnamese and international tourists alike.

The local bakery also sells Bánh bao, steamed filled rice flour buns. You can find variations all around Asia with the origins in China. Same same, but different.

Bánh xèo means "sizzling cake" and they are Vietnamese pancakes made of rice flour stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts and then pan fried. They are served with fresh herbs and dipped in a sweet fish sauce. And if you like it spicy add some of the homemade chili garlic paste.

Bánh goi remind me of Cornish pasties with their crispy fried pastry. These ones are filled with minced pork, onions and half a boiled quails egg. You can dip them in the sweet chili sauce that you get in the little bag. Vendors can wrap anything for take away with just a plastic bag and a rubber band. Even drinks. Easy.

During our stay was the Festival biển 2011 and the city celebrated at night with performances and fireworks and lots of stalls and pop-up vendors selling straight out of a basket or from their bicycle.

You know you're turning Vietnamese when you can comfortably sleep on your motorbike like a xe om driver. Or when you wear a facemask and keep your helmet on when entering a shop or bank or even on the beach. You continue to take calls while driving and red lights don't mean stop under all circumstances. You will transport furniture, a refrigerator or large flatscreen TV home by motorbike and it's normal to have more than 2 people on it. And at night your living room will double up as a parking lot for your previous vehicle.

Monday, 13 June 2011


Mui Ne is a popular beach town on the southeastern coast of Vietnam that is famous for the red and white sand dunes just out of town. The fishing harbour supplies the town and resort restaurants with fresh fish and seafood. Please note that the woven round basket is a traditional boat as well.

The other big industry in town apart from tourism is fish sauce. You will smell it before you see it, slightly pungent and salty as the sea. The fish will be fermenting in these pots for about a year until it's ready to be bottled.

Vietnamese rice vermicelly bun are the staple of many great Vietnamese dishes.

Vietnamese ice tea can be just green tea or flavoured with jasmine. You usually get a chaser when you order coffee. Maybe not quite as big a glass though. And not always served with an iceberg.

The local bakery. The baguettes for banh mi are so crusty it can't be much better in France.

Com tam is "broken rice" with grilled pork (hiding under the fried egg is a rib) served with various greens and pickled vegetables, fried egg and sweet fish.

At night the stalls on the bach come alive and present their fresh seafood ready to be put on the barbeque. Just have your pick from the baskets and aquariums and it'll be sizling away for you.