BACK IN THE US OF A

•21 November , 2009 • 1 Comment

Been back now about two weeks.  Its a cosmic rush all around.  You go to the supermarket and there is Everything!  Quavas, Thai noodles, Zatar, Sticky Rice, everything.  And everything is cheap.   Check this out:  Full loin of pork bone in = 1.49 a lb!  That figures out to just over 3 $ a kg.  Wine is cheap, cars are fairly cheap, been out looking for a truck.  Started by looking at used then made the mistake of walking over to the new car/truck section and my peepers alighted upon a Ford Raptor SVT.  Minimal logos except for a very large but not immediately obvious FORD on the front grille.  7 inches wider then the F150, feels like an X5 when you sit inside and has all of the same features.  This truck is a seriously well design vehicle.  So you see I have be truck-struck.  The price tag however does not quite fall into the category of cheap, and then there is the gas guzzling engine which of course is not politically correct.  Dealer is at present holding his line on the price and I mine.  I almost/do hope he will not accept my bid.

Unpacking and repacking and rearranging has been a constant task.  166 boxes awaited when I returned.  If not for the excellent help from my nephew, niece and ex-brother-in-law(long gruesome story), I would still be knee deep in bubble wrap.  All is now either ensconced in a 10X25 foot storage unit rental down the road or has found a place in la casa.  Only to be later rearrange when full reno begins.

Thanksgiving is a little less then a week away, farm grown turkey just arrived by fedex yesterday and is resting nicely in the freezer along side the ham.  Weather is perfect these days, 70s in the day 40s at night.  Expect 10-12 for Turkey day.  Please also enjoy yours.

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Hanoi-HaplongBay September7-12,2009

•4 November , 2009 • 1 Comment

VIETNAM-HANOI AND HALONG BAY

HANOI:  I think the first thing that astounds you when entering Hanoi is the motorcycles.  More than Saigon(from now on  HCMC for political correctness), the Hanoi streets  appear to be a tsunami  surge of motorized bikes.  There are a reported 6 million people in the vicinity of Hanoi and it feels like there are 12 million motorcycles.  MotorcyclesYour first impression is that these buzzing demons are coming at you from every direction.  They seem to be attacking from the left, right, behind, in front, even overhead and through your legs.   However after the initial scare of death by cycle, you quickly understand that all is relatively calm with this sea of buzzing motor knats.  If on foot you chose your time(just about any will do) to cross a road and keep steadily walking never stopping to achieve your goal of crossing the street, you should succeed.  As you slowly but steadily move across, the tidal wave of bikes open up and flow around you like a school of fish swimming around an obstruction.

In Hanoi those not on motorcycles seemed to be driving  Beemers, Mercs, Porches,Audis!  There are people in this communist state of Vietnam making a whole lot of mullah(or is it mulla??)

LakeViewHanoi  is  beautifully sited, lakes dot the city with Lake Ho Hoan Kiem focusing the downtown old quarter area with its calm reflecting water and two temple islands.  Encircled by a walkway used by many through the day and night, it’s a scenic core of this bustling old quarter.  There is a very special viewpoint to enjoy this photogenic lake.  Go to 11 Hang Gai street right in the bulls eye of tourist central.  It is an unassuming storefront shop, can’t even remember what it is selling.  You continue through the shop into what appears to be a family residence.  You’ll see gandpappa sleeping in an open bedroom to your left, as you enter. Continue to the open courtyard and on your right is a flight of stairs and a girl who points boringly upward.  Up the stairs, then up a circular staircase gets you to a coffee shop perched right on top of a commercial maze that includes KFC at street level. At this eagles nest you suddenly have a spectacular view of the whole lake.  Sunset heaven is what you have here.  That however is not the end of this story.  This is a coffee shop serving you all of the coffees you love, but it also serves a coffee that I have never ever had anywhere on earth and wonder why this has not caught on anywhere else.  EggSaboyanCoffeeNo it’s not Weisel Coffee (will talk about that later).  Ask for an egg coffee.  What you get is a shear heaven of an egg sabayon crème draped over a strong Vietnamese cup of java.  Does not get better, and then add the view as the evening light plays across the lake—-photo ops to die.

The center of Hanoi where most visitors stay is fairly compact.  You are right in the area where you can enjoy the 30 streets of local vendors. Each street focuses on one type of general item.  Kitchen, Hardware, Natural Medicines,Clothes etc, is what you find. 

SnakeMedicine

Snake Medicine for all ailments

You can if you have the time slowly strolling through these fascinating streets.  Alas I didn’t have the time, but caught kitchen(what a surprise) and bamboo section and medicinal streetof the city.  Great stuff.

ScopionMedicine

ScopionMedicine

Hotels in Hanoi of course run the gambit.  I first settled for a small boutique tunnel house redo of a hostelry call Cinnamon Hotel right next to the old main Catholic Church in the old quarter.  This area also appears to be traveler central.   Cinnamon has nice rooms, friendly staff, popular place, but horrible internet that drove me crazy.  I finally gave up and moved to the historic Metropole, homage to past colonial splendor.  Great internet, but upper level rates—you rationalize by saying, “could never get a place like this in NYC or Paris for the rate they are charging—-oh well rationalize as you wish.  Bottom line is that you can get a good place at any price you decide on in Hanoi. 

More than rooms, motorbikes, et al, the street food of Hanoi is glorious.  In the morning there are women making these glutinous pancakes filled with pork and  things that are so tasty one will never do.  The Phu, pronounced phur, is everywhere and probably is Vietnam’s most famous dish of noodles and some kind of protein such as beef, pork, chicken, eel  etc depending on where and when you order it.  Chucked full of coriander, basil, lemongrass, kafir lime and everything else this is so satisfying that it’s hard not to only order that every time you sit down.

Walk through the disappearing local open food markets.  They are some of the best I have ever seen. Hanoi food markets echo Anthony Bourdain episodes of things you never thought you could eat and most would still not attempt.  For the most part I did not attempt the choices of live silk worms, dog, and you name it but I am sure it was delicious—ask Tony. 

Guts-Fisheggs-LiveWorms-ChickenFeet-Yum

Guts-FishGuts&Eggs-LiveWorms-ChickenFeet-Yummm!

 I say disappearing markets because the Hanoi government has decreed, that these open markets are unhygienic and that large supermarkets like Spinneys, Safeway and Megamart are the way to go and develop their country.  Go figure?  These markets that have been serving the populace for thousands of years are now considered unacceptable by the ruling class.  This new edict is a travesty to one of the most attractive and endearing iconic images that make Hanoi the vibrant city it is.  Go now before these places become memories.

Hanoi also has many cultural venues, museums, art galleries and other similar interests.  Call me dull, call me uncultured, but I prefer just sitting in a coffee shop and watching the city pass and by and impart a self-painting image of the now. One place that I wanted to visit but ran out of time was the John McKane Statue of where he crashed his jet for maybe the 5th or 6th time.  I would like to know why on earth he was always crashing planes.  Did others crash theirs as much as he did?  Anyway, there it is right out supposedly in the lake where he dumped several hundred million dollars of plane—again.  For you conservative types, don’t start coloring me as an anti-Vietnam war person.  I was drafted served my term of one year nine months and 28 days during the 1969 Tet Offensive.  Regrettably the army never sent me to Vietnam.  Instead they opted to send me to Fort Story, Virginia with my barracks was 200 feet from the beach and then to Monterrey California Defense Language Institute overlooking Monterey Bay.   They were hardship postings.

Being the obsessed foodie that I am I spent most of my few days in Hanoi at the “Hanoi Cooking Center”.  Tracey Lister heads a group of staff who will guide you through the preparation of various Vietnamese dishes.  The joy of this center is that unlike many cooking schools where you just sit and watch, at the Hanoi Cooking Center you get to do most of the chopping, dicing, cooking etc.  This of three places where I took cooking courses in Asia was a hands down champion.  If in Hanoi do book a course or more with Tracey:  Hanoi Cooking Center, 44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, +84 4 3715 3277/+84 4 3715 3278; email – info@hanoicookingcentre.com; Website – www.hanoicookingcentre.com

Here is an easy recipe from Tracey for a Vegetable Pickle that is great as an accompaniment  with Asian soups like Phu, or Ramien or grilled/roasted meats.  Cuts the richness of dishes nicely.

Vegetable Pickle:

1 Carrot peeled and sliced into 1mm thick julienne

200 gm green papaya peeled and sliced into 1 mm thick julienne, substitutes could be green mango or tart green apple

½ Tsp salt

3 Tbs sugar

3 Tbs Rice vinegar

2 Tbs Fish Sauce

1 Chile, deseeded if desired and chopped

2 garlic cloves, hopped

Place carrots with green papaya and sprinkle salt over allowing to sit for 5 minutes.  Wash salt off and pat dry.  Mix with remaining ingredients.  Flavors enhance if you allow it to sit in the refrigerator for awhile.

Bobby Chinn's RestaurantHanoiThen there is Bobby Chinn who has exploded on the TV cooking scene.  I when to his namesake restaurant which is now way out of town in a nondescript neighborhood.  To his credit the rooms were full of other interested guests.  His food is inventive, well prepared, tasty and beautifully presented.  The staff are great and they play cool background music.  My waiter was a budding movie star and had already starred in one movie.  Worth a visit, but on the pricey side.

FruitVendor

Fruit Vendor

Should have given myself more time in Hanoi.  Seems that I spent most of it either at cooking schools or finding the right hotel.

FruitVendor1
Fruit Vendor
GlutenPancakes

Gluten Pancakes

PrayerAlterHanoi

Buddist Praying Altar

Gensingroot

Gensing Root

HALONG BAY

Just a quick entry on Halong Bay.  It’s beautiful, stunning and worth the visit.  The down side is to get there you first have to arrive at what feels like a theme park ala Disney Land gauntlet of crowd control.  There are literally hundreds of tourist boats moored at the port awaiting day, overnight and multiple night guests.  I opted for a day trip.  Very very scenic
Haplong Bay2
Halong Bay

Haplong Bay3

Haplong Bay

Kovalam Beach, Kerala, India-Nasty Place

•2 October , 2009 • Leave a Comment

Kovalam Beach, Light House Beach, Kerala just outside of Trivandrum is one of the dirtiest, most polluted, ugly beaches I have ever seen–Now.  20 years back or more I visited this place and it in fact did then have a beach which was still not the cleanest but did have good sand, nice clean waves.  Now it has no beach, there is a 3 meter high embankment with narrow walk and wall to wall shops selling junk tourist stuff, beggars, hawkers trying to sell you the same cheap stuff, horrible black polluted sand with waves that have creamy foamy brownish floatsam cresting over very dirty looking seawater.  Can’t believe there were people both locals and foreigners swimming in it.  Stormy seas have made it worse.  Hotel Sea View is ok, with clean pool, and good breakfast Masala Dosa and good staff.   Patrick my nephew and Sihab my trusty Kerala guide from Cochin and I are staying in the one suite which has two rooms, uncomfortable chairs, no hot water, and noisey air conditioning.  What am I saying.  Hotel Sea View sucks, too expensive for what you get.

MAC-Why You Should Not Buy One

•2 October , 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Charger on my brand new MacPro 17″ Laptop was fried by the Sri Lankan power surchages day before yesterday.  Checked with local Mac shop and they said it would take 5 days to get replacement.  Now in India and I am working with friend via phone in Pondicherry to see if I can get one sent to himby the Bangalore center for Mac’s again the only place in all of India with replacement parts.  If I had a regular intel PC I could easily have purchased any generic charger.  My biggest worry when I bought my Mac was that I would be locked in to it like belonging to some kind of controlling fraternity.  Looks like my fears were correct.  More than that tried calling Mac US and they only work 8 hour days.  Sucks.   Fairly limited therefore in my reporting. NO PHOTOs I am afraid, sorry—HG

Vietnam-Short Note

•19 September , 2009 • 1 Comment

Vietnam is a must for travel and do it now because its changing so fast.  Hanoi government has declared that open air food markets are illegal and mandated that they close down. This is one of the great visual features of Vietnam.  Mass momementum to modernize is causing them to lose sight of the very things that make their culture attractive.

So the Vietnamese are extremely courteous and friendly.  As I went through the magnetometer at Saigon Airport the very nice and pretty agent asked me, “please open your head”.  She meant take of my hat, which I had forgotten to remove but the phrasing made me laugh and after I explained to her and her friends the mistake in wording we all had a good laugh.

Lots of strange things for eats here in this country.  Do not bring your pets here, they may become your next meal.  “Here poochi poochi poochi.  Come on over here to this little chopping block”   Slam, bang, fried and diced, a slice of haunch, might be nice:

DSC_0012r1

 

Hey, as they say, people eat everthing.  Tomorrow in search of Weasel Coffee.  Special coffee from Vietnam that is processed a very special way before it is roasted and sold.  Supposedly the weazel treatment makes the flavor awesom.  Much more on Vietnam later

Singapore-The Place

•14 September , 2009 • Leave a Comment
Clarke's Quay Singapore Sep09

Clarke's Quay Singapore Sep09

Singapore-The Place

 Singapore has to have one of the most beautiful front yards in the world.  By that I mean the first thing you see when arriving and driving into the city from the airport. First off you experience Changi Terminal 3 that exudes understated tasteful style all over.  Wide boulevards of very thickly padded carpet with bold non-symmetrical lineal patterns guides you through a totally efficient and beautiful terminal.  Once on a taxi the dual carriageway into the city has vegetation that looks both natural and chiseled at the same time.  It must take thousands of gardeners to make it look like that.  Strangely in all the times that I have visited this city I have never seen any.  Singaporean wood nymphs perhaps?  I must say that the entry into Singapore never tires. 

What was new to me this time was how much Singapore has remade itself since the last time I was there, which was in the 90s.  All the new high rises are no surprise, this is everywhere in the world.  What is remarkable is the happening buzz, and all the new venues.  Before Singapore was a quite efficient place with various ethnic districts of town where you could go for just about every variety of food in Asia.   Now it’s a strong business gathering venue for conferences.  In the three days I was there, I believe there must have been at least 3 ongoing conferences in the hotel where I was staying.    Scores of tiny ballerinas kept swooshing past me in dainty outfits, crowds of Filipinos scurried around to get to the conference room on Filipino Christian Champion Forum or something like that. 

Then there is the riverside quays that are now corniche style venues with myriad restaurants, bars, coffee houses, hotels, and everything else that goes with entertainment locations.  Add Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street and all the other places and as I said to a taxi driver this place is magnificent for being the best conference center in Asia, all that’s missing are the casinos and you would have an Asian Las Vegas.  He replied, “they will soon be here”.  He explained that the high rise towers being constructed to the right side of the road into Singapore will be the new casinos.  It will in fact be far better than LV, Nevada because most of the local venues are not pastische fabrications of the Eiffel Tower, Pyramids or Venice.  They are real.  Bravo Singapore. 

China Town Singapore Sep 09

China Town Singapore Sep 09

One evening I went to Chinatown for sezhwan  style cooking.  I like my food spicy so expected spicy.  I ordered stirfried chicken with cashews and red chilies.  Holy-ba-looly!  Chilies!  There were literally hundreds of chilies and a few pieces of chicken and cashews.  It was indeed delicious even though my mouth was screaming 7 alarm, hell 11 alarm fire.  The rice that came with the chicken helped calm the fire that evening, and the douche nossil the next morning for the afterburn.

 The last night venue was a splurge.  I went to the Indochine Restaurant at on of the riverside quays.  Location, location, location.  Architecture is very nice and redone colonial.  I ordered rack of lamb with lemon grass and ordered it pink  The waiter didn’t understand pink so I then tried medium rare which he seemed to understand.  It came to me well done.  I called the waiter over and showed him the evidence of well doneness.  He said, “Sir we serve it that way becasue of the smell”.  My coy reply was “bullshit”, what are you on earth talking about?  Please take this away and bring me medium well”.  He bowed and took the plate away coming back very quickly with the revised dish.  As he stood along side watching my reaction, I cut into the meat and noted a 1/16th inch doneness on the outside and totally rar inside.  I pointed to the blood squirting out of the meat in gushing fountains and told commented, “I think we have a pissed off cook in the kitchen.  Please take it back and have him cook it correctly.”  It finally did come back properly cooked.  Never accept substandard at an expensive restaurant which this was.   Later the Hostess came over with apologies.  But she made a mistake when she told me that people actually came to the restaurant for the venue and ambiance and not the food.  I replied that this was a totally unacceptable positon to take when the restaurant was charging such high prices for the food.  So If you want to propose to your honey, then this is the place.  Food was, shall we say, a very sad second.  Turns out this is a chain of restaurants.  Had I known, I would not have reserved. 

The quays are jumping with activity in the evenings, especially on the weekends.  All ranges of restaurants, lots of bars and nightclubs.  Singapore has done it up right.

Singapore Cooking Classes

•14 September , 2009 • Leave a Comment

 

 

Singapore-Coriander Leaf Cooking School: 

Garlic/Shallot When First Added To Pan

Garlic/Shallot When First Added To Pan

Coriander Cooking school(website http://www.corianderleaf.com):  Very nice location right off of Clarke’s Quay.  Lots of small shopes and cafes along the river.  The setup was presentation cooking with no interaction by students.  We saw the cook make 6 dishes: Chicken w/ Dried Red Chilies, Baby Kai Lan(something like bak choy) w/ Garlic Sauce, Vegetable Bee Hoon (no not bees) a rice noodle dish, Veg Spring Rolls, Black Pepper Beef & Crab,  and Black Rice Pudding.  Nice presentation and venue.  The nexus of what I learned was sauces:  Garlic sauce, Fried Garlic, Chili Paste in Oil and to use two skins of  thin spring roll wrappers to get crispy spring rolls.  Try this recipe for fantastic chili sauce, great with spring rools, noodles etc.  Depending on how much chili you use, this will pack a punch:

    1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola, soybean)

    12 Whole small Shallots

    16 cloves or about 1 head of garlic(do multiply this recipe as necessary), peeled and coarse        chopped

    1/4 Cup dried red pepper flakes, or to taste. 

Garlic/Shallot After Browning

Garlic/Shallot After Browning

    1 Tbs Brown Sugar or palm sugar

    salt & pepper to taste 

In processor blend together shallots nd Grlic to fine paste.  In a saute pn heat the oil and saute the garlic/shallot puree untile golden brown.  Cook very slowly and do not allow to brown too quickly.  Add the red pepper flakes and sugar and cook till it darkens slightly and oil begins to separate(about a minute). Remove from heat and cool.  Can be stored forever in frig.  Make sure to have oil covering top if storing to preserve.

 
 
 
 
Singapore-Ruqxana Magic Cookery(ruqxana@cookerymagic.com):  Ruxgana a Singaporean who is very well known in Singapore for her cooking acumen sets up classes most days for as many as are interested.  The menu varies but sticks to asian cuisine.  For us a group of 10 she instructed us in Nonya Cuisine, flovors very unique to the straights of Malacca  Area, Singapore, Penang and some other place????.   Great venue, in her house which is a garden terrace house just out of the main part of the city.  At Ruxgana’s, Koi fish ponds, tropical pegoda, and leafy garden make for a nice place, and add an interesting woman to the venue which equals success.  What I learned:  Put salt in the oil before you cook anything to enhance flavor;  Sambal Belachan a chili sauce with that extra pungent fermented shrimp paste ‘belachan’. Though I learned about broader recipe applications at coriander leaf, the reipes:  Tamarind Prawns and Spicy Grilled Chicken with Lime were definite keepers and the best foods between Coriander and Magic Cookery.  If you are in SIN, try either one, You will enjoy.    The Spicy Grilled Chicken with Lime is very involved and has lots of ingredients, galangal, fresh tumeric, chiles, coconut cream etc etc.  If you really want to try it, look up Nonia or Nonya Food on the web.  See preparation below:
Spicy Grill Chcken Lime

Spicy Grill Chcken Lime