Monthly Archives: February 2010

My last hours in Vietnam

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Before leaving for the airport to begin the 20-hour trip home to the U.S. I made sure to carve out an hour so that I could go have one last bowl of pho (noodle soup) at a popular street cafe in Ha Noi. This little street side joint has been run by the same family for the past 50 years. It probably looks exactly the same as it did in its beginning. And holy moly is the soup good. I don’t know how they make their broth (and I probably don’t want to know) but it’s incredibly flavorful.

Pictured above is Hai, our driver who, like me, is gobbling down a bowl of soup. He and I communed often over a steaming hot bowl of soup while sitting on teeny tiny plastic stools pulled up to a child-sized plastic table. A big bowl of pho (served with fried bread for dipping) costs less than US$1. Sometimes he treated me, sometimes I treated him. It was a very simpatico relationship.

I’m gonna miss communing with Hai over pho. And I’m going to miss Vietnam.

More street food: the Vietnamese hot dog

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Uh. Yum. And double yum. Simple, but oh so tasty! The Viet-style hot dog is made of pork and is just a little bit spicy. And the bread. Good heavens! I feel a swoon coming on just thinking about the scrumptiousness of the hot fresh bread right out of the oven. It’s crispy on the outside and soft, sweet and warm on the inside.

Yummy, yummy, yummy!

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Having coffee at the top of the Caravelle Hotel

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I have the most wonderful memories as a little girl pouring over photo albums filled with black and white photos of my parents’ wedding. Their wedding was a huge glamorous affair with over five hundred people in attendance. At one point my mother had on a beautiful tiara. Her flowers were dramatic and exotic. And her gowns (in Asian tradition she had many, many outfit changes) ranged from the traditional ao dai to sophisticated and elegant western gowns. I remember the elbow length gloves and stiletto heels. My mother was quite the stylish bride and my father was so handsome and dapper in his tuxedo.

As I scrutinized each photo my mother would point out who was in the photo and tell me stories about their friends and her courtship with my dad. It was a happy time for them.

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Snack foods

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Oh, man. One of the things that I love about Vietnam is the street food and snacks that are available everywhere. You can’t walk ten meters down the street without running into a street vendor offering up small bites of yumminess.

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Let’s start with the normal stuff: ice cream cups. Popsicles and soft serve cones are also extremely popular. Here we’ve got an assortment of flavors that we definitely do not get at home: mung bean, durian, taro, aloe vera yogurt and casava chocolate.

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Rice crispy ball sweetened with sugar syrup.

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Corn puffs sweetened with molasses and a little ginger.

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Fresh roasted sweet potatoes and casabas. It really hits the spot when it’s cold and chilly outside.

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Sliced green mangoes sprinkled with a mixture of white pepper, salt and chili pepper. (This dish in particular reminds me of my childhood growing up in South America. I absolutely love it!)

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Fresh roasted water chestnuts.

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Fresh roasted corn sprinkled with sea salt.

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Steamed sweet black bean cake filled with coconut and mung beans. This is kind of like a steamed sweet dumpling wrapped in banana leaves. It’s a specialty of the city of Nam Dinh.

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Rice cakes topped with a gingered peanut brittle.

There is so much more available but I was too busy snacking to remember to take more photos. Ha! Oh, boy. It’s a wonder I’m not waddling home. All the street food snacks are so delicious and fun to eat.

Pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda

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Right after Tet we made a pilgrimage to the Perfume Pagoda, also known as Chua Houng, located on Perfume mountain on the Yen Vi river, about 70km southwest of Ha Noi. It’s actually a grouping of many pagodas clustered along the mountainside and they are visited in succession as one makes their way up the mountain to the highest and most exquisite temple. This cluster of pagodas is most easily accessed by boat.

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Honoring our ancestors

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In the Buddhist religion one honors their ancestors on the anniversary of their death by celebrating their life and praying for an auspicious afterlife. It is a tradition filled with ceremony and ancient customs.

As a coincidence our trip to Vietnam coincides with the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. My grandmother was buried in my grandfather’s hometown, which is a small country village about an hour outside of Nam Dinh. My grandfather, who passed some ten years after she did, is buried alongside her. We took the opportunity to honor them both on this day.

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Hoi An—charm city

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For the past several days we’ve been on a road trip from Saigon to Ha Noi. Along the way we stopped to visit one of my many aunties in Hoi An, an utterly charming city in central Vietnam. After celebrating a belated Tet with a wonderful lunch at my auntie’s home along the river we decided to play tourist and head into the city’s old downtown, which is a huge draw for tourists. I could instantly see why.

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Temple hopping in Nha Trang

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Nha Trang is a coastal resort town about a nine-hour drive north of Saigon. The beaches of Nha Trang are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. The water is an incredible blue and waves are calm leaving the ocean to appear smooth and flat like glass.

The beaches were a big draw—I mean c’mon, who doesn’t love to walk the beach, scuba dive, parasail, or lounge under an umbrella with a book drinkin’ booze out of a coconut? But because it was the day after Tết, a time that you traditionally go to church to pay your respects and bring in the new year with prayers, we decided to temple hop instead.

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