Do you like pickles?

Like in my Pirin area also in Vietnam there are quite a few local dishes that foreigners/tourists never get to taste. Either because they do not show up on restaurant menus or – when invited to a Vietnamese home – they are too “common” or too “specific” to be presented to a foreign guest.

I am in the lucky(?) position to get such food nearly every day. It is always “nearly” vegetarian, as only a little meat is added to the cooking process – mainly for taste.

Last night we had “Canh dưa” – a kind of soup with pickled vegetable. The Vietnamese like pickling very much (a little different from the Japanese pickling).

For the Canh dưa they clean and cut mustard greens

and keep them covered in salt water three to four days (turning the stuff upside down every day). When the thicker lower parts start to become yellow, it is ready – like here:

You then wash the mustard greens to get the salt out and dry them. Then heat some oil in a pot and add cubed beef (tenderloin if possible) and tomatoes and the mustard greens. No other spices. Simmer it covered for 5 minutes. Afterwards you transfer everything into a pressure cooker, add water and cook it for about 50 minutes in a pressure cooker.

The result looks something like this:

I can assure you that the taste is unlike anything that you have eaten so far. But it is very satisfying and complex. I nearly finished the pot on my own :)

Some days ago I have bought some durian ice cream at “Fanny’s”. Horribly expensive – but the “maitre” learned in Paris at Lenotre’s. It was a perfect desert with a little sliced-up banana.

Oh, these small bananas. Like perfume in your mouth :)

Today no rain – but COLD (15 C only!) and windy. Another relaxed day in the making…

Lazy in lousy weather

The last two days were the first in Ha Noi without me sweating. The recent storm brought cold weather of 16 degrees C today (and down to icy 13 C during last night). A nice break. My has already dug out her winter clothes…

As it was also raining we did not venture out much. Yesterday only for a breakfast noodle soup downstairs at 7.30 am (25,000 Dong for a big bowl = 1.87 Leva):

…and today I got myself a Vietnamese baguette sandwich (banh mi) with liver pate and other things in the morning (15,000 Dong = 1.12 Leva).

…not much else to do ;)

So, to escape the cold I booked a flight to Saigon where it will be 32 C today.  We will go there for 4 nights next Saturday. As My has never been there I will have to be the tour guide for a change :) That will be fun. I bet she won’t like the food there as the Southerners are known for using a lot of sugar in their cooking. But we will survive, I am sure :)

One slight problem is that according to Vietnamese law a Vietnamese person cannot share a hotel room with a foreigner if they are not married! But I was able to arrange that discretely…after all I am an experienced Bulgarian :)

Today I need to plug into an ATM. The limit at most machines is 2,000,000 Dong (about 100$) – even here not an awful lot. I have decided to wait till noon – because from there I can continue to my beer garden where I am planning to have some of my favourite foods for lunch…pork offals…

Will my everday life now be ruled by drab monotony?

I don’t know how you feel about your everyday life when you come back from a holiday. For me this was a nearly forgotten feeling as I have not been on a holiday in a very long time ;)

After all these exotic, even amazing impressions and experiences in Japan I have to adapt to my regular Vietnamese life again…

Don’t get me wrong, my life in Ha Noi is not bad and I am not complaining. It’s just that now that I am living the third autumn here my “passionate love” is gradually being replaced by a tender intimateness. A normal process like in most relationships.

What I do not like about such cases, however, is that one is establishing routines. And gets more and more used to one’s environment and a bit blind for the beauty and joy around. In other words: everything becomes taken-for-granted.

That’s why I have arranged to live in three “parallel universes”: in Bansko (where my core is), in Munich (where my cultural needs are being satisfied) and in Ha Noi (where buzzing life and good food turn me on). For my young age I am a rather experienced contemporary and my hunger and lust for learning and new things is still huge. In fact, this is (of course) what keeps my spirit young.

Some people see me as a hedonistic male chauvinist pig (maybe representatives of the female branch) – but that is utter nonsense. I consider myself a Bonvivant. Someone who makes the best out of every situation and lives happily all the time. I am at peace with the world and with myself :) That makes me also independent. As I have said many times: I do not know anyone who has a better life than me and I would not want to switch position with anyone even for a minute.

But back to the important matters.

The first dinner back in Ha Noi was very simple: pumpkin flowers with garlic and a little fried tofu…

- and – as a surprise to make me happy – three little crabs (one is being kept warm still).

When we were in Japan I just could not fork out the money for their crabs. Look at this here and the prices. The ones that have about the size of yesterdays Hanoi crabs cost 4,000 Yen! A piece! 54 Leva or 27€. My paid 120,000 Dong (9 Leva or 4,50€) for 3 live ones!!! Do you understand now why I just could not eat crab in Japan?!

Life is much simpler here than in Japan. Instead of this marvellous variety of breakfast items and feast for the taste buds (which takes you maybe two hours to prepare) we have only one or two things. Today it was hột vịt lộn – the standard breakfast egg.

It is a fertilized duck egg, hatched for usually 19 days. Boiled. You eat it with ginger strips and green leaves. Much “eggier” than our chicken egg business in Europe…

Now that I am well fed I will venture out to get some tickets for the European Music Festival that will start on Saturday in Hanoi and last for about 10 days. Mainly jazz.

Oh, yesterday I got some bad news: there is no Havana Club in Hanoi these days. The sole importer has given up on it, they say, as no one bought it! I just  have to leave for Japan for a few weeks and the bloody market collapses. Just my luck!

Mission Japan

“Mission Japan” accomplished, I should say. It was most inspiring. And it accentuated and corrected the visions and impressions that I had built up over the last thirty-five years.

The tour was maybe typical – but with a twist. Tokyo, of course, the unique place. Then, culture shock, Tanakawa, the quaint mountain town with the old spirit, Kanazawa, the seaport and trade center, buzzling but not so touristy. Kyoto, the pearl, the heritage treasure. Full with Japanese and other tourists but bursting with charm. Kinosaki, with very few foreigners, but every bed in town booked out completely between November and April. Loads of hot mineral springs, 7 public bathes and many private. The number 1 spa centre in Japan. Finally Nagoya – not one single tourist. Toyota city they call it because this is where the world’s biggest car manufacturer started in the weaving business and still has its headquarters. Great fun on a Sunday morning at the Nagoya Castle at a Japanese “Volksfest” with only local groups dancing and performing! And now back to Tokyo.

I wanted to see as many aspects as possible in the short time. Big city, traditional country, spa tourism and non-touristic everyday Japanese life…

I also achieved my three main goals. As always I did not buy any souvenirs (or presents, I am afraid), only “practical” things absolutely necessary for a decent life:

Number 1: a handmade Japanese knife. A “gyutu” – a chef’s knife. Like women they need a lot of care. Unlike women their blade has a sharp edge only on one side. This makes for a more perfect cut.

Number 2: some extra-special hand selected konbu (kelp/seaweed) that you can only dream of in Europe. To make soups (dashi) and (where the quality of the konbu is even more important) certain other dishes like tsukudani.

Number 3: what I call “the truffles of Japan”. At least what their price suggests. It took me research and talks to various vendors to get to the source of this marvellous delight that, again, I can only dream of in Europe. I attach a picture.

This is dried Bonito (a fish from the tuna family). In fact, it is smoked and air dried and hard as old wood. You “shave” off flakes – which are not only the basis for any good Japanese dashi soup – but also wonderful as a seasoning for many dishes. This beauty contains an awful lot of natural taste enhancer and is one of the big “umami” providers. The price of this “truffle” depends on the origin of the fish and the reputation of the “affineur”. Good stuff like the one on the photo catches prices of more than 1,200$ per kg.

 

 

By-by Kyoto

It was a great time. My feet are still hurting from all the walking in the hills with those temples and shrines. We went to a tea ceremony, saw geishas and I was on a sake and tuna diet.

Now we are packed and will head to the train station for the next adventure: a three day “Onsen” splash. Staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan guest house and soaking in the famous mineral springs of Kinosaki. I do expect miracles from that ;) Maybe. Or so…

I might not have internet for a while. That is a pleasant change.

See you later…

Kanazawa

The third biggest city. Home of the Maeda Clan who was the second most powerful family in Japan for centuries.

A town also with a picturesque old quarter – as Kanazawa was the only big town not bombed during WW II.

And one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan: Kenroku-en.  Unfortunately, my camera battery went dead after a few shots.

 

 

Izakaya

I don’t want to bore you with descriptions of our visits to the classical Tokyo sites like the National Museum, Mori Art Gallery, parks and temples.

Yesterday, on our way home after a very busy day some signs in a small side street near our hotel caught my eye and I told My that this was the place where I wanted to go later in the evening. It looked like a typical Izakaya – a place where you drink sake and have some snacks with it…

The owner and his chef of course did not speak a word of English so, when ordering cold sake I tried to gesture to him that I wanted him to make the choice for me. This is what he brought and it was not such a bad start:

Next I switched to hot sakes – and as the different appetisers arrived (blind chosen on the Japanese menu) – so came and went the different sakes…

By now I felt very relaxed and very much at home here. I ventured to talk to the other clients in the “gastropub” – and, surprise, I came across two guys who had both lived in the US. They were already at a rather advanced drinking stage – but very nice.

Once we were friends they took pride in recommending different sakes to me. The owner also put his brainpower to work – and the good times continued.

Towards the end I switched back to cold sake – to chill out…

I lost track of time a little – and if the owner would not have thrown us out because he wanted to close we probably would still be there.

In any case: we all parted as best friends!

I hav chosen this as my new home in Tokyo :)

A day in the Life of a Hanoian…

I can’t say that life in Hanoi has become boring. Every day there is something new and adventurous.

This morning and in the early afternoon we had to venture out of our realm into the big wide world of Hanoi. And it is getting bigger all the time. In 2009 there were 6.5 million people. The current estimate is at 8 million +. More people than in all of Bulgaria :)

We were busy with such everyday tasks as carrying bags of money around to be exchanged in some dark passageways and me to finally pick up my Vietnamese credit card from the Vietcong, err, Vietcom Bank. Getting more and more local :) The bank considers me a valued and special client and gave me the highest credit card limit I have ever had in my life: 100,000,000 (one hundred million) a day! Wow!

OK, it’s Vietnamese Dong – but still about 5,000$ :)

That needed some celebration and I had one of those expensive Vietnamese ice-coffees at the curbside, watching the “flow” while My went somewhere to do something.

After being in a good mood now, I decided to visit my local coiffeur to get myself pimped up a bit.

50,000 Dong poorer I had to think twice if we could afford to go to the beer garden. But we did anyway. I like the young people that work there – and the beer and the peanuts. Beer here is more expensive than in my local pub last year: 9,000 in comparison to 7,000 – what can you do?

By the time we went home evening life had already started and the restaurants started to fill up.

Here is a view from the little bridge connecting our little island Truc Bach with the “mainland”:

These are soe simple eateries:

…and this a little “up-market” old fashioned Hanoi restaurant in one of our two backstreets:

Before checking into our home I stopped at the local pagoda to thank the Buddha for another wonderful day:

With the prospect of flying to Tokyo the day after tomorrow I drank the rest of my last bottle of Havana Club without regret. Am I not brave!

A simple and healthy dinner rewarded me for my heroism…

The scissors are, of course, for cutting the chillies :)

I have so become used eating “with a bowl” instead of a plate. You eat slower and much less and in fact you even enjoy the food much more as you can “pick” from different things all the time…

Now it’s time to call it a day – and to put the last layer of virustatic creme on my wounds…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple food – the best food?

Last night’s dinner was a marvel of simplicity: a vegetable soup.

Its taste, however, heavenly.

Only three ingredients in the soup: white cabbage, “winter melon” (a green long veggie that looks like a gigantic cucumber) and a few pork ribs, cut in short pieces. Boil this with fresh ginger and a dash of fish sauce. Ready!

We cooked it for two days – but could not stop eating until it was finished :)

I had never seen the “winter melon” before in my life. Here they call it “bí đao”. In Germany it’s “Wachskürbis”. It belongs to the pumpkin family. And Vietnamese store it at home before the typhoon season because it can keep for months – in case ;)

At least for the soup you throw away the “middle part”. You only use the outer greenish part of the winter melon.

 

 

 

Happiness – is it all Crab?

In the morning My went home to her apartment for some household chores – and because she prefers to do her shopping in “her” local market where everyone knows her and she gets the best quality and prices.

I stayed at home because a) I am a lazy bastard and b) because I am not a good passenger on a motorbike with a driver who is less than half my weight. I have not rented my own bike yet…but will do so on Monday, I guess.

During her shopping she met some old friends of mine and invited them to join her and come see me.

Here is one of them:

In fact, she brought a couple of them.

And also some of those blue fellows:

Beautiful, eh! All of them very much alive.

Recently I have been daydreaming about our trip to Japan and that the crab season will start in November in North-West Honshu. Stupid me! I have crab here as much as I want! And at 280,000 dong (21 Leva/11,50€) per kg I am sure cheaper than in Japan! The blue crab is only 230,000 dong (17.50 Leva) per kg.

I had one of the big ones for a healthy lunch today. Steamed. No side dish :)

The others went into the freezer…one as a snack for each day modest as I am…

That’s what I call “Happy Weekend”!