Good Bye Hanoi

Today is the day to say goodbye to all the nice things in Hanoi. Tomorrow morning I will be flying away

Chicken noodle soup for breakfast today (as I MUST have a last Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) tomorrow at 7am or so.

Yesterday we ate all the stuff from the fridge (3 beef filet steaks for me breakfast and another 3 for dinner), squid with lemon grass and chillies for lunch. The only things left is 1/2 box of “Fanny” durian ice cream – one lime and two bottles of coke to water down the rest of the Captain Morgan.

A bottle of Ricard, some red wines and other long lasting items put into “storage” for my next visit.

I am lucky that I am so disciplined that I did not buy anything in Hanoi in the last 2-1/2 months. Otherwise I would be screwed with the luggage. Well, I do have some new stuff: a thick Malaysian cookbook and about 2kg of ready made sauces that some friendly people in KL bestowed on me. And I don’t know yet how to transport this  Maybe I will check out this afternoon how much it will cost to ship the sauces to Germany and send them by post if it is affordable…

Ah, and I also have to turn in my squeaking but trustworthy motorbike today. I did not use it as much as I anticipated but it was a must have item. Gave me the feeling of independence.

Tonight it will be dining out. Not in one of the fancy restaurants but in a street restaurant in a little side alley in a god-forsaken area, 15 minutes from my apartment. Goose soup with coagulated goose-blood ,and goose salad and, de facto, all different kinds of goose-stuff

From tomorrow on it will be all Thai!

I had a great time here. But everything, including life, is temporary. I enjoy it as long as it lasts but I am also ready to let it go. There are always new things on the horizon…

 

Vietnam – My Love?

The winter weather in Hanoi makes the skies grey and you feel less inclined to spend your time outdoors. So, I sit at my desk, sip some Vietnamese coffee with its unique aroma (I suspect it comes from they way they roast their beans) and nibble on some cup cakes that a friendly soul has baked for me.

And I reflect on what attracts me so much to Vietnam. The answer is simple, of course. You might as well ask me why I live in Bansko or why I have moved my German base back to Bavaria: it’s the people!

Here people still have values that govern their lives, and traditions – in other words: more culture than most Western (and increasingly also Eastern) nations have left. Ethical values that define what’s good and bad and (derived from that) rules that regulate how people deal with each other. Respect for each other and especially for elderly people are one of the foundations of local society. A situation where, despite the modern times, people actually still care about each other.

Why Hanoi and not Saigon? Because there is a big difference in the mentatility of the Northern and the Southern people. South Vietnam developed rather late through immigrants from the north and has less “tradition”. South Vietnam was also the area that was most exposed to European and Western influences. Yes, the South undoubtedly has a lot of charm and I like it also very much – for a relaxed holiday.  The people there are more easy-going, open, “European” but also superficial.

“My” Northern Vietnamese on the other side are more guarded, have a talent for frugality that enables them to achieve something even with low income. They exude a sense of duty and zeal that one would never expect in such a tropical area. They have a pride, hidden behind their Confucian modesty, that says: I am Vietnamese! When you listen to their conversations even if you don’t understand anything (like me) you hear the word “Viet Nam” all the time. They care about their country!

That’s why my “territory” is the North and not the South! Because of the people. And nowadays also the food.

I remember when, on my first tour of Vietnam, I asked Northern people what they considered the difference between the North and the South, quite a few of them said: “you can’t eat their food. They add sugar to everything”. I laughed at that and thought they were just conceiving this to proof their superiority. After all I had heard that in the South they would use more chillies…well, I understand them now. Especially after my trip to sugar-kingdom Malaysia :)

A few more differences that meet the eye:

  • Northern Vietnamese women NEVER smoke – and I also have not seen them drinking alcohol (in public) – in contrast to the South.
  • The traditional clothes for farm workers are brown in the North and black in the South – but black seems to spreading to everywhere nowadays.
  • In the North green army-coloured shirts and blouses are still standard and same-coloured tropical helmets for male workers.

I am very happy that I have chosen Hanoi as my autumn domicile. And I have met some wonderful people here that inspire me and encourage me to continue on my anti-materialistic path of happiness…

 

 

Further on Malaysian Food

I should say that I used to be a great fan of Malaysian/Indonesian food.

In 1976 I started a business on the European Options Exchange in Amsterdam. This required me to be in Amsterdam at least every other week for a few days. And one thing that I always ate while being there was Indonesian “Rijsttafel”, a medley of Indonesian/Malayan dishes. This was about the most exotic food that you could find in Europe at that time – and for me the most delicious one. The only alternative were Chinese joints but they were horrible already then :P

The “Rijsttafel” introduced me to peanut sauces, coconut dishes and so on. It always contained at least 10 different dishes (in small portions) – but I was a very healthy eater back then :)

Of course, in those days my horizon was limited. I had not sampled and fallen in love with Japanese and Thai cuisine yet, not to speak about Laos and the more exotic fares… The “Rijsttafel” was the incarnation of delicious, unique, exotic food for me.  And I adored it. I don’t remember if they used that much sugar already back then. But then, this is entirely possible.

Since then my taste buts have been captivated by the Thai cuisine. It’s fiery passion with its clear taste lines is my yardstick. This is the food that I can eat day in, day out. I can also enjoy a Malaysian dish very much – but not in succession. It’s nothing I can control -it is my personal “evolution – and I hope that my KL friendswon’t hold this against me.

I am sure if I would never have been in touch with the “other” stuff I would still love Malaysian food as much as 37 years ago!

 

Malaysia – Durian Heaven

If someone would ask me what I liked most about Kuala Lumpur I would probably say: people’s appreciation for durian and its omnipresence :)

Durian, of course, is that controversial Asian fruit. It is quite big and grows on trees

One of durian’s characteristics is its unique smell. Some people refer to durian as “cheese fruit” because its “odour” might be confused with stinky French cheese by non-experts.

The inside of the fruit contains the meat with its also unique aroma (and strong smell):

Here you see different kinds of Durian as you can tell by the different colours of their meat.

The heavy smell of this fruits divides people into two camps: those who love the fruit and those who find it disgusting. The latter seem to be in the majority as basically all over Asia it is forbidden to carry it on public transport!

Most hotels (like mine in KL) won’t allow you to bring durian on the premises:

I suppose the love for durian is an acquired taste (like for Guinness or smeary, stinky cheese). But once you got the “virus” it will stay with you.

Wherever I go in Asia I look out for durian. You can find it on most markets in the Southeast-Asian countries, rarely in shops. In Thailand and Vietnam I can find some durian ice cream here and there – and I love that too.

Malaysia, however is the only country that I know where durians are not equal. People are enthusiasts and experts and there is at least a dozen kinds of durian that people distinguish by flavour. In Vietnam the durian they have is less aromatique and I have never seen different kinds on offer (same in Thailand but there the durian is a bit more pungent).

In Malaysia however you find durian stalls in all quarters and each one of them sells different kinds

When you see people buying them, they sniff them, examine the exterior, weigh them in their hands, knock on them and listen to the sound…all very focused. Only in Malaysia! There is a lot of cheating by the traders. Because different durians carry quite different prices.

The number one durian is the “Musian King”. Its price is well double that of an “ordinary” durian. Then there are kinds like “D24″ (number 2 on the ladder), “D1″ and so on. It takes an expert to discern them and the saying is that once you have found a dealer you can trust you stick with him for good.

Of course, you always choose your durian as a whole fruit. Once it is weighed and paid you can ask the seller to put the meat in a foam box and discard the rest – but stay away from public transport!

No “connoisseur” would buy his durian already packaged like this:

I really felt in durian heaven in KL. Not only have I never been surrounded by so much durian scent in my life – there are also all kind of durian derivative products on the market that, of course, I had to try.

Durian gourmet ice cream for one:

And another durian ice cream with pulp:

A pancape stuffed with durian and cream:

A scone with durian filling:

Durian ice cream in a plastic “balloon” that is first squeezed to make it soft and then you squeeze out small amounts like from a baby bottle (!):

Now, these were boutique-type handmade delicacies like I have not found them anywhere else. In addition there are also quite a few commercial products readily available:

Quite tasty durian ice on a stick (in all supermarkets):

A kind of durian fruit-drink:

…and durian meat covered in chocolate:

All that durian stuff is quite expensive and you feel a bit like in a Dutch coffee shop when you buy it – but it is such a joy and pleasure for me that I cannot resist :)

It should be said, however, that while the taste of the durian has long left your tongue’s papillae it won’t leave your body for a long time. You will be reminded of it from time to time by blurps with a smell that will send the people around you diving for cover :) And your breath will carry a faint scent (like it happens with garlic) that probably only the adepts will recognise and you will become part of an elite circle of initiated people :)

Thank you, Malaysia, for sharing your treasure with me and for adding to my knowledge and understanding…

 

 

 

 

 

Malaysian Food

There is a huge variety of dishes in Malaysia. One thing they have in common is the exuberant use of sauces. Another common aspect is the huge amount of sugar that is being used for cooking.

I have never experienced another cuisine where sugar is added to nearly everything. Supposedly to balance the hotness of the other spices – but for me, personally, it’s just too much.

Look at a few of our dishes here:

This was dinner in a Chinese-Malaysian restaurant. Clockwise from upper left: Sambal squid (too much sugar in the chillie mixture), pork offals (heavy sauce with loads of sugar), Hainan style noodles (only little sugar) and clams (spicy sauce with too much sugar).

Dinner in a Malaysian-Thai (hehe) restaurant in Kampung Baru:

Excellent quail with nice “stinky beans” but a heavy, fatty sauce :(

Clams in a heavy, sugary sauce that killed the whole dish…

First class Malaysian food at a very upmarket restaurant with Yavor and his lady: many sauces and a principally fabulous “Nasi Lemak” (“Rich Rice”). Unfortunately, by that time I had already developed a “sugar phobia” and could not enjoy the food as much any more as I wanted to.

I felt very sorry for Yavor and his girlfriend Joan. They put so much effort into introducing me to all facets of their cuisine. And there I was – afraid of the sugar…

I sure will recover from this phobia – but I am afraid that Malaysian cuisine won’t make it to the top of my favourites list.

The people in Malaysia certainly love their sugar with everything. They are also famous for their chocolate-covered fruits (!). Unfortunately, this reflects on the figures of mainly the ladies. There is a high percentage of “well built” Malaysian women around…and in restaurants I saw quite frequently women that ate considerably more than their men :)

Another astonishing observation was to see some special kinds of dishes available in restaurants that all had the name “Maggi” in their description, for example here:

I cannot blame only the Malaysians for this, as Nestle with its Maggi has conquered all of Asia and the use of their products is widespread everywhere. But to see a Maggi-dish advertised in a restaurant like something “traditional” was new for me :)

KL – the Magic

An absolutely magical object in KL are definitely the Petronas Towers! By day and by night this landmark not only catches your eye but puts a spell on you. It’s a work of genius by Argentinian architect Cesar Pelli – and for me one of the wonders of the world.

Here some evening views from the bottom of it and seen from different areas of the city:

Wherever you go in KL the Petronas Towers are omnipresent.

Here, finally, seen at eye-level during a lunch session at the rotating restaurant on top of the KL Tower:

The spikes:

The KL Tower (by the way: it’s absolutely worth it to book lunch there – if the weather is right and the views are good):

And here an overview of the rest of KL:

The Times Square shopping mall with the two brown side-towers. My hotel in the middle in front of it:

 

I have already decided where to stay at during my next visit to KL:

Another magical side of KL is related to food. I will talk about this separately :)

 

 

 

KL – Is it Magic? Is it Madness?

KL is an extremely popular shopping destination. The number of malls and “shopping villages” goes beyond my counting capabilities. There are a lot of Australians, many Chinese, Koreans and Japanese but also people from Europe and especially the Middle East. The Arabs come predominantly in summer. One of the reasons why KL is so popular with them is that on one side, being Muslim territory, the Arabs feel at home and accepted while on the other side local Islam is very liberal and they can drink alcohol and do whatever they want here without feeling bad.

Personally, I find KL too expensive for shopping. Everything here costs more than I would have to pay on Amazon in Europe. And if you need the “thrill” of a mall: Bangkok is much more competitive. But people from Australia and the Middle East find it cheap here :)

Here is the view from my hotel room, of course right onto the Times Square Shopping Mall:

Inside it’s all about Christmas, of course, in a Muslim country :)

Right next to the hotel was also a “lifestyle” mall – with hundreds of shops selling the latest mobile phones, laptops, GPS’… and accessories at ruthless prices

The only other mall I came close to was KLCC (at the Petronas Towers) because of meeting my friend Yavor and his sweetheart for dinner there:

So, if it’s up to me this side of KL – the shopping – is the madness part :)

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to KL

At first you think that Kuala Lumpur is a city of antagonisms. But then you realise that the different ethnic groups have already mingled so much that they have become nearly homogeneous again :P There is, however, a strong visual impact from all the Muslim women with their scarves, as Islam is the strongest religion in Malaysia (since the 16th century). When you look at the men, you can’t be sure if they are Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Buddhists…

On the other hand, there are still a few “ethnic” quarters in KL like “Chinatown” or “Little India” or a Malaysian remains “Kampung Baru”. The Malaysian “Kampung Baru” is the last area in the city that has not been replaced by highrise buildings. You still find colourful traditional houses there.

We nearly reached the end of Kampung Baru when dusk set in, and the muezzin from the local mosque started reciting the surahs. That gave this predominantly Muslim place a very authentic atmosphere:

To stroll around such areas is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the shopping madness…

 

 

 

Kuala Lumpur- Malaysia – First Impressions

Already when you make your way through the arrivals hall of the airport you realise you are not in “your” Indochina any more. People look completely different here. A bit rougher hewn, skins darker.

Once you are in the centre of Kuala Lumpur you start realising that you have probably come to the biggest melting pot of cultures on the planet. Chinese, Indian, Malayan, Thai  physiognomies, dresses, foods, the majority of women with head scarves – all mingled. A very interesting experience. Completely unlike New York or London where different cultures exist separate from each other. Here it’s all mixed up.

That was the first thing I noticed. Then came the food. Myriads of restaurants. And two major directions: Chinese and Indian. But the “Indian” dishes were mixtures with Malay recipes (I assume) – everything a mixture :P It made choosing a restaurant difficult.

Third came the “drink-price-shock”. Beer prices starting at around 25 MR (12 Leva – 6.10€) a bottle! Not to talk about prices for “hard” stuff or wine! So, I have changed my diet to mineral water :) A healthy change that will make me fit for my next round in Hanoi )

The amount of construction in KL (as everybody calls it) over the last decade or so must have been enormous. And it still continues. A mixture of all imaginable styles. Of course, the Petronas towers dwarf everything else. This is definitely the most impressive human construction I have ever seen in my life. Truly amazing!

Expect more…

Suffering in Hanoi!

Today is a very tough day for me. As I am heading for a guest appearance in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow I have to get rid of all the food in the fridge today!

As there are no street dogs or cats here (I wonder why ;) ) I will have to sacrifice myself! And I better start early.

Among other things there is about 1kg of Australian beef fillet, a huge slice of head cheese, peppers and green stuff, loads of fruits etc…

I guess I will start with a nice fillet steak on whole grain baguette for second breakfast now. Can’t waste precious stomach space for side dishes…

In the meantime I am munching on some fresh sugar cane, recommended by my dentist…

Why is it always me that has to suffer so much?