Reunion

Tomorrow will be an interesting day. I will see an old friend again. We have not met since 1980. I wonder if we will recognise each other again :) – Tokyo and me!

I was there “only” two times – in 1979 and in 1980 when I still lived in New York and had a Japanese girlfriend from Tokyo. It was a very serious relation with a very powerful woman – she was the first female stock broker in the history of Japan – and we were madly in love since we had met at an international Merrill Lynch get-together in London. And while we were together she either visited me or I visited her.

It was my first time in Asia – and Tokyo was a big culture shock for me! The whole life there! Also food-wise. It was a time when I still could not stand fish. And then in Japan! Horrible. But the sake went down well :)

Now, about 35 years later, I come back. A different person. And I am curious what Tokyo will be like now…

Tomorrow will tell.

Oh, if someone wonders what happened to my Japanese woman: if everything would have gone right we would have been married and happy ever since. But I was only in my late twenties and she too far away…and the streets of NY full with other women…I have regretted this many times because no other women can make a man happy as these old fashioned Japanese ladies (they don’t grow them anymore, I am afraid) – and I am not even taking about the erotic department. It’s an attitude thing. But no one can turn the clock back…

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”!

Let the Weekend do it slowly…

While during the week the street is very busy after 6am, today things are relaxed and peaceful.

People sleep in and there are no motorbikes or vendors to be heard. Just the right time to have your coffee on your own, contemplating life.

This is the typical Vietnamese coffee machine – you make the coffee cup by cup.

And the Vietnamese make a strong coffee! In Germany you would say: da bleibt der Kaffeelöffel stecken (the sugar spoon sticks in it) :)

Did you know that Vietnam is the third biggest coffee producer in the world?! They have some fine highland stuff also! And they roast their beans in a different way which gives the coffee a different, very intense aroma…

Last night was “health food”, diet night. Clams. Add a little lemongrass and steam them for a few minutes in a pot. Without anything else! Superb.

But, of course, here they are readily available and we only paid 20,000 dong at the market yesterday (1.50 Leva/kg).

A Vietnamese chef’s trick to clean those little clams is to put them in a bowl of water and add some chopped up very hot chillies. This will make the clams believe they have dirt inside and they will open their “mouths” and spit out the sand. So the chef says. And I saw it – and there was no sand in the clams :)

How about a fresh, light breakfast of glass noodles and bean sprouts? So simple and so yummie!

Of course, with freshly squeezed orange juice. Don’t let the green colour lead you astray! These here have a lovely aroma!

Have a beautiful day!

You can rest but we have to consider shopping for lunch and dinner now :)

 

My Home in Hanoi

The Truc Bach (you pronounce this somewhat like “chook”-”pack”) quarter in Hanoi used to be a little quaint village before the explosive expansion of the city. Houses are still the narrow small type they used to be – but now owners have put several floors on top of them. Six to seven floors is the standard now.

Here is my home – on the 4th floor:

And this is the view down from my balcony :

South…

North…

The horrible neighbours that start cooking at 5am:

The closest market (around two corners). Everything you can think of to cook. If a local buys prices are maybe 40% lower :)

And, of course: in the morning permanent street vendors that have their shop on the side walk floor every day and all day long vendors with bicycles or tiny ladies with iron shoulders…

Apricots on sale today. Not exactly like ours…but fresh and tasty fruits…

…and, of course, my beer garden, a hefty 3 minute walk away and as far away from home as I usually get – here outside working hours at around 3 pm – the drunks from lunch already gone – the new victims not yet ready…

Life starts early in Hanoi

Life in Vietnam starts early.

As I always sleep with open windows I am woken up shortly after 5 am. Because then the street restaurants around start boiling their broths for breakfast soups and the scents creep into my bedroom and nostrils…

At 6am then everyone is on and about. People leave for work on their motorbikes. The housewives start shopping and a mixture of all of them are having breakfast on the street. By 7.30am things are quiet again :)

All I have to do is take the elevator down 4 floors and step out of the narrow building and I am in the middle of life! I love this!

Come and have a look with me this morning:

Today is the day when you sacrifice something to the Buddha for your ancestors. Very popular is this fruit. I have no clue how it is called but it has basically no eat you can eat. It is used for sacrifice at the pagodas because it looks like “Buddha’s fingers”.

The whole side-walks are full with fruit, vegetable meat and other vendors:

This “butchery” here is maybe 3 yards from my entrance…

The seafood is usually sold “still alive” to guaranty freshness…

One significant difference between Vietnamese and Western cooking is that where we would use a few sprigs of parsley or chives or so the Vietnamese would offer heaps of various herbs – and you yourself chose according to your individual liking which ones to use. I appreciate that very much. Also that you most always get some dipping sauce – and additional chillies, garlic and limes to season it further to your individual liking.

This is the restaurant of the lady with the “banh cuon” noodle dish.

She makes the rice noodles on the spot – individually for every portion! Can’t be much fresher :) In fact, the liquid dough is spread on a piece of cotton fabric taut over a frame in a pot and then steamed. Takes about 15 seconds.

The outcome is delicious :)

After such a breakfast you are energised. On the short way home you buy all you need for today’s cooking and then go to work (or take an early nap ;) )

To Eat or to Drink?

Soon I will stop boring you with my daily food. The thing is that I have not been here for 10 months and I have a big food deficit to catch up with.

Somehow when I buy/cook squid in Germany it is never as tender as the stuff we buy at the market here. 15,000 Dong per kg is not for free (11.25 Leva) but well worth it :)

Fried squid with yellow paprika and a little coriander. The dipping sauce here is only soy sauce, garlic and chillies. To the right a fresh and crisp salad of green mango and carrots with peanuts…

What shall I say? If one is hungry…;)

 

Bursting with Ideas…Japan and then Pirin?!

I spent the last couple of days planning our trip to Japan. I needed a complete itinerary for my My to apply for a visa. With reservations and everything. So I booked flights and hotels but – more importantly – before I could do that I had to sit down and make a plan of what I thought we wanted to see and experience and decide on the most practical itinerary.

You cannot imagine how difficult it is to plan an individual trip through Japan (even if it is only on the main Honshu island). Nobody likes to travel as much (on the weekends) as the Japanese. Even in big cities like Osaka where the internet reservation portal Agoda lists 270 hotels there are only 9 with available rooms on the weekend in three weeks!

Much worse is the situation when it comes to “Onsen” and “Ryokan” – you know, Onsen are the hot mineral springs that you bathe in – and you stay in a ryokan with your woman to be pampered and have three meals a day served on the floor of your traditional Japanese room with its paper walls.

I absolutely want and must go to a village called Kinosaki, probably the most famous onsen centre in Japan. The bad news is that they are all booked till Christmas and later! The good news: I found an old one that has a non-working website without internet booking. They have a free room. We have been haggling about the price for the last three days. Maybe they only played along because I am the first one ever to try and do this. The problem is the menu! On 7th of November (shortly before we would arrive) the crab season starts! (I should have told you that Kinosaki is at the Northern seaside in Western Honshu). And in every Ryokan long the coast crab is THE thing on the menu.

Now, you all know me as duck lover – but I am also the crab adorer! In fact, I could live on crab!

And from the 7th on all meals in Kinosaki ryokans will contain crab, lobster, shrimp and so on…the Japanese way. And, believe me, NOBODY cooks seafood like the Japanese! So far, so good. Sadly, my MY has an allergy against crayfish :( And all meal options include crab, lobster and shrimp!) So, the hotel suggested the bare bone, no meals option :( What can I do? Suffer? And go to an outside restaurant? Probably :)

What intrigues me is this Japanese culture of absorbing nature, being part of it, in fact, the thinking that you are part of it but not the centre! The same with food. You treat it with great respect. And you try to bring out the purest taste of every ingredient involved. No greater human culture than this! The combination of intellect and (sometimes) passion. Not like the hot passion of the Thai with intellect being in the background.

Anyway, two nights and five meals (not counting breakfast) in this ryokan in Kinosaki sounds like the experience of a lifetime. Even if it has a serious negative financial effect on my future life (you would not believe how expensive this is). :P

But it is worth the money. Because it will also give me the basis for my next business idea: an “onsen” in Banya (next to Bansko), with 63 hot mineral springs number two in Bulgaria (after Velingrad) and also number two in all of Europe! What will it be like? With a “ryokan” next or near to it. A small hotel with not more than 6 rooms. With prices for the elite of Bulgaria – and all of Europe. But also an experience and service not matched so far. A weekend getaway. For couples. Second honeymoon or so. Or sophisticated adulterers.

I like the concept. But it can’t be done with Bulgarians in charge. At least not “regular” ones.The food should not be Japanese. Because European taste-buds rarely reach further than sushi. It should be a fusion kind of Pirinsko and Asian. Like my double braised pork-belly with red date in Beijing, or so. And for the ladies’ delight something like my dinner tonight: glass noodles with chicken hearts and livers (from “real” chicken). Well, endless possibilities.

Maybe a screening of one of Oshima’s films like “Empire of Passion” on the video wall of the room after lunch, to get the couple on the tatami into the mood before heading out to the onsen?

Well, as I said: endless possibilities. New things for Europe and/or Bulgaria! Lifestyle fusion! Not just food! The best of the world in one place? Yes, my place! :P

I will sleep about this till tomorrow?…