SPICEGASM.COM My travel tales and food hunting

March 18, 2012

Learning more about Vietnamese food – Hue Cuisine

Filed under: Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 2:18 am

I met an online friend and we decided to meet up for dinner. She is a 3rd year university student majoring in English and she aspires to be a translator. She suggested that we meet at the entrance of the famous Ben Thanh market at 6.30 pm. My hotel receptionist told me is very near to walk to Ben Thanh market. I was determined to not get lost this time and walk to Ben Thanh market to make up for my earlier disaster.

As you have suspected, I got lost again and have to resort to the motorbike taxi dude to bring me to Ben Thanh. I was 30 minutes late and my Vietnamese friend ( her name is Tien ) was graceful and did not feel a bit irritated. Tien brought another of her fellow classmate as well. We shook hands, did the customary short introduction and she then proceed to ask me what I would like to eat. I told her some street food would be cool but she suggested that the street food in Ben Thanh market is kinda pricey. Not surprise there as it is a tourist area. So she suggested a Hue restaurant instead. I like the sound of it as I have no idea what “Hue” is and this gives me a chance to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine.

My tasty rice noodles with fried spring rolls with crab stuffing

It is just walking distance from Ben Thanh market to the Hue Restaurant. The restaurant is air conditioned and looks pretty trendy. So, street food gotta take the back seat for today and I like the idea of eating dinner at a fancy Vietnamese restaurant for the first time. We decided to sit upstairs and the seating is more traditional where we sat on the floor. There’s a low table and is not a problem for me at all as I can sit comfortably while folding my legs. We went through the menu and I let Tien pick a dish for me. I asked them to order whatever they like and dinner is on me, since I’m late and she is a student.

This how my noodles looks like when it was mixed with chili oil and the sauce. My mouth watered while uploading this picture.

They told me that they have already eaten and I insisted that order some kind of food that is not that heavy. Those transparent spring rolls with lots of vegetables stuffed in it looks pretty light, I said. She gave in and ordered the spring rolls and a bowl of noodles for me. While waiting for the food, she explained to me about Hue cuisine. According to her, Hue cuisine is the locals favorite. I am guessing is how Isaan food in Thailand is the favorite of Thai people and Hue food is to Vietnamese folks.

When the food finally arrived, the food looks pretty. Hue cuisine is famous for this, as the chefs are required to make the food tasty and visually appealing. Looks like Tien order a rice noodles dish for me with some fried spring rolls with crab meat in it. It has a bowl of sauce where I am supposed to drench it on my noodles. It is not a soupy dish and it tasted kinda like some sort of special salad to me. I asked her how can I make the noodles spicy and she suggested that I put some chili oil. I mixed the noodles with chili oil and the sauce and took my first bite. I like it and when I took a bite on those tiny fried spring rolls, YUMMY!

The waiter sitting there waiting to serve us when he is required

I am guessing that the spring rolls are coated with a little bit of sugar that’s caramelized together with some sesame seed. The stuffing of the crab meat is very tasty too. Since I am very hungry, I finished my noodles pretty fast. My first meal in a fancy Vietnamese restaurant and Tien did a good job by ordering that particular noodle for me. Oh and I was offered the last piece of the transparent looking spring roll and it is good too. I like how the wrapping is thin and not thick like the ones I had before in Vietnamese restaurant that is not in Vietnam. I thanked Tien for bringing me to this restaurant.

Took the entrance of the restaurant when we were leaving

Chilling in the park opposite of Ben Thanh market with the locals

My food guide for the night, Tien and her friend.

I paid the bill which I can’t remember the exact price but I do know it was not expensive at all. Maybe not more than 10 USD, pretty cheap for a fancy looking restaurant. After dinner, Tien suggested that we go to a park opposite of Ben Thanh market to chill and chit chat. According to her this is a favorite past time among low and middle income Vietnamese. I love the idea of doing the same thing as the locals of the countries that I’ve visited and going to visit. We sat down and chit chat about everything and anything that comes to mind. Sometimes we paused to observed the people in the park. There are young couples on a date, families with their kids playing soccer, some sporty couples playing badminton and also group of Vietnamese just hanging out and chit chat. I can’t help but to feel really satisfied and happy deep inside. I just sat there amongst the locals and absorbing the atmosphere of Ho Chi Minh at night time.

March 15, 2012

My first trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Day 1

Filed under: Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 3:19 am

I have no idea why it took me so long to visit Vietnam. I have to admit that my knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine and street food is only limited to Pho and those transparent looking spring rolls. ( I don’t even know the name or able to pronounce it right! ). Nevertheless, I am happy that I finally set foot in Ho Chi Minh City. I am super excited to sample and learn more about Vietnamese cuisine.

Outside of Saigon International Airport

Touched down in Saigon airport at 9.30am, March 14 2012. I decided to take the bus and not go to the easy route of using taxis which is more comfortable and faster. By taking the bus in a country that I am visiting for the first time gives me the right to brag a little to my friends. The fare with bus 152 to the city is only 4000 VND ( 0.20 USD ). Taxi to the city will cost around 10 USD according to some travel forums.

I board on Bus 152 right in front of the domestic airport, which is like a 10 minutes walk from the International Airport. I have to admit I was tempted to just get a taxi, especially when you are carrying luggage and the hot weather is not helping too. But I am happy that I stuck with my decision to take the bus and enjoyed the view of Ho Chi Minh City. After 45 minutes, the bus stopped at the station and it is just opposite of the famous Ben Tanh Market.

As I got down from the bus, many motorbike taxi dudes were offering their services. I booked my hotel few days ago and checked in some forums to get directions to my hotel. So no motorbike taxi for me and I will just try to find my hotel on my own. I figured that this is probably a good way to see the city and get familiar with my surroundings.

After 45 minutes of walking aimlessly, I just remembered that my sense of direction is as good as Mike Tyson singing in Hang Over 2. After asking so many people for directions, locals and foreigners, I still can’t figure out where the heck is my hotel. Finally I threw in the towel and get a motorbike taxi. He wanted 40,000 VND but I know the fare is not more than 10,000 VND. I offered him 20,000 VND as I am in no mood to haggle over a few cents extra.

My “adventurous” bus ride from the airport

Hopped on to his bike and was in my hotel in 5 minutes time. Made a mental note to myself that sometimes trying to be adventurous is a complete waste of time! Checked into my hotel with no problem and the receptionist speaks fluent English and very friendly. For 22 USD a night, I think my room is pretty good. Everything is new and most importantly it has free Internet.

Hello Hotel in District 1, near Pham Nga Lao Street

Believe it or not, this is kinda like one of the main entrance to my hotel. Along this tiny alley, there’s a few other hotels similar to mine. I wonder if any of the residents of this alley has cars and where do they park them.

After settling all my stuff in my room, is time to go lunch. I walked to the streets near my hotel and there’s plenty of restaurants and street food to go around. After walking for quite a bit, I decided to eat in a non air condition restaurant with quite a bit of crowd. As I walked in, I saw a familiar face waving at me asking me to join her. It was the receptionist of my hotel, awesome!

My first meal in Vietnam and there’s a local who will most likely shed some knowledge about their food. She told me that this restaurant specializes on fares from middle of Vietnam, near Na Thrang ( Ho Chi Minh is south and Hanoi is the north ). I ordered a rice noodle dish with soup and tuna. Name of the dish is Bun Ca Ngu and I kinda tasted like the Penang Assam Laksa but milder. The price of my dish is 35,000 VND ( 1.65 USD ), which is pretty standard Asian price like Thailand or Malaysia.

My first Vietnamese restaurant

Bun Cha Ngu – rice noodles with a slice of tuna. Soup slightly sourish and not spicy at all.

After lunch the receptionist brought me to a shop to get a local SIM card. Cost me around 85,000 VND and has some credits in it. I thanked her and she went back to the hotel and I decided to stroll for a bit to get more familiarized with my surroundings. Saw a lot of street vendors and restaurants which I would definitely visit in the next few days.

Street near my hotel and is a very hot afternoon.

Motorbike taxi guy reading newspaper while waiting for customer

Sugar Cane VendorSugar cane vendor attending to a customer. Really cool when you can stop as you please and buy your daily fix of sugar cane.

Another alley leading to my hotel. The sign says “Khu Pho 4” and I have no idea what it means.

I was feeling a bit tired as the night before I didn’t sleep much and my flight was pretty early ( 7.50am ). So I decided to go back to my hotel and take a nap. Before crashing I texted to some friends that I met online and make plans for dinner. So stay tune for more pictures and stories of my first visit to Vietnam. ZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

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