Saturday, May 31, 2014

The home cooked Vietnamese lunch

I came down to the kitchen at 11 am as requested to find that the meal was virtually prepared. It looked and smelled delicious.

Vania's father had prepared the spring rolls in the front. From what I can make out, he took the rice paper rectangles and rolled up a ground pork and various vegetables mix and then quickly fried them. Wow, were they good. They didn't even need a special dipping sauce. Robin, your task is to find a pack of the rice paper before I get to Sydney. I would like to try making these.

Behind the rolls was sliced carrot in some sort of broth. I forgot to ask what it was but I suspect it was based on rice wine.

More meat simmering.Vegetables and some sort of flat noodle were added and we had this after stuffing ourselves with the spring rolls.

Food preparation area.

More meat cooking on a electric cooker.

We sat down for lunch and were joined by Long on the right who is friends with Vania and is also a tour guide with the Hotpot company. Next to him was another guest at the Airbnb who came from Bulgaria. Both of them could speak English well.

Starting from the left is Vania, then her mother, her brother and her father. All participated in the cooking except perhaps for the brother. There was a toast with 'mot hai ba yo' and we started eating.

The meal was absolutely delicious and for desert we were presented with two fruits that I had seen in the markets but had not eaten. The first were rambutans. You can see them here in their semi peeled state. You just pluck the white flesh ball out and eat it. The ball is about 3/4" in diameter. They taste like lycees and are really refreshing.

The other fruit was mangosteen which you can see here in it's semi-peeled state. The pods can have a fibrous seed in them. You can just bite into the flesh or you can use a spoon to carve out the flesh. The skin appeared to be tough to cut and the fruit is ripe when the skin is a deep purple.

I'm not sure which I prefer though I think the family preferred the mangosteen.

We got on to the subject of European food and the Bulgarian said that their food was closely related to Turkish and Greek food. When I mentioned how much I like lemon chicken,Vania was surprised that lemon could go well with chicken. In general it seems that most Asians are used to their own food and that eating foreign food is unusual. Even recipes from neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand would be considered adventurous in Vietnam.

Of course there was much more food than we could eat. This is the advantage of staying with a family instead of a hotel. You have a chance to meet the locals and talk to them and if you are lucky, eat with them.

Saigon Opera House and some quilts

Today I am to watch my host's mother prepare lunch. I decided to go out early so that I could cool down in the air-conditioning at the house before the big event. I looked up Trip Adviser and noted that the Opera House was worth a visit. It's not too far from my host's house so I decided to visit it. If I can go to Carnegie Hall and the Bolshoi, I can go to the Saigon Opera.

All those scooters require fuel and I presume petrol is cheap here. The service station appeared to provide full service with lots of  blokes there in uniform filling the scooter tanks.

I walked past a hospital and noticed this lady with the plastic bag round her foot, presumably to protect a plaster cast from the rain.

I was now walking into the spiffy part of town.

Compared to the hustle and bustle a mile away, it was calm and quiet. Streets were comparatively easy to cross.

It was built in 1897 and was restored in 1995.

A College Graduation was taking place so I could not get in to take a look.

The back of the theater.

This was a different world from a few hundred yards away. A couple of elegantly dressed ladies were taking morning tea.

On my way back I saw a little arcade that advertised itself as being an Art Arcade. It was mostly lined with paintings  and I just wandered along, passing through a restaurant towards the other end. Nobody seemed to mind.

Very quiet very wide street. No problems crossing here.

I returned to my host's house and noticed this shop and went inside.

A couple of young ladies were tidying up and I asked if I could take photos which was ok.

Seems not straight.

Fish covered with material.

From what I could gather, the shop sells quilts made by women in rural villages as a way for them to make some money. You can read about it here.

Saigon Hotpot City Tour

My AirBnb host Vania belongs to a volunteer group called Saigon Hotpot City Tour. She suggested that I go on the tour and even though it normally requires several days advance notice, she was able to book a tour for me where my guide would meet me at the house at 9 am. My guide, Mr Hai turned up and away we walked. He was 20 and a student in International Relations but was really interested in Tourism. He told me his first name but unfortunately I have forgotten it.

We went first to the Ben Thanh Market that is popular with tourists. He told me that the yellow beams on the roof were designed to promote appetite. Mind you, I might have a lot of information wrong since he was a mine of information and it was a lot of information to remember. I told him that Monet had painted his dining room yellow as well.

There was all sorts of stuff for sale, including fish, some live, some dead and some chopped up into huge hunks.

The next stop was a shop where silk was embroidered.

The workman-ship was gorgeous but you would go blind doing it. About half a dozen young ladies were busy producing work like this.

Notre Dame Cathedral. It was constructed between 1863 and 1880. My guide was impressed how quickly I had learned how to cross busy streets.

A service was in progress so we could not enter. About 8% of Vietnamese are Christian. You might find this article interesting about religion in Vietnam.

All the bricks were brought from France. That would have been quite an effort.

The Saigon Central Post Office. Many buildings maintain the 'Saigon' as part of their name.

It was still operating as a Post Office. Mr Hai took me to talk to a very old gentleman who had worked there for twenty years reading and translating letters to people who were unable to read them. He was busy so we did not interrupt him.

There are several parks scattered around the city.

My guide in front of the Reunification Palace. It was built on the site of the old wooden palace that was bombed and destroyed in 1962. This new palace was built over the next five tears.

Meeting and conference rooms.

 A more elaborate conference room.

The palace windows were designed to catch breezes to cool the interior.

This room was used by President Thieu to talk to Vietnamese citizens. The president would sit in the chair at the right which was at the same level as the other chairs.

This adjacent room was used when receiving guests from other countries. Here, the President's chair was raised above all others.

These are known as the Bloody Tusks. My guide said that they belonged at one time to a tribe of Vietnamese. The Emperor at the time wanted to possess the tusks and offered to buy them. When they refused to sell, he had them killed and took the tusks. Hence, the name.

The fountain is placed in front of the Palace to protect it from the 'bad energy' directed down the street. 

A more elaborate meeting room.

We then went to the living quarters behind the official wing of the Palace. The centre square was open to the air above. Think of the shape of a cloister. Bedrooms and dining areas surrounded the inner square.

Gifts to the President who enjoyed hunting. These elephant feet are unfortunately real.

An official guest bedroom.

The official dining room had two dining tables. This circular table would be used when Vietnamese food was served. A traditional rectangular table was used for western style food. 

The President's wife also had her dining room for her guests. Here you can see both styles of tables.

The President's helicopter for use if he needed to escape.

 A games area.

Even a private cinema.

The top floor could be used for dances or parties. The breezes would be best up here.

If you read the Wiki article, you will see where the Palace was bombed in 1975 by a member of the Vietnamese Air-force.

The futility of the Vietnam war is saddening. Hanoi now has the political power but Ho Chi Minh City is much larger and has the commercial power. To be honest, I saw no real signs of communism.

The kitchen.

We had a lunch where we rolled up stuff in rice paper rectangles and then dipped the roll in different sauces. I had experienced these during the food tour in Hanoi.

We took a taxi to a temple. Taxis are very inexpensive here. I seem to remember it cost about $3.

Interesting tree.

As we entered the temple grounds there was a sudden loud crack of thunder. I was glad we had a place to shelter from any sudden downpour but it didn't rain at all.

A pond was home to a large number of fish including cat fish and gold fish.

This turtle is almost 100 years old.

Most Vietnamese who come to this temple are young married couples who hope to have children. It is common to paint your special sign on the back of a turtle and release it here to join the others. There were dozens of them.

The male dragon has his paw on a ball.

The female dragon has her paw on a child dragon.

The gate to the inner part of the temple.

You would need to be an expert to know what all of these symbolic figures were about. My guide told what many of them were, but there were too many to remember in detail.

This was a favourite part of the temple for those who were interested in being fertile.

We went to another market that was mostly used by Vietnamese, not tourists.

Dragon fruit or Pitaya.

We each had one and I would say it was delicious. You peel the fruit and then can eat virtually the whole white flesh inside. You don't taste the little black spots. It was very refreshing.

Another taxi took us to the Museum of Traditional Vietnamese Medicine. The first thing I noticed as we entered was this huge chest of drawers. I have no doubt that Marianne would lust over those drawers.

We took a lift to the top floor. Although the building looks old and traditional, it is less than ten years old.

The craftsmanship is incredible.

Phallic sculptures.

From the top floor there were great views of the surrounding city. Good breezes too.

Two of the original proponents of Vietnamese medicines. There are many plants that grow naturally in Vietnam that have healing properties and these men were highly influential in categorizing them. The one on the left went to China to help cure an Empress and subsequently influenced Chinese medicine. 

This would help take away whatever ailed you.

Bags of herbs and other stuff used to make the medicines.

Jars where rice wine would be infused with the herbs and other plants to make medicines.

The guide suggested that I put on the traditional doctor's robe and hat. There I am taking a picture of myself in a mirror.

A method for crushing plants.

The building was constructed by a company FITO  that specializes in traditional Vietnamese medicines. We were given a cup of ginseng tea at the end. I quite enjoyed it. Various items were for sale in their shop. 

Including this little bottle. The attendant rubbed poured a drop on my hands which I then rubbed together. She indicated that I should then smell my hands and when I did so I almost fell off my chair at the strong peppermint smell.

By that time it was almost 3 pm and I was starting to get tired so we took a taxi back to the house where I am staying and I said goodbye to my guide. He refused to take any payment but indicated that I should go to the website which gives a Paypal option to donate which I did so. He was a very interesting young man. I just wish I could remember his name. 

It was interesting to see how taxis maneuvered through the swarm of scooters. Basically, they drove slowly and steadily and I had the sense of a large whale moving though a school of small fish.

Finally, you need to see this novel yet funny idea. I think it would go very well in Vietnam. My sister Anne sent me the link.