A huge welcome from The Nomadic Northerner! The aim is to share stories, recipes and drawings from around the world that have been collected over many years of exploring and will be added to by future adventures around the globe. I am fascinated by other […]
Maybe because of its world heritage status Hoi An is very organised for tourist. You can buy one ticket to cover the six main attractions in town all walkable from each other and its not expensive costing four whole British pounds! I managed three of […]
Right at the end of my time in Hue I went to see the beautiful old Thien Mu Pagoda. It was built by one of the first Lords from the House of Nguyen (rulers of south Vietnam) in 1601. It towers on a hill over looking the perfume river which flows through the town.
It was beautiful to see but as I explored behind it I found an active monastery and stumbled across a kind of shrine to a news story involving a buddhist monk back in 1963. It was a jolt for me as I am very familiar with the story my dad would talk of it often when I was a teenager. The monk was Thích Quang Duc who was in his sixties at the time and decided with his fellow monks that as a protest against the alleged persecution of buddhists by the South Vietnamese government he would perform the act of self-immolation, basically setting ones self on fire. My dad showed me pictures and would speak about sacrifice for what you know to be right and about how important it is to make a stand for justice. As a teenager I remember being a little disturbed, to say the least, by the images and they have never left me. Stumbling across this image again all these years later along with the car he drove all the way from Hue and his home at this monastery down to Saigon, nearly 590 miles, transported me right back to listening to my dad and feeling proud about the things he taught me and how he showed me to live life. He is not around anymore so this whole experience was very moving and special. I had another similar experience when I went to Gandhi’s house in Mumbai India but that is another story.
This is the car he drove knowing what he had chosen to do once he arrived in Saigon with an image of the event behind it. The photograph below is one of the photos taken by Malcolm Browne the photographic journalist who was there on that day and captured the whole event. He was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year for the pictures. The images then went viral (in a 1960’s kind of a way) and this one is curtesy of Time magazine.
I felt a little shaken and emotional after all that but as I walked back towards the river the sun had set and there was a beautiful dusk hanging over the river full of calm. So I thought it best to end with that image and a moment of thought for those that do incredible things in the struggle for justice.
So I had a quick lesson in pearl cultivating.
Seems quite straight forward really. Take an live oyster, prise it open insert a bit from another oyster and a plastic ball…leave for five years back in the sea and hey presto a pearl. How hard can that be?
Quite hard as it turns out only about 30% produce a fully rounded pearl the rejects are ground up and used in face cream amongst other things.
The different shapes and colours are determined by the type of oyster and the length of time left to grow. I’m not sure I’ll be taking up pearl cultivation anytime soon but interesting to see the process. And very pretty to look at, I prefer the grey ones just for the record.
So then on to culinary highlights of Hanoi and my favourite shop.
Shopping first. Hanoi is a wash with fake goods. North Face and Superdry amongst other brand names are made in Vietnam. That in turn has created a huge business in seconds, knock off’s and bad fakes. There are bargains to be had but look very carefully as some of the stuff I saw was very badly made so not even worth the ‘cheap price’ offered!
My favourite shop was discovered completely by accident on the way from where I was staying in the old quarter to the central postoffice. It is a corner shop number 23 Hang Bo Street and is full to the brim with handmade sketchbooks and art related equipment. Now I love my sketchbooks so I had to go and explore. Some time later I emerged with a number of sketchbooks a beautiful box set of dip pens and some ink.
The shop is called Noi Phuong it does have a website where you can order things but it is in Vietnamese so not very practical for the west although they couldn’t help me enough and suggested I order from their site when I’m home. The sketchbook pictured is handmade rice paper and finished with a lovely Japanese stitch detail holding it together. If you ever do go be prepared to put aside some time for the experience as it is packed with interesting things and you will need to rummage. I bought a couple of old bottles of ink and when I asked the assistant for a price she pulled a face and said that it had been there for so long because nobody wanted it….I tried to explain that fact made me want it more (and it was very cheap)! When I got back to my room I had a little play with the blue ink. Afterwards I went to wash my pen and a small pot I had decanted the ink into in the bathroom sink only to discover it was oil based and turned the sink and my hands blue! I was quite alarmed and took great pains and a substantial amount of shampoo to scrub it off me and the sink. For sometime after my hands were turning things blue including some tangerines I tried to peel…not pleasant at all! Note to self when a product has no English details on the packaging assume the worst scenario and be careful. Lesson definitely learnt.
Little Hanoi is at number 9 Ta Hien Street which is a narrow pedestrian street full of restaurants with tables and chairs filling the space you almost have to step over people to get through. An amusing fact I witnessed on more than one occasion was the police showing up and each restaurant quickly taking their tables inside with peoples food still on them. The tourists looking shocked that their dinner had disappeared not understanding that actually the restaurants can be fined for having tables outside. The minute the police round the corner at the end of the street the tables pop out again. On one occasion I think the police where having a laugh as they kept reappearing. Fortunately I was inside enjoying my meal but a despairing Aussie tourist was exclaiming how hungry he was and that all he wanted to do was eat his food!
I had a dish of caramelised pork with chilli and citrus which was absolutely delicious! As a celiac my biggest problem with asian food is soya sauce. Soya sauce is brewed or fermented with wheat so is definitely something I have to stay away from. So far it really hasn’t been too much of a problem as there are many dishes that don’t use soya sauce as it is often on the table to be added as you want while you eat. most places have been very happy to leave it out if it did have it in and use fish sauce instead. I must apologise here that I have no picture of said pork dish as both times I ate it I was hungry and forgot to visually document the occasion. But trust me it was great and everyone I ate out with on both occasions loved the food they chose. The waiter was hysterical particularly as he learned that first evening the English name of bok choy having not heard it before and he kept repeating it and giggling to himself which was infectious! We of course had to order some as it had been mentioned so much.
I did however photograph this beautiful chihuahua who seemed to be guarding the entrance to the restaurant from his cardboard sentry box. This place is warm welcoming and serves exceptionally good food plus a pretty decent gin and tonic…evening ticked.
Finally on to egg coffee. I suspect most people will go for a knee jerk reaction of yuk! But believe me when I say it is delightful stuff. I am not a big coffee drinker at all tea is my thing but this is like a small meal/dessert in a cup. The easiest way to describe it is to compare the flavour to tiramisu. I was alerted to its existence by a couple of people who saw I was in Hanoi through my Instagram page and said not to leave without trying it. I spent quite sometime trying to find Giang Cafe which is famous for the stuff having been initially invented by its founder Mr Giang sometime in the 1940’s. I eventually gave up looking and had some at another place. Then a couple of days later was taken there by Moh my wonderful guide around Southeast Asia who knew where it was hurrah!
In case you want to find it the address is number 39 Nguyen Huu Huan Street in the old quarter but you need to look hard as its entrance is tiny and you have to follow a narrow corridor then up some stairs to the cafe, it can feel like you are trespassing in someones home which is exactly what it is. Once there I decided I needed to try the hot and cold versions of the drink to make a comparison purely research of course!
Well as you can see from the next picture they both went down very well, rich creamy sweet and bitter all in one hit. I would say they are both as good as each other it just depends if you’re in a hot beverage or cold beverage mood on the day.
I’m not going to write lots about how to make it at this point but when I’m home it is top of my list to master and then I will share it with you all. For now below are my notes from that afternoon.