food and cooking


Here we are, still in Hue. The food is exceptional. According to the guidebooks, Hue is a trendsetter for Vietnamese cuisine and they do have their own style. We have eaten at a number of local establishments, there is usually an English menu translation so it makes ordering easier. The north, of course, had no English menus.

Toby had wonderful eels last night, I didn’t try them but he loved them. Small ones about 8″ long and as thick as your little finger. Mixed with seaweed. The restaurant suggested we come back and try the big eel dish which they said was even better, as big as your arm and stewed with tomatos. One night we had the most tender squid I ever could have imagined. Not at all rubbery, and cooked with pineapple and onions! Unbelievably delicious and not a combination I would ever have tried.

In the north, the kitchens were a detached or semi-detached building. Sometimes a three sided leanto like structure. If it had 4 sides, the smoke escaped through the roof if thatched, the places where it joined the sides if corrugated, and the windows. I don’t know if I have explained, but the term window means an opening in the wall. There is no glass, generally, but sometimes there are shutters because it can get cold. The hotels usually have glass in the rooms or shutters, as at night there is insect penetration, but homes rarely do. Mosquito nets are how you prevent insect bites at night in most places. Only a newly built home in the north might have glass. Doors are open all day long, much as in Africa. Life is lived outside.

Here in the south, however, heat is an issue and many stores, restaurants and buildings are air conditioned. As a result, there is glass in the windows. Still they are open every day, as are the doors but when the heat is intense, the A/C is on and I am sure things are closed up.

One thing that is new in the south is they have indoor kitchens. Instead of cooking over a wood or coal fire on the floor (even hotels in the north do this), they have a stove with a gas burner or two. And a counter or a table at some kind of normal height. Cooking is not done in a squat, sitting on the heals position, at least in town. In towns in the north or the country, cooking is often done outside on the sidewalk. They buy disks made of pressed coal dust mixed with something to keep it together. Each disc is about 8″ in diameter and about 8″ high and filled with round holes. They go in a specially shaped hibachi style cooker. Two are used each day, one after the other. It is not unusual to be walking on the sidewalk and run across a completely untended cooker, burning hot and what one would call dangerous here. Most people do not walk on the sidewalk anyway because that is where motorbikes park and also outdoor cafes occupy the entire sidewalk, plus there are big holes leading to some kinds of underground drainage that you could fall in.

It seems like there might be slightly less smoke in the air but I am not sure of this.

Transport: Here there are about 30 motorbikes for every car. about 10 trucks for every car and about 50 bicycles for every car. The few cars there are are often driven by government officials or NGO’s. All government officials have blue license plates. NGO’s have black plates with a red NG on it. The Army has red plates. Everyone else has white plates and the first 2 numbers designate what province they are from. Government officials and NGO’s drive huge, gas guzzling SUV’s and the government officials drive them very, very fast. Generally other people, NGO’s and the Army never reach a speed of more than 60kmp. (40mph). Those blue plated cars come at you at probably 90Kmp. It is rather scary.

Most places we have been where motorbikes are the primary method of transport are very loud. There can be lots of unmuffled ones and the sounds of their engines echo off the cement buildings. Here all motorbikes are limited to 125cc and are seriously muffled. This is universal no matter where you go and it makes motorbikes quiet. A joy, in fact, compared to other spots we have been.

While there are mini-shrines and pagodas and temples in the north, it was only fairly recently that the government stopped discouraging religious practices. There are still some that are discouraged but here in the south, many (possibly most) families have one or several mini-shrines in their yards. Incense is burned and people pray. We have seen more Buddhist monks here, we only saw 4 once in Hanoi, but here there are more. Not like in Thailand, but more nonetheless.

There are more birds here, we can hear them in the trees and also in the trees outside the hotel windows, there are many bats. They are all flitting from tree to tree, eating some kind of fruit. Wildlife may be more plentiful here.

Yesterday we went to one of the tombs in the country, we rented bikes for the first time on our own. It was fine and we had a great time. I think we will go to the ocean tomorrow on motorbikes with our new friends.

See some of you soon, I will be glad to come home as much fun as it has been to come here,