a little bit of silliness....click on the picture to create a fly for it to eat....

Friday, February 18, 2011

absolutely, positively the last post....

I know I said goodbye in my last post but I've got just one more photo to share with you; it was the last photo i took as I was being driven to the airport and typifies the conundrum that is modern Hanoi.  The huge tower block being constructed, the massive archway over nothing and the rearing stallions.  It's an impressive bit of statuary but ultimately a bit tacky...those horses look like something off the cover of an old cowboy cartoon book

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Just in case you wish to keep in touch I've started a new blog....www.cooknSydney.blogspot.com  It'll cover all aspects of my strange but rather wonderful life...cookiing, eating, studying, house sitting, domestic furries, Taronga Zoo and my role as a Discovery Host, exotic creatures, and of course beautiful, vibrant, wonderful Sydney...I hope you enjoy it.....

Last day in Hanoi....(also known as 'a bit of culture' init?)

It seems surreal that my time here in Hanoi is pretty much over.  For my final day I've decided to take myself into the city to visit one of the most revered sites of historical and cultural importance.  I'm going to the Temple of Literature.
The entrance with it's colourful sign...made up of hundreds of silk flowers...

still beautiful when chock full of  tourists...

Chu Van An...a great, virtuous and frank scholar...he was - the guide book told me so....

The Thai Hoc courtyard....big isn't it?
 Built in 1070 as a temple to Confucius by King Ly Thanh Tong and extended in 1070 to become the first National University of Vietnam.
I'm pretty sure this is King Ly Thanh Tong...he was a pretty enlightened chappie by all acounts...
 Students came from all over Vietnam (male ones only) to study not only the Confucian cannons and administrative writing skills but they also had to become well versed in literary composition and poetry.  Talk about a well rounded arts education, methinks that University Managers of today could learn a thing or two!  After about 3 years they could sit the National Exams and if successful then the Royal Exams to become doctor laureates and mandarins.  The grounds of the temple are just beautiful....





even when teeming with tourists.  There are stelae which record the names of the 1304 Doctor Laureates who achieved this status between 1442 and 1779.  The stelae are mounted on the back of turtles which seem to pop up all round Hanoi. 


each turtle has it's own distinctive character as you can see....
The buildings in the grounds are just gorgeous with so much of the lovely embellishment I have come to love.







I spent a couple of happy hours just soaking up the atmosphere.  Looking out over the city from the upstairs balcony it was hard to believe that you were in the middle of one of the busiest cities in Vietnam.   There were fabulous old bonsai trees...

classic statuary....

and so much to admire.


Inside the buildings at the rear of the Thai Hoc courtyard are shrines to the three powerful kings who contributed to this palace of learning.

I got the impression that this was a scholars or mandarins robe...it's embroidery was equisite...
The locals almost outnumbered the tourists and it's always fun to see kids interacting as they do the world over.  This huge bell hung beside one of the rear buildings....
there were 5 kids crammed inside...I was sooo tempted to use the clanger....
In the middle of the grounds is the Gate of the Geat Synthesis...cool name isn't it?  The guard took my fancy...

...and when I came through these three lovelies were taking photos of each other.  When I asked if I could also they assented gracefully....


The girls worked for a media firm, I'm guessing something to do with tourism, anyway they were very gracious while very intent on their project.  A while later they found me having a quiet moment beside the Turtle Stelae and I cracked up when I noticed one taking a photo of me...when I laughed and gave the classic Viet V sign pose they all came over and this is the lovely result.  Vietnames woman really are quite beautiful, especially when they avoid the trapping of western make up and dress.
I look like  beached whale in the middle...

After my visit I had a final lunch at Koto restaurant then headed home for a wee nana nap before heading into HCC for my final cooking class....Food from the Coast. Seafood in some of it's tastiest guises.

Tracey took the class which consisted of me, a couple of burly boys from NY (one of whom turned out to be the exec chef of a large Steakhouse in Manhattan) and two married couples (also from New York) who were fresh off the plane.
Tracey with the authentic mortar and pestle that she made us pound the squid in....hard work!

clams cooked in Hanoi beer and aromatics...they were wonderful...I polished off the whole bowl!

Blue swimmer crab and pomelo salad...divine, delicate and delicious!

From the top left corner going clockwise...squid and pork cakes, classic dipping sauce, the clams, prawns in betel leaves and the crab salad...some of it still needed the final cooking....

I was a bit reticent about eating the betel leaves - they looked tough and very dark (which I associate with a strong not always pleasant taste) but they were delicious...
It was a great class, though I have to admit the two married blokes got on my nerves a bit.  Tracey would demo and explain very clearly what we had to do, then we would adjourn to our benches to do it.  Every time the bloke behind me would forget in that split second  that it took him to walk back to his bench...but to top it off when his long suffering wife filled in the gaps he would bloody well argue with her!!!  I felt like turning round and crowning him with the pestle.  Thankfully I could tune him out after a bit and concentrated on my little but of culinary heaven.  When we finished and shuffled upstairs to enjoy what we'd made I luckily sat next to the wife and opposite Mike (the chef) and his brother Andy.  We all got on famously and pretty much ignored the rest of the table....a few beers, some great food and fun company....you couldn't ask for a better swan song.

So this is the end of my Vietnam adventure, I'm actually home again in Sydney.  I'll miss Hanoi more that I realised I think.  I'm experiencing a bit of culture shock back here in hot and humid Sydney...but I'm sure I'll settle down and life will return to normal.  Maybe I'll start a new blog....cooknsydney.....what do you think?

Thanks for reading and sharing this wee journey with me...your comments made me feel that I had friends along with me on the trail...take care...till the next time...tam biet...or even better...hen gap lai.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Making cakes at HCC....

I had the pleasure of being able to contribute to making a cake for a double birthday party recently.  I overheard it being discussed and insisted on being able to join in because it all sounded like so much fun.  It was to be a cake for two kids turning 3 and the theme was butterflies and flowers....heavenly!  So Mr Hung and I went shopping for decorating supplies.  We found some fab butterflies on wires that could 'fly' above the cake.  Mr Hung made a large slab of carrot cake and a small bowl cake too.  We cut the base of the bowl and upended it to create a dome on which we stuck loads of royal icing flowers to create a sort of posy.  



The grass was coconut tossed in food colour...note to self - don't use fresh coconut unless you dry it first!  The moisture in the coconut almost melted the icing under it...ooops!  But thankfully not so much that it ruined anything.  It was fun working on the cake because the staff hadn't seen anything quite like it before....mind you neither had I....and they were all keen to have a look and make suggestions.  Thankfully most of the suggestions were in Vietnamese so I couldn't understand them.  (Control freak alert).

the whole crew ....butterfly time....
It was a really fun, bright cake to create and apparently the kids loved it too...I got a nice text message from Michelle (Mum of Mai) the day after the party.

Mr Hung and I with the finished product...

I had my last culinary adventure with Mr Hung last night.  He had offered to take me to try to buy a platter that a pal in Sydney had requested but on that front we were unsuccessful.  So to make up for the disappointment he took me to 'bbq chicken leg' street.  It's a bit of a misnomer because there weren't actually any legs, just feet and wings...and pork ribs and a kind of bread and apparently sometimes even rats....but thankfully not on the evening we went.  Anyway, getting back to the bbq chicken's feet.  I have tasted the glutinous boiled chicken's feet available at yum cha in Sydney, nice but not enough meat on for me...well these guys had even less meat - but the skin!  The bbq marinade was composed of honey and maybe fish sauce with a hint of chilli...wickedly good.  We had two feet each then Mr Hung took pity on me and ordered me a wing...yummo!  I'm going to have a good go at reproducing the lip sticking, tongue seducing smokey, sweet sauce when I get home.   But this was just an appetiser and we soon jumped back on the bike to hit his favourite Pho joint, not far from West Lake.  The pho was served with the 'chinese bread' - small sicks of fried dough that soak up the wonderful redolent stock and are just what the doctor ordered on a cold night.  The pho comes with 'well done' beef and 'medium' beef. The 'well done' is a boiled rolled shoulder that has been sliced wafer thin, the 'medium is actually almost raw fillet that cooks in the stock very briefly.  We loaded our bowls with lime juice, the pickled garlic that I have come to love, a hint of chilli for me a chunk for him and got down to the serious bisiness of slurping our way to pho heaven.
Mr Hung then did something that almost made me cry.  He produced his much loved Chinese Swiss Army Knife in it's custom made holder and presented it to me in thanks for my teaching.  I was gobsmacked.  No matter that I insisted that his hospitality and kindness were all that I needed I could see that he was serious.  Not wanting to give offence I took the loved knife and will cherish it.  It will be the best reminder of all that I love about Vietnam, the generosity and kindness of the people. 

Here's a shot of the lot of us outside the Hanoi Cooking Centre, if you are even in Hanoi you simply MUST visit, take a class or just snack on one of the many gorgeous dishes that come out of the kitchen.  Tracey and her team are a sterling bunch of real foodies whose passion and commitment is a joy to see.
I'll miss you guys....

I have one more class to do at HCC...I'm going tonight to learn about 'Food from the Coast' - I love seafood and can't wait.  Then it's on the plane tomorrow - home to friends, work and uni...I'm feeling sad and happy in equal quantities.  I have no doubt that within weeks I will look back and my immersion in Hanoi with all that is good and not so good about it will seem like a dream.  One thing I do know...I'll be back...it's like a welcome virus...it's in my blood now and I don't ever want to recover.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Last day with the Donkey Bakery crew....


Here I am in my lovely smart new chef's uniform made for me by Luyen Shell. If you are looking for any tailoring here in Hanoi she is the woman to see. Luyen has a very capable team of seamstresses working above her Donkey Bakery and you can be sure that the business is ethical. Luyen maintains that it is possible to make a profit and behave in a socially responsible manner and her thriving business is a shining example. Just check out www.donkeybakery.com for her contact details.

here we all are, that's Luyen on the far left...
 I spent my last day there today working with her bakery staff. We made the wonderful fresh coconut cake and a wicked pineapple almond cake. Pretty soon Luyen will be operating a cafe in her premises as well as it being a retail outlet for her tasty doughnuts and wicked breads...watch out for the grand opening.
I wish I could be there......I'll miss you guys!




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Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's the final countdown!

Son Khanh...with some lucky Tet money....
Tet has just finished here in Hanoi, it was a week of nothing.  Pretty much everyone shuts down for the week.  Those from outside Hanoi go back to their villages for the holiday to spend time with family.  Much eating and drinking is done!  It can be a lonely time for someone if they don't have family - much like our Xmas can be - luckily I have made two special friends here in Hanoi.  Mr Hung; who I have spoken of often and Luyen Shell; one of the owners of Donkey Bakery.  Between the two of them I was not left to moulder alone during Tet.  I've already told you about the visit to Mr Hung's mother's place to watch her make Bang Chung, well that was followed up with a visit to Mr Hung's wife's parents home just outside Hanoi.  He collected me nice and early one morning and we set off on the motor bike.  Ms Hang's parents; Mr Hai and Ms Trong lived in Hanoi itself when she was a child, but have retired to the country home now.  


Proud Granny Ms Trong

Doting Granddad Mr Hai
 Her brother Mr Truong and his very new wife Ms Dao also live there.  So there were 8 of us all including the gorgeous wee Son Khanh (Mr Hung's 8 month old son)togetherit turned out to be quite a party!  We had a lovely lunch of all my favourites, Bun Ca, Spring rolls, Chicken, and one of the nicest salads I've had here - Kohlrabi and carrot - so yummy!


Ms Dao organising our lovely lunch....
Mr Hai is Vietnam's number one Abba fan...I've never heard sooo much Abba before coming here.  First thing on New Years Day (both of them) some nearby neighbour deemed it appropriate to blast out 'Happy New Year' by the toothsome foursome!!!  I mentioned this in passing to Mr Hung as a bit of a joke and since Mr Hai doesn't speak much English all he heard was...Abba....so - you guessed it - he rushed off to put the album on...just for me.  I had to laugh, what a nice man!  They really were the most generous and welcoming people, I had quite the best day for ages.  After lunch we assembled outside to had a group photo with one of the lovely 'bling' fireworks that are let off at festive occasions here.  It's a long shiny tube that contains a small amount of gunpowder that expels an explosion of glittery confetti...fabulous!  It's a shame I couldn't bring one home to Sydney through customs...hehehehehe.

Tracey and I have been bartering cooking classes, I give her staff some pointers about pastry and she gives me entry to her wonderful Vietnamese cooking classes.  Last Wednesday I was thrilled to take part in her 'Street Food' class.  It starts, as they all do, with a visit to the nearby markets and a bit of an explanation about the concepts of Vietnamese cuisine...Tracey has lived here for years and really knows her subject.  She is an informed and enthusiastic teacher who communicates her love of the country and it's food to us, her eager students.  In the class I was shown how to cook a ripper Pho - the staple soup up here in Hanoi which we polished off piping hot standing round the stove.  Then we learned to make Prawn Cakes - a type of fritter that is enjoyed all over the city - not always with prawn, sometimes with banana or sweet potato.  Ours contained both prawns and julienne sweet potato and were tasty if a little filling. 
 

We also made Pho Cuon Bo - fresh spring rolls with beef. (The word Pho refers to the noodle, whether cut into strips or left as a sheet it's still called Pho)
 
The salad was the iconic Green Papaya and dried beef (bit of a beefy menu wasn't it?)

It was all rounded up with a beautiful silky Banana Che - a warm, sweet coconut soup containing caramelised banana, yummo!
My efforts...before we went upstairs to enjoy our food with copious amounts of  Ha Noi
Beer.....wonderful!

...a sample of the taste sensations that my fund-raising friends will be enjoying in Sydney when I get home....
 I've been spending a lot of time tootling around on my bicycle and despite the apparent chaos on the roads I actually feel a lot safer here than on Sydney roads.  I was riding home from Luyen's at dusk the other night (after sharing a lovely lunch and a walk with her wee pup Mary) when the bats emerged.  Thousands of tiny insectivorous bats appear round the edges of the lake to feast on the myriad of bugs that infest the fringes of the water.  It's a very cool sight that for some reason I'd never seen before so I just had to stop and try to capture them on camera...

video

Now we come to another in my series of 'hints for happy living in Hanoi'...where to find a great dentist!
About 3 weeks ago a big filling fell out of one of my back teeth and it's been driving me nuts ever since. Seriously the hole was big enough to hold a chicken drumstick!  Anyway, my friends know what a complete baby I am when it comes to dentists...I go once every 10 years whether I need to or not!  Well, Tracey gave me the name of her dentist promising that he was good.  I finally got my  courage up to go and was horrified to find that they don't automatically use numbing injections over here.  I warned them that I would most certainly cry and/or scream without real cause.  They took this as a joke...it wasn't!  He started to drill, no pain, he looked worried - no pain equals a decayed tooth apparently - he continued drilling...then I finally felt a small spasm and jerked like a scalded cat!  He calmed me down and continued drilling;..weirdly enough there was no real pain, just a couple of mild twinges which he worked me through and pretty soon it was all over!  So now the hole is filled and I'm out of pocket the grand sum of $12.50.  I should have gone at the beginning of the three months and had the whole lot done....but at least I have an excuse to come back.  If you ever need a good dentist in Hanoi go to Dr Phuong.  He not only runs two private surgeries but is also a lecturer at the Ha Noi Medical University.  His website is www.nhakhoaphuong.com and I can't recommend him highly enough.  The surgery was ultra modern and hygienic.  The only thing that took a bit of getting used to was the fact that the surgery and waiting room are one and the same...life is lived in public here.
I think Hanoi should replace Bali as the destination for Dental Toursim, it's cheaper here and Hanoi is much more interesting.....as long as you don't just want to laze around on the beach that is.  I'm going back on Sunday so he can check on the filling and I'm going to take photos then so you can see I'm not lying!

For some time my mate John has been trying to convince me that long hair on someone my age is...well, ageing!  I finally took his words to heart and went back to the lovely Mr Dinh for a restyle.  I watched with mounting trepidation as he snipped, and snipped, and snipped...when he was done my head felt a whole lot lighter and hopefully you will agree I now look years and years younger....yeah right! ;-)

I'm off to Donkey Bakery tomorrow for my last class with Luyen's staff.  We are going to do tea cakes, a nice almond cake and a wicked coconut cake.  I will remember to take a photo of everyone so you can put faces to the stories I've been telling.