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

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Weekend of the 8th and 9th of January...

Weekends seem to be my time for adventures and this weekend was no exception.  I finally took the plunge and rented myself a bicycle.  After doing a little bit of research I decided to go with the popular choice.  Ms Quan has a shop at 70 Hang Bac in the old quarter where she rents out motorbikes and bicycles by the day, week or month.  The hometel receptionist rang and was quoted 300,000vd for the month to rent a pushbike (shortnose price) when I got there it had gone up to 400,000vd (longnose price) but it was still value for money so I signed the contract.  I had to surrender my Aussie drivers License as security and was given a contract, an emergency contact number (in case of punctures?) and a basic but serviceable bike to ride off on.  Negotiating my way out of the old quarter was scary enough but the fear factor was quickly surpassed by the hair raising experience of riding along Nghi Tam (very, very busy road) but I managed to get safely home without killing myself or anyone else.

So Saturday morning Rosemary and I set off to circumnavigate West Lake.  It's roughly 14km round so we had decided to do it twice (!!!!!)  I haven't been on a bike in years but like they say...it's like riding a bike. ;-)
We took off in a clockwise direction so that we could stay on the inside lane all the way and wouldn't have to cross intersections or oncoming traffic.  It was actually a lot of fun.

fishermen on west lake viewed from Rosemary's balcony before we set out...
I love the lotus lanterns in the huge tree outside this pagoda gates
Yet another gorgeous pagoda we passed..the gates were locked but even the outside was spectacular


The Buddha in the garden of the pagoda...I had to stick the camera through the bars of the gate for this shot...isn't it fabulous...
When we got to the other side of the lake we turned off to visit Donkey Bakery and buy some more of Luyen's yummy bread.  Just near the turn off there was yet another pagoda.  This one contained a statue of the young Buddha in white marble...just lovely.

I never tire of these beautiful and strangely calm oases amongst the bustle of the city.
The first circumlocution was easy, but the second started to tell on my out of practice muscles.  The most telling was my butt...not used to riding a bike saddle it quickly became quite tender...I did a lot of riding standing up on the pedals...;-).  I thought my legs would go first but it was actually my hands and forearms that started to ache.  But not enough for us to stop and we soon made it back to where we'd begun...on the causeway.  There was the last and best pagoda of them all.  It's the oldest pagoda in Hanoi.  Chua Tran Quoc pagoda's history can apparently be traced back to 545AD. What follows is an excerpt from a travel page;

The history of Chua Tran Quoc can be traced back to 545AD, during a revolt by the Vietnamese against their Chinese occupiers. The national hero Ly Bon built a wood-and-bamboo citadel at the mouth of the Song To Lich. At the same time, he also built the Chua Khai Quoc, or Foundation of the Country Pagoda, by the banks of the Red River. Chua Khai Quoc was the original name for Chua Tran Quoc.

In the 17th century, Chua Khai Quoc Pagoda was moved to its present side on the peninsula in Ho Tay, and was renamed Chua Tran Quoc. Historian learned all this from a stelae found on the premises. The stelae dates back to 1639

The pagoda is reached by crossing a palm tree lined causeway

In front of the tower of Buddhas

Aren't they stunning?
 We returned to Rosemary's for lunch; hot smoked salmon open sandwiches on DB's Nordlander dark rye and sunflower bread...so good.  That evening we wandered into the city to try to find the movie theatre again...I'd read in a paper that it was at 45 Hai Ba Trung st...(sadly neither of us had thought to write down the address the previous week)...but it wasn't.  That's something about publications in Vietnam that really frustrates me, the maps show things as being on one street when in fact they are on a parallel street...well, it's close enough you can almost hear them saying as they draw it...not for this little black duck!  Long story short...we missed the 5pm show and it was just too bloody cold to hang around for 3 hours till the 8pm session so we just wandered back to Tay Ho and went for comfort food at the strangely named Foodshop 45; which is in fact a fantastic Indian restaurant.  I've been there three times now and everytime the food exceeds expectations.  Other people have disagreed with me, so try it for yourself.  The meals average 65,000 for a meat curry and 40,000vd for a vegetable one.  We ended up having the eggplant in creamy sauce (superb), chicken Jalfrezi (wicked) basmati rice for 2, a nan bread and a roti, glass of wine and a beer and the total was 268,000vd ($13.50?)  As I said I've yet to be disappointed by a meal there.

Sunday 9th January.

Sunday dawned overcast and drizzly but we set out to find the flower gardens behind Au Co where the farmers supposedly grow the flowers for Tet celebrations.  On her way to my place Rosemary had met a chap who gave her instructions on how to get there....he said the words I always dread 'You can't miss it'  well mate, let me tell you I can and I probably will!  And we did!  When you've got two geographically dyslexic women and a map scrawled on a business card with no street names...you can miss it.  It took a bit of riding round on muddy, broken ground before we found the farms...but it seems the flowers are now being grown elsewhere because all we could find were cumquat bushes.  But they looked very nice so we took some pictures of them anyway...a farmer happened to chance upon me standing in front of his tree (it was on the road) and tried to get me to pay him $1 or 20,000vd for the privilege...I laughed and responded that he could have 2,000vd!  He had the good grace to laugh too and wish me a Happy New Year, I gave him the 2,000 and he accepted it wryly.  We tourists are a constant source of amusement to the Vietnamese, paying for nothing!  
Anyway...here's the 2,000vd picture....
In my stunning and very effective rain poncho...

Tiny pagoda in among the graves
The graveyard...like a mini metropolis

Action shot of Rosemary

One or two ceramic plant pots...

The cumquat groves with the houses of Au Co in the background
It was still drizzling when we made it back to the road, Rosemary went home to do some work and I took myself back to the coffee shop on Yen Phu for some more of that wonderful yoghurt with sticky rice.  This time I got a fermented yellow sticky rice...which tasted a bit like sherry...sounds revolting but was just amazing.  The smoothness of the yoghurt was complimented by the sharpness of the fermentation and the texture of the firm but tender sticky rice just rounded the whole thing off.  Just heavenly.  Since it was a cold day I followed it up with a hot Vietnamese coffee 'southern style', the coffee comes in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm.  It's a strong brew, laced with copious amounts of condensed milk.  It's a bit like drinking coffee fudge!

Aahh, pretty...
The total for my yoghurt and coffee was 30,000vd, about $1.50.  Great for the tastebuds, great for the wallet.

I stopped in at one of the cafes on my way home to have a plate of com rang and got talking you a young woman newly arrived from Canada...one thing led to another and I took her back to the cafe so she could try the wonderful yoghurt too....pay it forward.  Welcome to Vietnam Lelia!  

Tonight Mr Hung is gong to take me to Hang Ga street and we're going to have another version of Pho Cuon (I spelled it incorrectly last time) this one is served with beetle sauce???

Chef Hung, my culinary guide to Hanoi

OMG! Tonight was a real experience...one of those nights that will never be forgotten.

Mr Hung picked me up from my hometel on his motorbike and took me to 14 Hang Ga in the old quarter, where the patron sits at her hotplates turning out some of the most delicate and tasty morsels I have ever tried.  I did take a video but the blog wouldn't upload it...grrrrrr.
The pho cuon on the greased tray is rolled around the filling

the batter and the cooking pot with it's cover
The fresh rice paper is made by pouring a portion of rice flour batter onto a taut piece of cloth stretched over a steaming pot of water.  It is quickly covered with a lid and cooks in seconds.  Then it's deftly picked up with a chopstick and moved to a surface that has been brushed with a little oil...in this instance the brush was made out of duck feathers.  The a filling is applied, either pork, mushrooms or eggs.  The egg pho cuon is a favourite for breakfast...we tasted it and I would love to have it for breakkie every day! 
The egg is cooked on the same material as the pho cuon and is absolutely perfect, cooked but with a liquid yolk.
 Mr Hung is a veritable font of information...I had been wondering about the instances of meningitis with people sharing food that is touched by everyone's chopsticks.  But he said that when a person serves someone else they turn the chopsticks round and use the blunt end! Oh my goodness....so simple!

Just turn them round and bob's your uncle!

  Finally Mr Hung introduced me to the piece de resistance to the meal...water beetle essence!  The water beetles are caught in the spring when they fly up from the rice paddies.  Some of them knock themselves out banging into trees and then they are harvested.  Mr Hung told me that when he was young he used to gather them up, not for eating but for selling.  he could get about 500vd per beetle which he would save.  Money in his pocket made him feel strong he told me...I know the feeling!
The beetle is fried, then cut into three sections for eating.  Or the oil is extracted from the body of the beast. 
scary looking mother's aren't they?

One must be careful because the bug has a fearsome stinger, extending from it's mouthpiece...like a wasp sting but longer and at the other end.  I was getting worried because I thought we were going to have to crunch down on one of these monsters but thankfully he was only intending that we taste the 'essence'.  He called for and got a small bottle of clear liquid. 
2000vd a drop for the beetle essence, but a drop is all you need.

It smelled like a combination of perfume, citrus and antiseptic.  Then Mr Hung dipped a chopstick into the oil then into a third dish of dipping sauce (in case I didn't like the taste).  When I tried it, by dipping my pho cuon into the sauce, it wasn't so much a taste as an after taste.  It sort of crept up on me.  Not unpleasant by any means, just strange.  It added another subtle layer of of flavor to the savory dipping sauce.  I don't think I could have chomped down on the whole bug though.

After our delightful and slightly strange meal we adjourned to a nearby beer hoi for a fresh glass of Hanoi beer and a good gossip about cooking, baking and cake decorating.  The 'bar' was a shop front located at the intersection of two streets in the old quarter.  'Tourist town' Mr Hung called it.  Since the majority of the drinkers were not Vietnamese I could see his point. The waitress kept asking Mr Hung to translate Vietnamese into English for her...which he did happily.   The beer comes accompanied by peanuts in the shell, I had thought that they were raw, but no, he tells me that they are boiled! This man is a veritable font of information!

The view from my seat...I love just you can just leave your scooter anywhere...oh that I could do that in Sydney!

While we were enjoying our beers we also sampled a delicacy he called 'sour pork'.  It's raw pork mince, cured then wrapped in guava leaf  - for bitterness - sour goes with bitter.

The outer wrapper is banana leaf

the inner is guava leaf

the cured pork in the middle is delicious...we dipped it in a chilly sauce that had overtones of tobacco to me...but then I could have been a bit tipsy by then!

Then it's wrapped again in banana leaf.  I was a bit reticent, but it actually tasted really good...the sour, savory and bitter well with the slightly sweet and mellow beer.  After our drinks I was in need of a WC but the patron of the bar refused to let me use theirs...no licensing laws here!  Mr Hung took me to his previous place of employment - after the cruise ships and before the HCC (Hanoi Cooking Center)...it's a restaurant called 'The Little Hanoi Restaurant' which provides between 300 and 500 meals from this tiny little kitchen. 
Chef Lam in his kitchen

The current head chef Mr Lam was happy for me to take this photo...the kitchen was so well organized, spotlessly clean and the four people in it worked together in an efficient, easy manner.  Mr Hung told me that when he worked there there would be, on occasion, six chefs in this space!  They would have to be Vietnamese...6 Europeans wouldn't fit!  (By the way the loo was wonderful too...as they can only be when you're desperate!)  He tells me that the food is good, but it's so beyond my budget that I won't be going there any time soon.  It was pretty full of Europeans so it's pretty popular and obviously doesn't need my support...:-)

So another exciting weekend comes to an end...I'm back in my hometel watching Mel Gibson in a remake of an excellent English tv series - Edge of Darkness - and surprisingly he's not making a total hash of it...wonders never cease!  (Mind you the presence of Ray Winstone probably helps)


  1. oh . Cumquat gardent . It's signal of new year coming .One photo one dolar .I remember that .Today so cold and I having cup of coffee while I reads your blog .So infact I love beer hoi than coffee.
    you like MelGibson?
    I really like him In Brave Heart.
    That night when I came back house ,and I watched Edge of Darkness as well.Mel Gibson too old .
    But I can't finish it , I sleeped after 30 m.

  2. I really liked Mel in his early movies, then he went a bit mad I think. But Edge of Darkness was quite good, it's hard to say because I remember the original one that was made by the BBC in England...it was excellent. I was pretty tired too but very happy, a good end to a great day! Thanks to my culinary guide!