By glowing candlelight, Brooke Lewy finds a smattering of Italy’s finest flavours without leaving Ha Noi. From The Vietnam News. Photo by Viet Thanh.
Archives for January 2005
Street shellfish anyone? After being somewhat gung ho the other day when blethering about scoffing ice sur la rue (but, really, truely – no problems in 4 years and I ingest A LOT…) I thought I’d take the theory a little further at this alleyway stall at 178 Pasteur Street in District 1. At around 5pm every day joints just like this set up shop kerbside all over Saigon. There are three on my own street. Until now I’ve never bothered pulling up a stool, I think I’ve always been a bit too wary.
They all sell almost exactly the same stuff. Bottom left we have freshwater Oc (snails) and on their right some river clams – cheap, but not too tasty. The row above we have some opened clams on the upturned basin and So huyet (blood cockles) in the right way round basin. Further up are some more opened clams and another brand of snail, I think these snails are of the seafaring variety, but I could be wrong. Note the incense sticks. Fly detractors? Hmmm? dunno.
It’s a bit parky in the evenings these days in Saigon. Getting way down to an icy 21C on occasion – brrrrrrrrrrrr… I thought a decent plate of cockles would be just the ticket to warm my proverbials. I order a portion and monitor the process. So huyet – literally ‘blood shell’ – grow mostly in muddy river mouths and estuaries and are so called because when you open them they kinda.. well.. bleed. They look remarkably similar to cockles a la Morecambe Bay although yer good ol’ Brit cockle doesn’t bleed itself into your gob. Different chap altogether out east. This street chef steams them for a minute or two with a wee bit xa (lemongrass) in the pot above.
Then it’s outta the pot and onto the fire. She’s been flogging cockles, snails and raw duck eggs from this location for ten years. She only ever steams or grills. If you fancy a bit of butter thrown in apres grilling, she’s happy to oblige.
Grilling takes about two or three minutes maximum. She uses a paraffin burner although some shell sellers run charcoal powered kitchens.
And here they are, all warm and ready to open up and scoff. They’re not so hot you can’t handle them and they’re easy to prise open – so long as you haven’t scoffed your nails down to a splinter. There’s a salt, pepper, lemon and chilli dip (see below) and a miniature fork for you to gouge your cockle out of its bloody home, dip and eat. I’ve had these before, bought from the market and cooked at home and
wasn’t at all impressed. However, these specimens were very tasty. Not chewy in
the slightest. She’s been in the game ten years, so I guess she must
know when to whip them off the grill. Unlike me.
They proved most pleasant on a chilly Saigon evening when washed down with a Tiger beer with ice – yeah really – street ice and street shellfish – I live that dangerously. I think I’ll have this again. There’s more in this article, although it’s all in Vinaspeak and I see some prissy statesiders got all sniffy in 2003 about the health risks of some illegally imported so huyet. Their loss. Try ’em. I heartily recommend. Between 20-30,000VD a plate.
It took them a while, but the 2005 Bloggies Award website is back from the dead and munching down the votes as I blog. Take a wee bit extra time to consider all the incredible finalists in the ‘Best Asian category’. Have a nice cuppa tea, take some more time if you feel you really need to, then go and vote for me.
What is the total amount of music files on your computer?
iTunes says I have 1207 songs, just over 4 days worth. Or 8.5GB
The CD you last bought?
I generally only buy CDs once a year in Europe and then only 2 or 3. There’s tonnes of bootleg stuff in Saigon going for less than a $ a disc, I just never seem to bother. Therefore, the needle sticks at whatever I owned prior to 1997(ish) when I split Blighty. However, I was given some CDs by the owner of Skipinnish records when I went to do some work on the Scottish island of Tiree last summer. Of those I particularly like Rachel Walker‘s Braighe Loch lall. The last one I actuallly bought was probably Spring Heel Jack‘s Amassed.
What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?
Rag Ramkali from a 2 track CD by Budhaditya Mukherjee. Each track is thirty minutes of sitar. Great background music.
Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you?
I was listening to the Flatlands by Roger Eno a lot when I first met noodlegirl. I had to go and work in Seoul for a few months leaving her in Hanoi. This is what we both were listening to at that time. It’s an LP’s worth, but it all blends into one long piece. Kind of a strings ‘n’ piano jam session.
When we recorded the garage punk hooligan roar Hit the East in Rugby in 1996 I had no idea I’d spend the following decade livin’ in the east. This always reminds me of Friday nights in Rugby, the great local garage bands, the parties, the ‘borrowing’ of vegetables from the municipal allotments and foraging hedgerows for wild fodder. For a small English town we really rocked. No, really, we did…
The 30+ minutes of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music is one of my all time favourites and has been since my teens. Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks comes a close second, but if I had to single one out, Discreet Music’s the one.
Heavy Soup by Cornershop is the first track from their Handcream for a Generation album. It’s also the first song that the Toad took an interest in. Whenever we put it on on now, he gives a big smile and starts dancing. Well 1 year old kinda rocking and shaking, but very cool, believe me. I can see he’s got his mother’s moves.
I just checked my iTunes ‘Top 25 Most Played’ and my Audioscrobbler ‘Top Tracks’ and JJ Cale comes out top in both. I like most of his stuff, but the 2 minutes 3 seconds of Devil in Disguise will do this morning.
Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
I’d ‘heard’ of blogs a little bit, but it was Jeremy Wagstaff‘s columns in the Far Eastern Economic Review that originally got me more than a little bit interested in them. Plus, I recently found out we grew up within spitting distance of each other.
I actually started a blog just before I discovered FatMan Seoul, but he helped me crystallize the direction I wanted to take noodlepie in. What rocks the Fat stereo?
I suspect Santos has the largest record collection of anyone I know. This’ll keep her busy for weeks… So tell me, what’s groovy in Guam?
Neanderthal noshers will find some succour at the house of carcass, otherwise known as Luong Son Bo Tung Xeo at 31 Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1. The signature dish is Bo tung xeo. The name has a bit of a gory ancient history – something to do with ripping flesh from living beings – got the niche cannibal market cornered then. The semi-civilised 21st century version consists of a slab of tender beef, chockfull with garlic cloves and a soy/sugar marinated combo all self-grilled upon a scorching hot tabletop charcoal barbie. I’m not including any snaps of the restaurant itself, just filthy top shelf meatporn. Don’t grill it too long, the fierce heat will tear the
flavour from the meat. It really is tres tender, so ‘flash grilling’
works rather well.
This shack seats around 300 scoffers and is adorned with rice baskets stuck to the roof. It’s filled night after night with mucho meatheads choking on sweet beef char fumes. Classy it’s not. Everyone’s here for the beef. You can also order scorpions, this guy did. The "Jumping prawns" amuse some, although the prawns don’t seem to get the joke, and the mammoth menu includes ‘milk pig’, salmon sashimi, turtle doves and anything else that took the wrong path through the forest that day. The beef comes with quite a powerful sweet, light brown sauce which is probably best avoided. Unlike the Hanoi version, there’re no chips (of the Walkers Ready Salted variety) here, although you can order a side dish of Khoai tay chien (Chip shop chips). The beef is cut smaller and is of a higher quality than that served in Hanoi. The restaurant is also cleaner and quieter. Costs 55,000VD a slab. View the business card.
Pho 24 is still our fave pho in Saigon, but we’re ever on the lookout for bigger, better, brighter, harder. The second we get a sniff of anything that tops this mob, we’ll let you know. The franchise is expanding into the nouveau riche new town, Saigon South – kinda like a grubbier Milton Keynes – they’re also looking at heading overseas, with Indonesia the likely first stop. Read the full skinny here.
If you’re foraging for streetscoff around Saigon and you’re into gooey nanas and grilled rice, keep ’em peeled for Chuoi nep nuong. Much like the sandwich the concept is bonkers simple. Cook rice, peel nana, wrap nana in rice, grill and serve. Warm fruity goo awaits scoffdom inside the charred rice case. Since the Earl of Sandwich’s brainwave during a gambling session in 1762, the sandwich has mutated big style. We now have (the classy) Marks & Spencers, (the retro) Breville and (the naff) Pret a Manger. Through it all, the humble Vietnamese nana ricewich remains unchanged. What no durian ricewich? Whither the mango noodle wrap? A matter of time maybe, but not for now.
The bitter burnt rice crisp cover combined with the stickier interior rice and the warm nana centre is a gargantuan gobfull – Well, it is if you try and hog down close to your loading bay limit first nibble – whoops. Ideal picnic fodder or ‘grab ‘n’ go’ scoff. It looks the business, it’s surprisingly filling and it’ll keep you going all morning. You’ll need to cough up 2,000 sobs to get a taste of this savoury fruit tease. This seller stalks central Saigon, specialises in Chuoi nep nuong, but also sells a small array of rice cakes.
The local rag samples Bun bo Hue, Banh beo and Com hen at the uber-popular Nam Giao near Ben Thanh Market in District 1,
"Not many foreigners, I’ve noticed, explore the dark alleys of HCM City. In New York City, you’d reply, "Of course not, because I want to live." But in Viet Nam, the alleys nearly explode with activity and I’ve had some of the best meals by wandering down them,"
This is the 200th iced drink I’ve downed on the streets of Saigon since 2001. It’s Cafe sua da – coffee, sweetened milk, ice. I found it on Thai Van Lung Street in District 1 and it set me back 4,000VD, or around 25 cents.
In 2001 I began cataloguing my street ice intake, anorak fashion. The aim – to provide the first ever scientific proof that every health and hygiene advisory published in a Vietnam guidebook since 2001 was plain barking, cuckoo, woo wah, woo wah.
Freaking folk out over frozen tipples would at last be a thing of the past and Vietnam’s ice capitalists could bury their bad rep. and concentrate on cooling palates without foreign media muddying everyone’s pants with paranoid poop.
Well, the results are in.
Contrary to popular belief, it appears street ice is actually rather good for you. 0.05% of post-ice movements "noticeably veered from the norm". No shit.
This important first study of its kind concludes; the all important "ice to loose movements" ratio is negligible at worst, positively non-existent at best. And if you don’t believe me, I have a double quilted, aloe vera scented spreadsheet smeared with 4 years worth of data which you’re welcome to unroll and analyse at your leisure.
I just received this,
Congratulations! One or more of your sites is a finalist in the 2005 Weblog Awards [Best Asian blog category], also known as the Bloggies. You can check out the list of finalists and submit your own ballot at 2005.bloggies.com.
If you’re attending South by Southwest Interactive this year, e-mail me back and tell me so I can plan out the awards ceremony. You can also arrange for someone to accept your award for you if you win.
I’ll admit, I thought it was a joke. But I just checked the website and actually it isn’t. I didn’t know I’d been nominated 😮 So, whoever shoved my name in the hat – nice one 🙂 Good luck to all. Special shout to the ‘Best food weblog’ finalists:
All worthy – choose your poison and go vote. If I ‘know’ you and you’re in the Austin, Texas on Sunday March 13th for the Weblog Awards ceremony at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, lemme know.
UPDATE: Just noticed Is my blog burning? is also a finalist and that Australian oddball at Spiceblog too – thx Reid. Plus, I also stumbled into this message at the Bloggies site while attempting to get in and cast my vote:
Bandwidth Limit Exceeded
The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.
Oh dear, oh dear… Popular? Amateur? or both?