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eG Foodblog: nakji - Our Girl in Hanoi


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They’re made of sheets of rice noodle filled with fried beef, lettuce, and herbs. They’re dipped in the same sauce that Bun Cha is…a kind of vinegar with bits of pickled vegetable.

A Canadian blogging from Vietnam - wonderful way to start the new year!

I am curious about the rice noodles. Are these the steam ones that are also used in the Chinese dim sum item called cheung fun, or are they the rice paper wraps used in fresh spring rolls? They look delicious!

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Thank you for the great blog! I 100% agree with you about the Chocohip, the Korean chocolate chip cookie! It's soft, chewy, and somewhat cake-like at the same time. They are quite addictive, as I have been known to go through an entire box without blinking an eye...

Maybe I should start a photo-thread about Korean cookies and snacks one of these days...

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Edited by thdad (log)
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In some ways, Hanoi looks like the Malaysia of 30 years ago, with the one-or-a-few-story storefronts and residential buildings and prevalence of bicycles and motorcycles. (The bazaars are still there, today.) But obviously, these things are changing. If the experience of Malaysia is any guide, when they all get cars and their society becomes developed and wealthy, the Vietnamese people may get fat and start having obesity- and lack-of-exercise-related health problems. But in the meantime...

This has already started to happen with some of the younger children. I blame instant noodles - a lot of children eat them all the time as a snack. As for exercise - nobody but the poorest people or schoolchildren walks or rides a bicycle anywhere. Everyone takes their Honda Wave! Everyone stares at me with incredulity when I tell them I walk to work, even in the summer. It's only three blocks, and it's the best way to scope out the good fruit deals. But people still think I'm crazy! :laugh:

Loving the blog! Looking forward to drooling over more Vietnamese food. Personal request: I'd love to see what a bowl of bun bo Hue looks like as served in its native land. Thanks!

I'll try to do this. I haven't seen it around much here - I guess it's a specialty from Hue? But there's a student in one of my classes who's from Hue, she'll be able to point me in the right direction. I'm curious to try it myself!

I am curious about the rice noodles. Are these the steam ones that are also used in the Chinese dim sum item called cheung fun, or are they the rice paper wraps used in fresh spring rolls? They look delicious!

Based on my brief Google image search, I'd say they're similar to cheung fun - maybe a little thinner. I think they're sheets of what are used to cut into noodles for pho - hence the name, rolled pho (pho cuon). I can't say with certainty, though. I don't think they're the same as the rice papers used to wrap spring rolls, but again, I'm not entirely sure. It's the sort of thing that when I try to ask questions about from my Vietnamese co-workers, the conversation just goes in circles.

However, my efforts are not entirely in vain, because after three or four days of these questions, they clued in that I was really interested in Vietnamese cuisine. Now, whenever they have something interesting for lunch or as a snack, they always put a piece aside for me. :cool:

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Thank you for the great blog! I 100% agree with you about the Chocohip, the Korean chocolate chip cookie! It's soft, chewy, and somewhat cake-like at the same time. They are quite addictive, as I have been known to go through an entire box without blinking an eye...

Maybe I should start a photo-thread about Korean cookies and snacks one of these days...

Ha! Yes, they are the absolute best! Don't even waste my time with Chic Choc. The soft dense fudginess of Chocochip makes it the king of Korean boxed cookies. That box in the picture? Is empty. I managed to make it last three days, if you can believe that.

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nakji: Thank you for showing us a fascinating culture through your enlightening photographs and witty prose. Several Vietnamese families lived in our neighborhood growing up, but at the time we didn’t have the good sense to cadge a dinner invitation. We were fortunate to have lots of Pho joints and delicious, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood, though.

Your blog reminded me of an incident from my childhood that gave me some perspective on cultural differences. My parents had a huge schefflera plant growing in a pot in the foyer. To us, the schefflera was a beautiful, exotic plant. In contrast, our Vietnamese friends couldn’t understand why we were growing a jungle weed in our house. :biggrin:

How did you come up with the name nakji?

I love this picture:

All of the aromatic ingredients are available here – chilis, limes, ginger, garlic, lemongrass. They smell fantastic.

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How did you come up with the name nakji?

I like octopus - both to eat and look at. In Korea, saeng nakji is a delicacy - little baby octopus cut up and eaten while still squiggling. I consider it the height of adventurous eating.

The baskets of flavourings are beautiful. If you walk out on my street in the hours when women are buying food for their meals, you can see ladies walking by with little baskets - kind of a microcosm of all these things.

Here's a photo from a few months ago from on my doorstep.

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Here's a photo from a few months ago from on my doorstep.

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What a stunningly beautiful photograph!

I don't remember if you mentioned (pardon me -- I'm still punchy from my own blog) -- did you study the Vietnamese language before arriving there? Do the vendors speak any English? How easy is it to get along there, language-wise? What about bureaucracy, living there as a foreigner?

What's the "Dutch Lady" in the sign across the street from you?

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Ahem, yes. A note about the pictures. If they look like a blind bat took them while hanging upside-down in an alley, then they were taken by me. If they look beautiful and in focus, they were taken by my husband, who is an amateur photographer.

I didn't study the language before I got here, and I still don't speak Vietnamese - most of my daily activities are conducted in English, as all of my co-workers speak English. Some of my foreign co-workers study Vietnamese, but truthfully, I don't have the time. I did learn several key phrases though - 'How much?"; "Hello Auntie/Uncle"; "Hello Grandmother/Grandfather"; "Thank you"; "Excuse me"; "How beautiful!"; "How delicious!" "Twenty copies, double-sided" and "Sorry". I'm a big believer in that you acquire the language you need to survive. I actually had to learn a lot more of the language in Korea, as hardly anyone spoke English there. Even my students would only respond to commands in Korean. When I got here and found out you could order food delivery in English, I almost died.

All of the vendors who deal with foreigners (tourists and embassy staff) speak English quite well. Needless to say, you get cheaper prices in Vietnamese!

The bureaucracy is hellish. It took me 8 months to get my official work permit (although to be fair, five months of that was waiting for Canadian bureaucracy to grind out my criminal check), a full medical test, countless bribes, and at least 10 colour photos of me.

"Dutch Lady" is a dairy brand here. They make milk and yogurt. I'm not sure, but it could be imported, because there aren't a lot of dairy cows here. Most of the milk is UHT.

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I teach ESL to adults, so that usually means I work in the evenings. This means I’m on a completely different schedule from most Vietnamese people. Even here in the city, farming hours are kept, and everyone rises between 5:30 to 6:30. By 11:30 it’s lunch time. I work until 9:30 at night, so that means I get up around 10 am – long past breakfast time, so my breakfast is usually everyone else’s lunch. I want lunch around 3 pm, when any sensible Vietnamese restaurant is having an afternoon nap, so I usually order into my office. When I get off work, the only places serving food are pho stalls and banh mi stalls. I usually end up having pho as a late-night snack, rather than for breakfast.

Today, I was up and ready to get out of the house just at the magic hour for Bun cha.

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Bun cha are pieces of pork – either strips or little pork burgers here in Hanoi, served in a cool vinegar soup with pickled vegetables, herbs, and round rice noodles (bun).

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I’m told the little burgers are unique to Hanoi, and in other parts of Vietnam, you can’t get them.

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Also, the herb mixture is supposed to taste best in Hanoi. It’s usually a mix of cilantro, sweet basil, mint, lettuce, and some other herbs I can’t identify.

You can also add chilis and pounded garlic to your broth.

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You dip the noodles into the soup, and then slurp them up, a bit like soba.

The meat goes best with a bit of herb.

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The burgers are cooked on coals that are fanned by hand or by a little electric fan. It causes a tell-tale blue smoke to rise over the whole street where it’s being made. It smells delicious. Traditionally, the meat was cooked in bamboo tongs, but almost everywhere these days uses these metal grill pans. Progress.

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It can be served on the sidewalk, but we chose a proper shop on Mai Hac De street, a favourite of our friend, Vancouver Dan, who is a bun cha aficionado. The shop only serves bun cha, so the only question when you sit down is, “How many nem do you want?” We got two, as my husband is not much of a fan. You dip the nem into the soup…or at least I do. that’s probably a real “country” thing to do, but I’m forgiven a lot, being a foreigner. The meal for two cost 26,000 VND, or roughly $1.60 USD.

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My husband has been battling a cold this week, so we headed to a café next to get him some juice (and me a coffee). Nuoc Chanh, often translated as lemon juice, but is actually lime juice, is always a safe bet at any café. I like places that add a lot of crushed ice and sugar.

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My refrigerator...is mostly full of condiments. And beer. I didn't bother to take any pics of the freezer, as it only holds ice. And not, you know, like Donbert's freezer holds ice. Just a couple of trays of bog-standard ice.

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[...]

I note more US and European brands than I expected to see here. Coca-Cola and Heinz are both global brands, so it's no surprise to see either of those in your fridge, but Ortega salsa? Planters peanut butter? Président Brie cheese (French, IIRC)? All of these are available locally? Or do you have these shipped/smuggled in or buy them when you head out of the country?

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Wonderful Blog. The pictures are stunning.

I will never complain about a small kitchen again!

May be an odd question but do you make salsa or other dishes that a very different for your friends in vietnam to try? Is there much of a presence of non asian or french cuisines?

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Ah, it's been way too long since I did a butt. - Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Even my students would only respond to commands in Korean. When I got here and found out you could order food delivery in English, I almost died.

[unquote]

I know how you feel Nakji, I have learn how to say our address in Korean, say a host of different food items in Korean and even how to say 'NO CORN ON OUR PIZZA' in Korean, too. I miss the Philippines, even food delivery guys speak english and the person answering the phone sound like a guy from California. Sigh...

Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea

The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos

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I read through my Vietnam journal yesterday, took me a while what with all the laughing and crying (I wrote it over two trips we took to adopt our daughter). I worked while we were there the second time in the Hanoi Family Medical Clinic. So while you need a certificate to teach ESL, 6 years ago at least you could work as a physician with no proof you had a licence.

It was an interesting experience, I was on call while I was there and on New Years Eve I had to figure out how to organize ambulance transfer for a very ill German tourist. People, bikes and cars on the street pay as much attention to ambulance sirens as they do to horns - none! Riding in an ambulance was as anxiety provoking as riding on a motorcycle.

Anyway - places that I frequented and would like you to check on - I took a cooking lesson at the Hotel Metropole - not hands on, but came home with a wonderful recipe for banana flower salad. It was not outrageously priced and we had a trip through the market which was very educational. The chef did try to tell us that dog was not what we would think of as dog in North america, however after seeing people with live pigs in baskets on the back of their motorcycles, the dogs in those same baskets look pretty similar to any dog you would keep as a pet.

We ate a lot of meals at the Paris Bistro Cafe which was kitty cornered to the Hilton (not the infamous Hilton). We also ate at a place called SoHo, a block or two away, which had some wonderful fish dishes.

One of the most interesting places we ate was Hoa Sua, near the market by the Hanoi Hilton, which is a restaurant set up to rehabilitate street kids. We walked through the door, the french speaking woman at the door took the baby from us and returned her when we were ready to leave. She was taken to a table full of regulars, who looked her over carefully and every now and then the hostess would come back, ask us a couple of questions, then return to the table and translate our answers. Everyone in Vietnam has an opinion on what you should do with your child, most involve dressing them more warmly. 85 degrees, sweat dripping off you, a kid in a snugglie and they want you to put socks and a hat on her.

I'd love it if you would post some pictures of the fabulous lacquer pieces that you see everywhere in the old town. I brought home some wonderful lacquer dishes and some art.

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I note more US and European brands than I expected to see here. Coca-Cola and Heinz are both global brands, so it's no surprise to see either of those in your fridge, but Ortega salsa? Planters peanut butter? Président Brie cheese (French, IIRC)? All of these are available locally? Or do you have these shipped/smuggled in or buy them when you head out of the country?

All of those things were purchased locally, although some from specialty Western goods stores, with really, really jacked up prices. My husband loves jarred salsa and tortilla chips. I abhor both, but they're his special treat (ie. it's not chocolate or cookies that I'll hunt and destroy while having a sugar craving).

The President product is actually butter, although a whole range of President products are available. A lot of the dairy here is imported from France, Australia, or New Zealand. (Aussies will note the Bega cheese in the fridge door. Tasty!) This reflects the overall effect France had on Vietnam. For example; in Korea, the only foreign goods available in major supermarkets were American cheese, Spam, hot dogs, and bottled spaghetti sauce. Here, we have Brie, baguettes, Normandy butter, pate, pain au chocolat, Orangina - even the smallest supermarket carries these goods. The Ortega Salsa and Tostitos were bought from a shop specializing in Western imports, although overall, these shops carry much more things from Europe. I have a suspicion things like the tortilla chips come in in diplomatic bags, as the shop only ever has one or two bags available!

May be an odd question but do you make salsa or other dishes that a very different for your friends in vietnam to try?

At Christmas, I made shortbread for the staff that work in the office with me. They seemed to like them. And I made some macaroons for some of my students - they enjoyed them, but then; they're a common bakery item anyway. Students seem shocked that I would bake at home, though, most Vietnamese homes do not have ovens. I've never made anything savory for them; perhaps I'll do that in the future!

In Hanoi, there seems like there is a restaurant for every country in the world! That could be because of the embassies. I think that on the whole, Vietnamese cuisine has been influenced by French and to some degree, Chinese cooking. I'm not sure if there's enough of a middle class here yet to pursue cooking and eating as a hobby. But I see Vietnamese cooking magazines at the checkout in the supermarket, so I think it's on the way.

...and even how to say 'NO CORN ON OUR PIZZA' in Korean, too.

:biggrin:

I have a choice of American, Italian and Regional French pizzas here! :raz:

But really, I feel your pain.

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We ate a lot of meals at the Paris Bistro Cafe which was kitty cornered to the Hilton (not the infamous Hilton). We also ate at a place called SoHo, a block or two away, which had some wonderful fish dishes.

The Paris Bistro closed the first week I was here! I know because my school is across from the Hilton on the side street. My first week in town, I ate lunch there a couple times, went back a few days later, and they were closed!

I'm not sure about the SoHo. I'll go look.

I haven't been to the Hoa Sua restaurant, but I often go to their bakery, Le Croissant. They make fabulous cookies and French pastry. I've also eaten at their restaurant Baguette et Chocolat, in Sapa, which I really enjoyed.

I'm planning to go to a similar restaurant this week, called "Koto". It's around the corner from my house, across from the Temple of Literature.

I'd love it if you would post some pictures of the fabulous lacquer pieces that you see everywhere in the old town. I brought home some wonderful lacquer dishes and some art.

Sure! In fact, one of the producers offers lacquer lessons, which I wish I had the time and money to take. But I've resolved to take French lessons in the new year. I used to be fluent, but I've sadly let it lapse.

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Lunch today was a banh mi, from the stall outside my office. I forgot to take my camera down when I bought it, so I offer this picture that my husband took a couple of weeks ago.

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The stall was slammed when I went down, with motorcycles lined off, each waiting for two or three baguettes. The woman making them was a stop-motion study waiting to happen. She was mechanical. One man was there, his only job to carve off the meat. He carved steadily while she took a pre-cut baguette, filled it with pickled red cabbage, tomato, lettuce, onion, shaved pork, a squirt of ranch, and a squirt of ot (chili) sauce. It got popped next to the heating element to stay warm while she prepared the others.

Banh mi, and banh mi cross-section.

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Kem caramen, for dessert. Technically a crème caramel, another remnant of French influence, I guess. Any café or restaurant in Hanoi will offer these. It’s called “caramen” because Vietnamese has only a few consonants that it can end syllables with, “n” being one of them, and “l”…not being one of them. Don’t even get me started on “s”.

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The teacher’s room, where the magic happens. The whole thing runs on cigarettes, Orangina, and pork fat.

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Dinner was pho.

Like I said earlier, due to my screwy schedule, pho is more often a late-night snack for me. Pho is one of the few foods you can get at any hour, along with “my xao” (fried ramen noodles). I like it, because it’s not too heavy to eat late at night – unless the broth is really good, and I go too far drinking it, and get a condition I call “pho belly” – the feeling of too much pho broth sloshing around in your stomach.

There is an independent pho shop on my street, but a new Pho 24 just opened up in my neighborhood, and Peter wanted to try it.

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Pho 24 is a chain of pho shops. It’s a reliable, high-end pho shop kind of place, when you want to go somewhere that offers fruit juice, coffee, and sturdy wooden stools. There are seven or eight in Hanoi, some in the middle, and quite a few more in HCMC. There’s one in Manila, and one in Jakarta as well. (Thank-you, informative placemats). They have a real up-scale, unified look, and I hope they do well. If only more people ate pho as fast food, instead of burgers and fries!

They have a wide selection of meats, but we got “tai” – raw beef. Always a safe bet until you get the lay of things. We didn’t see any pho fingers (a kind of choux pastry that you use to suck up broth, a lot like you might have bread with a European soup), but it was late in the day, so they might have been sold out. When we walked in, we ordered in Vietnamese, which resulted in some gasps. The manager said,

“You speak Vietnamese very well!”, to which my husband replied, “We don’t speak Vietnamese – we speak pho!”

Pho mise en place:

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Pho action:

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Stupid fact about me: when I speak English, I pronounce it “fo”, but when I speak to any Vietnamese person, I try to use the correct pronunciation, “feu”. The rising tone on this is very hard for me to say correctly, if the laughs from my co-workers are any indication.

Pho table:

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Pho foliage (tm noodlepie):

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Pho glamour shot:

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Nakji,

My husband was reading this over my shoulder and repeating, mantra-like, this is making me hungry... His father was born in Pnom penh and he has a fondness for all things Vietnamese.

Thanks for taking the time to blog and for the photos.

Off to find food for salivating husband.

If only Jack Nicholson could have narrated my dinner, it would have been perfect.

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Loving the blog! Looking forward to drooling over more Vietnamese food. Personal request: I'd love to see what a bowl of bun bo Hue looks like as served in its native land. Thanks!

I'll try to do this. I haven't seen it around much here - I guess it's a specialty from Hue? But there's a student in one of my classes who's from Hue, she'll be able to point me in the right direction. I'm curious to try it myself!

Yes, my understanding is that it's a variety of bun soup popular in Hue. I have no idea how far beyond Hue it may have spread ... or not. But ever since I got introduced to it, I've almost stopped eating pho, I like the bun bo Hue so much better. It's like pho on steroids--the broth, meat, noodles, and even the "foliage" :laugh: are all studlier than that of pho. But again, I've only experienced either of those soups here in the US, so I'd like to see how the original versions stack up against each other.

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This morning was a simple omelette, like the kind I saw everywhere on tourist menus in India. Chopped tomato and onion, with some cilantro leaves. I got the eggs and cilantro fresh on the street this morning, but the grape tomatoes have been hanging around in the fridge since my sandwich the other night. Simple and delicious! The menus always described these as masala eggs - maybe because of the mixed filling?

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I have a meeting with my French prof today, and then I'm working the afternoon into the early evening. This'll give me time to work on another cooking project tonight - Korean! But you probably won't see me around until then.

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