Street Food in Saigon

I’m pretty sure that there are excellent eateries in Saigon, the problem is that on a flying visit, where to find them. We threw caution to the wind and went on a Night Street Food Tour, just Himself and me. We have done street food tours before with great success, and in fact have never been disappointed, and so it was when we met Lem. Lem worked as a street food tour guide to help pay for her children’s education and to help her parents, who after the communists took over Vietnam, lost their farm.

Lem travelled nearly two hours on her scooter, to take us on the tour, which I have to say was excellent. We ate in places that normally we would have walked on past, but with someone who has local knowledge it makes a world of difference.

We started off at Hu Tíu Nam Bung where we ate Phò, this she told us is really from the north of the country and as with all regions of any country there are variations. We sat at metal tables and were served the basic broth with noodles flavoured with lemon grass. In it were a couple of quails eggs and spring onions. To this we added prawns and some vegetables. Absolutely delicious, but as this was our first stop of many, we did not eat it all.

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Traditional PHÓ

Second stop was a real eye opener, a Pop Up Street Restaurant and there was a queue, and it wasn’t even open at that point. Keeping it all in the family, they’d borrowed the forecourt of a car dealership and set up shop. There were BBQ’s, stacks of plastic stools, food being cooked and customers waiting, and even a menu, and Cheap! This we were told was Vietnamese Pizza. To make it they took Rice Wrappers ( srping roll wrappers) Brushed it with beaten egg and popped it on the BBQ. Then when it was cooked sufficiently they added some green chilli sauce, some chopped spring onions, some peppers, and if desired some cooked chicken or beef and finally some grated cheese. Cheese is something that is not normal in the Vietnamese diet, but as it was ruled by the French until 1954, this is a left over legacy. We tried both the chicken and beef Pizza and liked both. They ranged in price from 25 p to 1£! No wonder they were busy! And all the family were involved!

Moving on down a crowded alley way we stopped to eat , along with the rest of Saigon, or so it seemed some sautéed seafood mixed with morning-glory beans! Morning Glory is a typical Asian vegetable and is water grown, so not a bean at all, looks a bit like thin broccoli stems or maybe resembles watercress, it is probably available in Asian supermarkets, but certainly not in Waitrose or Carrefour or HBG!

And very simply, the cook took a handful of seafood, in this case some shrimp and some squid, threw them into her wok, long with some oil, chilli paste, some garlic, a little sugar and some oyster sauce, stirred it all around, added the morning-glory, another quick stir and Hey Pesto! Dinner was ready !

Next stop, was to eat Vietnamese Pancakes, it would seem that these are very much a staple of Vietnamese diet and are available everywhere. They are made very simply with rice flour coconut milk, ground yellow mung beans and turmeric, which give the pancakes their tradition yellow colour. Watching the locals make these, they certainly make it look easy, must give it a try. They are served crisp, with a filling of cooked pork, or prawns, bean sprouts, chopped spring onions, lettuce, chopped coriander and mint.

Our final stop for the evening, after checking out the original flats in Saigon that were built to house the American Military was for the traditional Vietnamese coffee, rich espresso poured over ice onto condensed milk. I have to say that it is quite addictive. The worse one we had and also the most expensive was in Starbucks !! A place I normally avoid, but when needs must . !

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Original Flats built for the American GI’s

Everything (except food )in Saigon!

Saigon, or as it is officially called, is Ho Chi Minh City, but the airline code is SGN and the locals still call it Saigon. The word Saigon conjures up different images than the words Ho Chi Minh City. For me it conjures up awful images from the Vietnam war, that were shown around the world, images from the show, Miss Saigon and images of a beautiful land and beautiful people.

Arriving in Saigon, those images are thrown out of the window. It starts at the airport, enormous queues and people everywhere. Once outside your senses are attacked by the people, the noise and the traffic! Traffic in the form of SCOOTERS! Not the kind that kids ( and some adults) push along with one foot, but the petrol powered type. Apparently there are about 9 million people in Saigon and about 6 million scooters! Scooters, scooters everywhere, jostling for position on the roads, on the pavements and at the traffic lights ( that is if they care to stop)!

And that is it, If they care to stop. Priority seems to work a) on size, b) on speed and finally on dare do! No one stops at junctions, unless everyone else has stopped, then it is who can get to the front fastest ready for the take off! Whole families ride on one scooter, 3, 4, 5 or even 6, Mom, Dad, and little ones. Some even ride side saddle! And everything is transported around the city, piled sky high on the back of these machines! They even have the equivalent of Uber. It is called Grab Bike, they wear green jackets and carry spare ( green ) helmets, I hasten to add we did not summon up the courage to give this hailing service a try! And how does one cross the road, you ask? Very simply, look for a vague gap in the traffic, put out one hand and WALK at a steady pace, and they will STOP or slow down or go around you ! Easy? Yes!

We visited the central market in Saigon, which has to be the home of everything that a modern Vietnamese family could ever want. Although they were in principle wholesalers, ( goods were stacked onto the backs of scooters to be distributed to small shops elsewhere in the city) there were it seems small time buyers as well. ( we didn’t buy anything)We also visited the towers large market in Saigon, where ” Everything is Fake”. We were accosted on all sides by vendors, selling every from designer clothes, to shoes, to handbags, to watches! There were some real things as well, namely the crabs and the fruit. Again we did not buy!Coming up will be a tour of the nighttime street food markets! Fascinating to try all of the different foodstuff along with a local guide. Some of the eating places we would have never have tried if it had not been our guide.

Traveling and eating!

We have been traveling in the Far East, which never fails to excite me. The noise, the smells, the people, all exciting. For me very much part of this, is the food.

This has been met, this time around, so far a mix of highs and lows.

An alternative to green beans, steamed greens which came with some scallops
Salt and pepper fishes, looked good but no sign of salt or pepper and Well. COLD!
Roast duck, crispy skin, tasted not bad, but as above could have been hotter!
This waitress did an amazing job of expertly carving off the skin of this Peking Duck, for a table of young Vietnamese!
Iced coffee served with condensed milk
It has been a long time since having coffee served in this manner, but delicious Iced coffee!Himself now declares this that is how it should be sev ed Chez Nous in the summer !

The above photos, take in Ho Chi Minh, a vibrant city full of hustle and bustle. Did you know that Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer after Brazil? I did not! Making coffee and serving it in these individual filters, takes me back to the 1970’s in Bruxelles, where coffee was always served like this, albeit in plastic filters, rather than these gold coloured metal ones!

A Peking Roast Duck shop in Hong Kong.
A very yummy looking cake in Hong Kong
I LOVE shrimp and these giant ones did not disappoint, in Mission Hills, Dongguan, China
These are also Shrimp. Coated in cornmeal, absolutely Yummy!
This one I DID not Eat! Himself the master of eating all things a bit Weird! PIGS INTESTINES!

The Ultimate Cook Your Own Dinner, a kind of Hot Pot, where you choose what you wish to cook and which sauces to have as well.

Himself is now in love with this Chinese Breakfast.

It is actually very tasty and Hot, whereas most of the

Buffet breakfasts were rather on the cold side!

The Problem with this is, The Slurping your clothes could end up being a bit messy!

Fish dinner
Grilled Shrimp Dinner
Two of my favourites, crab meat and avocado!
Shrimp in Aspic

More wonderful foods to come, including Vietnamese Pizza!

The invention game.

Here in our Mountain home, we inherited quiet a large chest freezer, which I have to say is usually pretty full. I’m not really a meal planner and I am also not a food throw awayer! Hence there is all sorts in my freezer. When I make a gravy ( always from scratch) or a sauce, there is always too much, then the rest is packed and frozen for future use.

I am one of those weird people who actually likes grocery shopping, not the run of the mill stuff, but I am always curious to see what else is out there. For a while, it was possible to buy, garlic, small ones that were indeed a whole clove, so easy to use, but it has gone the same way as many new food fads, GONE, nowhere to be seen. However, as I have said before grocery shopping here is not such fun, and can be a chore. Very often it is a better bet to buy frozen vegetables than fresh. Fresh very often is not very fresh and the shelf life very short indeed ( unless you are an avocado, then the shelf life is forever, as the last ones I bought were still rock hard after two weeks!) but the lemons I bought at the same time were, well only fit for the bin!

And so it was declared ( by me that is) cardinal rule number one is, ” when I ask what should we have for dinner” himself MUST not under any circumstances come up with some off the cuff random idea that I will not entertain, simply because it is Not In The Freezer!

That being said, I can certainly be very creative with What is in the Freezer! And so it was that we came to be eating Peking Duck!

Yes, we had a crown of duck sitting patiently in the freezer waiting for someone ( me) to declare “And tonight we will have duck !”

I have made Peking Duck before , probably in a former life and I seem to remember having two car jacks ( the same ones that I used to use to hang pasta on, in the days before a pasta dryer rack was available) with a wooden broom handle balanced on them, and on it hung my duck , which needed a daily application for several days, of a sticky concoction applied with a paint brush, to give it, when roasted, the wonderful crunchy skin, that is a requisite for Peking Duck! However, back then in Brussels, it was also very easy to buy all the necessary ingredients to make such a dish but not so even today in the French Alps! When I commented to a Chinese friend that I had made the Chinese pancakes, she laughed and said, Who makes them, in China we just buy them and the same goes to any major city, which has a China Town!

But alas, in the Alps no such luck, nor was the plum sauce available, but as luck would have it, sitting in the freezer was a kilo of plums, just waiting to be used! I had originally thought that they, when given to me last summer, were destined to become plum, jam, but now they were destined for a different future, Plum Sauce!

For two people

  1. Either two duck breasts or a crown of duck
  2. 2 tablespoonfuls soy sauce
  3. 1 tablespoonfuls honey
  4. 1tsp five spice powder plus 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 tablespoonfuls oil
  6. 1/2 tablespoonfuls Chinese wine vinegar

Mix the above and marinate the duck, preferably overnight but for as little as 30 mins.

Heat some oil in an oven proof frying pan ( I use cast iron for this, as it is also good on all types of hobs, including induction hobs.) sear the duck skin side down. Cook for about 10 mins, until the skin is very brown and crisp, turn them over, drain off the excess fat and pop under a grill for about 5mins, but be careful not to burn. Alternatively put into a hot oven for about 8 mins.

Before cooking the duck, you should make the plum sauce and the pancakes, so:-

  1. 1 1/2 (6oz] plain flour
  2. Pinch salt
  3. 1tsp oil
  4. 2/3 boiling water

I use a food processor, it makes mixing very easy. Put the flour and salt into the machine, mix the water with the oil and with the machine running pour in the liquid and process until the mixture forms a ball.

Knead the dough ( when it is cool enough to handle) until it makes a smooth ball, adding some flour if it is too sticky. Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 12 bits.flatten each bit of dough and rollout using a rolling pin turning it until it makes a round flat pancake about 6-7 inches. Then cook in pairs.

Brush lightly with oil and cook in a frying pan for about 30 seconds each side. Separate the two. Place onto a plate and cover with paper towel.

And for the plum sauce!

You can use canned plums or fresh to make the sauce. Obviously it is easier to use canned. Place the plums into a pan and add 2 tablespoonfuls of honey a pinch of ground star anise and 1 tsp ground ginger. Bring to the boil and let simmer, mash the plums to a pulp and let it simmer. When nice and gooey , stand to one side and leave until ready to serve.

Heat some oil in an oven proof frying pan ( I use cast iron for this, as it is also good on all types of hobs, including induction hobs.) sear the duck skin side down. Cook for about 10 mins, until the skin is very brown and crisp, turn them over, drain off the excess fat and pop under a grill for about 5mins, but be careful not to burn. Alternatively put into a hot oven for about 8 mins.

Now we are ready to assemble.

Remove the skin from the duck and slice into bits, slice the duck into bite size pieces. Serve on a platter, along with the pancakes, the sauce and some spring onions, some strips of cucumber and some hoisin sauce. Make up your pancake filled with duck , crispy skin and bits and pieces to your liking and enjoy!

Ma’am est Malade( and Celeriac)

Our lovely part time neighbours in our tiny French Hamlet, invited us for New Years Eve ( Reveillon) and Carolin served us as a starter something which I often cook, but just as a vegetable, and serve it in puree form. Celeriac, is a root vegetable, which is a bit like the end of celery stalk. It is widely cultivated in Northern Europe , Asia, North and Central America and is a vital part of Puerto  Rican Cuisine. Locally, to me it is on the street market ( ethnic market) but  only on one stall on the upmarket Sunday Farmers Market.

Carolin had, I believe,  baked it according to her instructions in the oven for about 4 hours, but just like Baked Potatoes, there is an easier way. I removed the obvious lumps and shoots and gave it a scrub ( usually a bit dirty) and then wrapped it in cling film and popped it in the Microwave on high for about 8 minutes , gave it a poke and cooked it for another 3. I then ( when it had cooled a bit so easier to handle) rubbed it all over with some olive oil, and some salt ( not too much ) and  then crushed coriander seeds. Then baked it in the oven at 200 C for about 15 minutes for it to brown. To eat, ( and I have to admit I kept carving off a slice and munching, as I found it to be very delicious) cut into slices and serve with a few spots of the thicker balsamic vinegar.

The next thing I did whilst in the Alps, was to bring out  the preserving pan, again and I made Marmalade. I read an interesting thought on why it is called Marmalade. It said that Mary Queen of Scots was in France and was unwell. To try and make her better, servants brought her some Marmalade, but all she heard was (” Ma’am est Malade “) Madam is ill but apart from anything else, it means we can always remember how to spell Marmalade correctly. The story although cute is probably incorrect as Marmalade came to the UK via Portugal, and as a quince paste. It is only in the UK that Citrus fruit Jams are called Marmalade, elsewhere they tend to be a generic JAM or Jelly in the USA.

Seville oranges are the orange of choice to make Marmalade, however on my trip to my local French supermarket, no such luck, but Clementines by the ton, so I opted for them. I used one kilo of clementines to 1 kilo of preserving sugar.

Peel the fruit using a potato peeler and keep the peel and remove the white pith. Chop the fruit and put in to a preserving pan or heavy duty saucepan, and for each kilo of fruit add one kilo of the preserving sugar. Add the peel as well and slowly bring to the boil and keep simmering. As I prefer my peel to be very fine, I then use a hand held blender to whisk it all around and cut the peel into very fine bits until the mixture reaches a jam Setting temperature which is about 120 C on a special Jam thermometer ; having such a thermometer makes life very simple and is worth the investment. I sterilise my jars by putting water in each one and Microwaving for a couple of minutes until the water is boiling, carefully removing them and putting upside down on a clean towel to drain,  I soak the lids, also in boiling water. ( you can use wax paper discs instead)  Pat them dry with paper towel and carefully fill the jars with the mixture. If you place your jars onto a wooden surface, they will not crack when you pour in the very hot liquid.  Seal with the dry lids and leave to cool. It is easy to see if the mixture has set, just hold the jar, upside down, if it does not move, it is set and ready to use !

My Mexicans came to stay!

Over the weekend my Mexicans came to stay, I still call them My Mexicans even though they now live in London. The Smallest was born in Mexico and as such has a Mexican passport ( as well as a British one) and so he can really be labelled My Mexican, despite the fact that he has forgotten all of his Spanish, his first language. The other two were educated in Spanish for several years so hopefully it will stick somewhere in their brain!

We really love having them come and the weekend was started for the big kids at least by a visit to the Theatre.

We took them to see School Of Rock, which was great fun. We had seats up on the side so in fact we’re very near the stage and could see everything very clearly, and on top of that, they offered a VIP package , which I got for the kids, and it was well worth it. The theatre had cordoned off a part of the foyer, we had our own corner, the kids were given a delux box of crisps and a drink to start with and were asked what flavour ice cream they would like for the interval! Special indeed! The show ( I was rather sceptical at first) was great and the kids in the show, were amazing, both of the guitarists, ( boy and girl who could swing her bunches as well as play the guitar) the keyboard player and as for the young drummer, well!! Along with the girl backup singers, they really were a School Of Rock!

A few visits ago, I decided to make them a menu, so they could choose their won breakfasts! More or less , the first words the eldest ( he is 11) said to me were”Nana, are you going to make us a menu for breakfast?” But of course was my reply.

So here is their menu:-

  1. Fruit,raspberries,blueberries,mangoes
  2. Yogurt
  3. Eggs any style, boiled, fried or scrambled
  1. Bacon
  2. Sausages
  3. Sausage rolls
  4. Baked Beans
  5. Pancakes, French style with topping of choice
  6. Cereal, Museli, ( not for Alfie)
  7. Pastries, cinnamon rolls or croissants
  8. Porridge
  9. Toast and homemade jams

Orange juice, red or orange, grapefruit juice, tea, coffee, water

And the winners were? The eldest chose, pancakes with scrambled egg, normally he would have had them with bacon as well, but at the moment his school project is to help Save the Planet, so meat is off the agenda! However he did manage, 3 eggs scrambled along with three pancakes. Our lovely Tess, the younger of the big kids, chose pancakes with maple syrup and bacon and the little Mexican, just a pancake with brown sugar cut up like a Pizza! All had Orange juice, I had bought blood orange juice as well, but they were less than keen, though maybe it was the colour more than the taste.

Popi, is the man in charge of pancakes, although the eldest has the recipe off by heart and can make them equally as easily, but it was to be Popi to don his apron and get pancake making! Their Mom, makes the pancakes without added sugar, whereas for me it depends if they are sweet or savoury , but even the sweet version only has a relatively small amount added.

Basic Pancke mix ( Crêpe)

  1. 250grm/ 9 oz plain four
  2. 30 grm/1oz caster sugar ( sweet pancakes)
  3. Pinch salt
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 900mls/ 1.5 pints milk ( more if needed)
  6. Some butter for cooking
  • I always use a food processor to make my mix and start by placing the flour into the bowl, adding the sugar if using, close the lid, switch on the machine and add the eggs and milk all at once and mix for a couple of minutes only to make a smooth batter. Pour the mixture into a jug and check the consistency, it should pour like double cream, no thicker, if too thick add more milk.Essential Crêpe making equipment
  • Essential Crêpe making equipment
  • When making pancakes it is by far easier to have a dedicated pancake pan, the sides are almost flat so making it easy to turn or flip the pancakes. Using a piece of paper towel smooth a small amount of butter over the base of the pan and let it get hot, pour in a smallish amount of batter and swirl it around the pan. If the mixture is too thick it will not swirl properly. It can often be the case that the first pancake cooked will not be so good, the pan needs to be seasoned first of all, but after the first one you need to work fairly quickly, a smear of butter, heat, batter swirl , wait until the top is almost dry, flip over for two seconds , tip out and stack.
  • Buckwheat flour which is slight grey in colour
  • Traditionally in the UK pancakes are eaten with just lemon juice and sugar, but any type of filling is fine. In the French Alps, sweet pancakes are with Nutella, Jam, sugar, hot fudge sauce, honey, maple syrup and of course the famous Crêpe Suzette!
  • Crêpe making in Guatemala
    Nutella at the Crêpe stand in Guatemala
  • You can use plain pancakes to make savoury and the combinations are endless, however in the mountains it is as always a combination of cheese, potatoes, ham and cream along with an egg or two, but my favourite is goats cheese, honey and walnuts. Usually in the mountains again, they will make their savoury Crêpe using buckwheat flour, but white flour works as well.
  • People of any age can make Crêpe
  • It is also interesting to see how people eat their Crêpe, fold it over and cut into chunks, leave it flat and cut it into pizza type slices, or make it all come out even, eating your favourite bits in turn. Our lovely friend ( the skiing buddy of Himself) has a very different approach. He chooses the Crêpe that has an egg in the middle and eats all of the Crêpe surrounding the egg, none of this smushing the egg, keep it whole! When he gets to the egg, he carefully slides out the remaining piece of Crêpe leaving the egg glistening, waiting to be eaten! And then? He manages to slide the egg onto his fork, into his mouth and sublimely devour!

    Back to L’Outa

    Screenshot 2019-01-31 at 11.35.16Yesterday, was Willowy Brunettes Birthday, so off we trotted to Les Gets, another small town , part of Les Portes du Soleil, on La Route des Grands Alps and is actually half way between Chamonix and Geneva.

     

     

    L’Outa is probably the only restaurant in in the region which is NOT more of the Same Ol”, Same Ol”, ie ham, cheese , potatoes, cream etc. When glancing in from the outside it looks a bit like a smart Antique Shop, old pine everywhere, but really nice. It is only when one spies the menu that one realises that it is indeed a restaurant! Madam, has a very laid back style, once we called , it was in the Autumn, and many restaurants are closed, we asked if they were open, “Oh “says Madam, “call again in the morning and I will let you know !”

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    We were fairly early, and so had undivided attention. The menu looked interesting and as I said, none of the tartiflette, croute de fromage ( glorified toasted cheese sandwich) Fondue Savoyard or Raclette! there is a time and place for such things and as I can cook a mean tartiflette and we do have both a raclette machine and a fondue pot, why bother when dining out.

    The menu is not large, but if the food is good, why have a huge menu and given the supply problems in the Alps, perhaps it is not always feasible. 

    Anyhow , the brunette chose what  a tartlette, so some form of tart, with salad type veggies. She said it was lovely except, it was TOAST and not any form of tart, Shame really! Me? I had Fois gras, which was wonderful but then I am always a sucker for Fois Gras, I actually had a dilema, Fois Gras or Riz de Veau. Himself chose the Riz de Veau.

    Which, brings me to Houston Texas. The only place I found to buy such delicacies as Riz de veau was at a Mexican Supermarket. The local american population would not touch the stuff and so the very American ( obviously) supermarkets, just stocked the standard supplies, BUT the Mexican supermarket was very different, including Goat and Donkey and offal ! Wonderful. One day I was cooking Riz de veau, dipping bits in flour and sautéing in butter. Each of my kids wandered past took a bit and said Yum, until they knew what it was and then sadly that was it, they ate no more, Sadly,? well no it left more for myself and of course for himself as well.

    Back to l’Outa, the brunette and myself took the fish option, which was tuna, Langoustines and halibut, just really really tasty whilst himself took the steak with fois gras. Service was good Except, the waiter, smoked, not in front of us, but maybe outside, maybe in the kitchen, who knows, but he stank of stale cigarette, a disappointment but otherwise a nice evening. We skipped dessert, just as well as the Hooray Henries were descending , some sort of Work Do and boy were they loud! So out into the snow and up the seven hairpins to our hide away where the chilled champagne awaited us. Happy Birthday SnowPea !