Hanoi’s memories still linger in my mind, just as these stubborn sniffles still linger in my sinuses! I’m feeling much better now, but not at the 100% I am used to. Which means less cooking, less frequent posting, and oh-boy you don’t want to see the pile of hand-washing waiting to be done!
Yesterday, with a whoop and a holler, I managed to (on top of a full day's work!) go to the bank, roast some vegetables, wash 3 dresses, and start this post on the rest on my Hanoi highlights…
The Street food – Hanoi street food proves that there can be such a thing as “good fast food”. The city’s many street-side food vendors and small restaurant proprietors whip up deliciousness as fast as their famous motorbikes take a roundabout. And just as expertly. Usually, each establishment will serve one dish, one that they have been churning out time upon time…in some cases for generations. So you can imagine just how perfect all that practice begot.
One delectable example was the grilled beef (called bo nuong – please correct me if I’m wrong) we had at a place called Xuan Xuan (#47 Ma May, Old Quarter) near our hotel. After getting cozy amongst the squat stools and tables, we got a little gas cooktop with a grill plate, a plate piled with marinated strips of beef (with a ton of garlic! MMM!) & veggies, and a little squeeze-ee bottle filled with oil. We were then left to our own devices with regards to our dinner. We squirted oil on the hot grill pan and laid on the beef. The smell of the sizzling beef (and garlic!) was amazing! And the taste was way up there too :) We polished off 5 baguettes among the 3 of us sopping up the juices!
You can truly never go hungry in Hanoi. A fantastic meal is never far away…and often at a bargain price! The pho in my last post is a good example…as is the banh mi/banh my pa te below (yummy!!!). In a small market we chanced upon, there were delicious pork patties (the type you find in bun cha) we just couldn’t resist. Aside from this there are countless treats to be found down the bustling lanes of the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake. Just follow your nose :)
Riding a motorbike in the Hanoi rush – When it comes to driving, whether it is a car or any other vehicle, I am a late bloomer. Suffice to say I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to driving anything (now, being a passenger I am fabulous at). So as adventurous as it sounded, I couldn’t bring myself to hire a motorbike. As fate would have it, when my hotel offered to get me my banh mi, I found out they would be sending someone on a motorbike. I jumped at the chance! In two shakes I was on the bike and off to get our breakfast. As a pedestrian, Hanoi’s motorbikes can seem overwhelming and a tad threatening…As a passenger, they are exhilarating, fun, and seem like the best possible way to be getting around! With the wind in my face and thoughts of banh my pa te in my head, everything seemed brighter that morning :)
Banh mi – Oh had I been waiting to try this! This baguette sandwich that combines French (pate, mayonnaise, baguette bread) and Vietnamese influences (Vietnamese herbs, pickled veg, fish sauce, chili) has gotten rave reviews, not the least from my SEA neighbor Bordeaux in Bangkok, whose banh mi meal haunts him still! I was determined to be likewise haunted. I asked the guy at our hotel where I could get a good one…and he offered to send someone to Din Liet (the street, towards the lake from the Old Quarter…it was on #38) to get one. Well, if you read the above, then you know I wrangled a place on his motorbike for the ride :) Between the thrill of riding a motorbike in the busy Hanoi streets, and the truth of this sandwich’s goodness, I was in heaven. Fatty pate, butter, crisp cucumbers, chili, strips of pork…and a fried egg, all squooshed together in a soft baguette. This is going down as one of my favorite breakfasts…ever. I must replicate this here somehow...
Cha Ca La Vong – The one place that everyone I asked said do not leave Hanoi without trying. More than a hundred years old and serving only one dish, this place is somewhat of a legend in the Hanoi food scene. It’s even snagged a coveted spot in Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before Your Die. The draw? An age-old recipe of fried fish in a secret blend of herbs, oils, and spices, cooked at your table over a coal fire. There are rumors about the “secret” that makes this dish taste so good, the secret that makes people flock to this place. Secret or no, I too was soon under its spell as I piled the succulent yellow-tinged fish and bright green herbs onto my bowl of bun (rice vermicelli) adding a sharp splash of fish sauce. My brain kept questioning, “What’s that flavor?” but my palate just wanted to surrender. Guess which won out? ;) Cha Ca La Vong, #14 Cha Ca, Old Quarter, Hanoi.
French-Viet at Green Tangerine – My dining experience in Hanoi would not be complete without trying at least one French-Viet place. Just as the blend of French and Vietnamese (and greater Asian) beguiled me, the same combination in food could be just as good I thought, maybe better! Set in an old colonial house, the restaurant is a haven of calm in the busy Old Quarter. Enjoying their French chef’s creations in the airy courtyard was great way to rest our feet and catch our breath. I had the duck liver mousse in a small bun seasoned with coriander and citrus (and served with sesame brittle that went perfectly with it!) and C had shrimp in Chinese spices served with fried potatoes and apple slices. We were a big group for this meal…so we all got to pick from each others plates and sample the chef’s delicate balance of French and Asian. Green Tangerine, #48 Hang Be, Old Quarter, Hanoi.
Re-reading this I realize that it is all about food! Am I, or you, even surprised? Oh dear, you must think I do nothing but eat. Although that wouldn’t be a gross exaggeration, I do get around to other things as well! I enjoyed the serene beauty of Halong Bay, coasting along in a junk boat (and getting my first taste of Hanoi vodka!). I was moved by the amount of locals in the line going to see Ho Chi Minh, particularly by an adorable bunch of well-behaved and respectful kids. I bought a cute bag! I was awed by his imposing mausoleum, all size and stark lines…such a contrast from the crazy vibe of the Old Quarter and the old-world charm of the French Quarter. I was entranced by how cozy French and Asian influences could be with each other, like old friends…like the flavors in the banh mi I had that morning, surprising yet suited.
Hanoi, I know what it’s like to carry more than one culture on my back. And I know that being true to one does not necessarily mean being false to the other. After all, balance and fusion bring about such great specimens – you and me included ;) You will not be easily forgotten!
What is it about so much excitement that sometimes trips you up and knocks you down? Sigh…what that our bodies could run on excitement! In the wake of one crazy/fun time in Hanoi, coupled with wacky flight times (i.e. leaving Hanoi at 1am!), I lie here feeling crummy and sniffly with flu-like symptoms. Ah! The price I pay for eking the most out of my weekend!
I am happy to report though, that it was all worth it for me :)
Hanoi was a wild little city, its almost unreal amount of motorbikes zooming past me, making me gulp in fear and excitement. Over the din of horn-honking rose skinny buildings looking distinctly un-Asian, while in the streets decidedly Asian-looking food beckoned at my growling stomach. People chattered, children giggled, everyone stopped for a coffee. Old pagodas crowded shoulder to shoulder against newer buildings. For one brief moment, I seemed to be stuck on the curb (literally and figuratively), scared to take a step lest some rogue motorbike knock me down. And then I realized, in Hanoi, you just have to suck in your gut and take the plunge.
And what a plunge it was! Delicious food and friendly faces (except for the random errant taxi driver...but we all have those, don't we?), a surprise around every corner, old-world French charm and magical Asian energy. We managed to squeeze in quite a lot during our trip – here are my highlights (in no particular order):
My first bowl of pho in Vietnam – Our trip started out in the absolute best way possible: with a bowl of pho and a meeting with a local. We were total strangers, but Q kindly offered to meet us and show us a good bowl of pho…which she certainly did! The place at 49 Bat Dan was filled to overflowing, with a brisk turnover of customers. The pho came fast and furious, steaming and smelling of only good things. You line up, choose among the 3 combinations on offer, take your pho, and find a place to sit. This was the best I’ve had, the broth’s meaty backbone punctuated with the fresh, bright notes of green from the herbs. Pho Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan, Old Quarter, Hanoi.
A lake in the middle of the city and a pen to write on the sky – Fortified by our pho, Q then showed us around. We walked through the colorful streets if the old quarter, then out onto Hoan Kiem Lake. Taking a leisurely stroll around it (as all strolls around lakes should be leisurely), I secretly wished that I had a nice lake I could walk to in the middle of my city! Especially one with a nice red lacquered bridge :) As we made our way across, hordes of school kids flocked about in neat lines, each one holding the back of the kid in front of them. Q pointed at the obelisk right outside – the Writing Brush Tower – “a pen to write on the blue sky”, she explained. I think we all should have more pen monuments around.
Vietnamese coffee – After our exploring, it was time for further fortification. Q asked us if we preferred the café with a view or one with some local artwork. “The one with the better coffee”, I said with a smile. Coffee is one of the things I cannot live without, and I already like Vietnamese coffee…to have it on its own shores was beyond exciting for me. We filed into the small café where people sat outdoors and motorbikes were parked inside. We settled into a backroom with low stools and tables, with sunlight streaming through the ceiling. Paintings by Vietnamese artist Bui Xuan Phai hung on the walls. I ordered coffee with milk and ice (it was a hot day). I was floored. The coffee came in a small glass with a strip of condensed milk on the bottom. It was dark as sin and almost syrupy in texture. And it was as strong as a blow to the head with a sledgehammer. If you know me and coffee, then you would know that this is a very, very good thing. I didn’t want it to end. Café Lam, Nguyen Huu Huan St., Hanoi.
The Temple of Literature – Just the sound of its name put me in a good place. How could I not like, by default, a temple devoted to learning? A peaceful sanctuary in the middle of the city, it is a complex of five interconnecting courtyards, ending with the National Academy, Vietnam’s first university. I imagined scholars still walking around its paths and ponds, pondering on life’s truths. Temple of Literature: entrance on Quoc Tu Giam St, Hanoi.
And speaking of life’s truths…this girl’s got to get some rest and put a dent in the work that has piled up in her absence! Time for a spot of Berocca! I’ll be back with more as soon as I can :)
As much as I love being on my island (ok, fine, smoky-sweltering-city-within-an-island), I can’t help fall in love with every other place I visit. It’s just me. I am the wide-eyed traveler. I can never seem to affect a pose of sophisticated ennui. Unlike that Cole Porter song, I get a kick out of everything. On one hand, I come off as a silly panting puppy. On the other…well…can you imagine what kind of wonderful sensory overload it is to get a kick out of everything? You should try it.
Because of my naïve, yet happy, wanderings, I have come to the following conclusions:
I’ll stop here before it becomes apparent that I am indeed totally off base. Oh, you already know? Don’t tell anyone.
Anyway…the cute French girl in me. She needs to be fed. Thank goodness Bron chose clafoutis as the theme for this round of Hay Hay it’s Donna Day!
Clafoutis, though very familiar and comforting to the real French, is very new and exciting to me and my imaginary French self. It is a dessert made traditionally with cherries (pitted or unpitted – the debate rages on!) onto which a custard-y batter is poured, and then the whole lot baked. Although Donna’s recipe sounded tempting, I decided to use a French girl’s recipe. And since that adorable French girl already gave me a great way to use my matcha, I thought I would be pretty safe taking her clafoutis too! Thank you Bea :)
But…but…despite all this fantasy identities, I am still an island girl at heart. 100% Filipino. So my clafoutis has mangoes and chicos. Mangoes from the Philippines are in my (and a gugillion other) opinion the best in the world. Chicos are another local fruit that have always been a favorite of mine. Less popular than the mango, it has its lovers and its haters…and I am firmly in the lovers camp. It is sweet, sandy/grainy, juicy, and somewhat, I can’t find a better word than…booze-y. Both fruits are in season now so the timing was perfect for a tropical clafoutis (omg! Is that what I am?). You can find Bea’s recipe I used here. Just substitute the cherries for half mango and half chico. Also, I didn’t add the crushed biscuits and pistachios.
The mango clafoutis was good…but not as good as I expected, considering I worship this fruit. I suppose for me, the best way to eat a mango is plain, with nothing to detract from its inherent perfection. The chico clafoutis however was a revelation. I honestly didn’t know how it would turn out, as the chico is seldom used in baked goods (yes, the occasional chico panna cotta in some fusion-y restaurant sometimes). It was a nice surprise biting into it…the chico had firmed up somewhat in the oven and it’s sweet, grainy self was a great match for the smooth custard.
I am leaving tonight for Hanoi (yaaaay!!!!) so I’ll stop here. I still have a mountain of work to finish, plus packing, plus making sure the flat is at rights before we go. I’ll see you all when I get back, hopefully with lots of photos and highlights to share, and for certain with a few more pounds on me.
Until then I remain, this amalgamation of all that I have seen and experienced, within this country and without, half local-half whimsy…your tropical clafoutis :)
In my ideal world I make breakfast everyday. In my ideal world, I have already reached 80 breakfasts many times over. I wake up at dawn and putter around the kitchen, preparing delicious breakfasts in the sunrise’s golden glow.
But, as you are undoubtedly aware, neither you nor I live in an ideal world. Well, ok, perhaps you do, in which case, lucky you :) Over here though, breakfast plans are often pushed back in favor of a few more moments of sleep, late nights of work (or play), or simply not enough intersecting morning time between C’s schedule and mine. And although I truly do love early mornings in my heart, my body does not seem to love them as much. So most mornings, it’s out the door with C, and me settling to work with coffee and some sort of cereal or yogurt.
There are times, however, through fate, luck, or pure determination, I find myself in that ideal world. The sun is rising, coaxing me out of bed. Miraculously I get up at first bidding. It seems that the morning is just full of empty hours to fill. I have time to water the plants. The fridge is full of eggs and bacon. All those breakfast dishes and recipes I have tucked away seem to be right at the top of my mind, ready to spill out at the slightest provocation. When this happens I make sure to take full advantage!
I liked this dish at first sight – a savory tart (something I love but don’t get to eat often) that seemed to be created for a breakfast-lover (and a bacon and eggs lover!) just like me. Around the same time, I had also found ready-made puff pastry here (no, we didn’t always have ready-made puff pastry on our shelves). So it was practically begging to be made.
Bacon and Egg Pies
(adapted from Donna Hay’s Modern Classics I, page 158)
- 1 sheet ready-made puff pastry (mine is 9.5 x 9.5 inches, you will have some scraps left over…use them for this!)
- 6 strips of bacon (Donna rationed 2 rashers per person, but I felt we deserved 3 each)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (Donna used cheddar)
- 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
- 4 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).
- Place bacon on a baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven for about 8-10 minutes. You just want to get the edges a bit crisp. Remember you are going to be baking it again with the tart! When done, drain on paper towels.
- Thaw pastry (in my kitchen this takes two seconds so I make sure everything is ready before taking it out of the freezer) and cut to fit two 1-cup capacity pie dishes (I just used whatever I thought would fit).
- Spread mustard on the pastry bases and sprinkle with the cheese.
- Top this with three pieces of bacon for each pie. I like to curve them around so they will cradle the eggs.
- Break two eggs over each pie.
- Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the eggs have set to your liking. Serve immediately.
- Serves two.
I have scaled down the original recipe to serve 2 instead of 4 and made substitutions based on what was available (I’ve indicated most of them above).
What surprised me the most was how much C liked this. He hardly has breakfast, but when he does, he is more of the Pinoy Breakfast school – i.e. with rice. But he mmm’d and aah’d more than I expected and then, the final compliment, declared that it was “just like the picture!”. Since this was a Donna Hay recipe (with a corresponding Donna Hay picture), being “just like the picture” was a pretty nice pat on the back for me :)
Keep an eye on the eggs so if you like them runny you can be sure to pull them out before they set too much. The flavors of the mustard and cheese go so well with the eggs and bacon. The pastry makes it a perfect breakfast package. And the best part? It is extremely simple and quick to make (so you don’t actually have to have all that extra time in the morning)! A little reminder that even if you don’t live in an ideal world, you can still have an ideal breakfast :)
Sometimes it seems like I am always horribly late getting on the bus. I see interesting cooking techniques and appealing ingredients fly by me and all my good intentions to use them. Sometimes these ingredients reside right in my own pantry…and still it takes months of mental prodding to get me to try that particular recipe I have been saving (for what I have no idea)…a recipe that I really, with all my heart, do want to make!
Matcha, that fine green tea powder that everyone has used to make cakes and cookies and ice cream and mousses and all sorts of sweet things. Matcha, which has been done ten times over, up-down-and-sideways, already. Matcha, which I have had lounging in my pantry since my trip to Hong Kong. I know, bad, bad me.
“Better late than never” is too convenient a rationalization for the procrastinating likes of me! I feel like I’ve just discovered bootleg pants when everyone else has moved on to skinny jeans :(
Anyways, enough whining ;) A perfect opportunity did present itself (as it always will when it comes to baked goods) in the form of another afternoon get-together with my bookstore friends (the same bunch I baked these for). I had (still have – good intentions like I said!) a bunch of matcha recipes filed away, but I chose this White Chocolate and Matcha Tea Marbled Cake I found on Bea’s beautiful La Tartine Gourmande for my first matcha venture. Her gorgeous photos and delicious-sounding recipes never fail to enchant me! It helped that Stella of Sweet Temptations made it as well with glowing reviews :)
Matcha Tea and White Chocolate Marbled Cake
(from this recipe at Bea’s La Tartine Gourmande)
- 3 large eggs (2 oz each)
- 180 grams all-purpose flour
- 80 grams white chocolate (just like Bea, I used Valrhona)
- 120 grams butter
- 150 grams fine sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon matcha tea
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Melt the butter.
- Place the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water and let simmer until the chocolate is melted.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs with the sugar and beat until it is white in color, then remove (I used the whisk attachment).
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and add it to the egg/sugar mixture, mixing manually with a whisk. Then add the salt and butter and mix.
- Divide the batter in 2/3 and 1/3. Add the melted chocolate to the 2/3 batter and the matcha tea to the 1/3 batter.
- Preheat your oven at 350F. Grease a rectangular cake pan/loaf pan and add half of the chocolate batter. Continue with the matcha tea batter and finish with the other half of the chocolate batter.
- Take a fork and pass it through the different layers of batter.
- Cook your cake for 50 minutes, or until the blade of a knife comes out dry when inserted in the cake. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before un-molding.
Although I’m not a fan of white chocolate, I did enjoy this cake. The white chocolate’s overwhelmingly sweet (to me) taste dissipated nicely into the tight, buttery crumb. The matcha layer was flavored just right, not too strong but with the tea’s distinct earthiness coming through. I didn’t swirl the layers enough however, so the matcha layer just sat there stodgily instead of developing into cool retro waves. That didn’t affect the taste though and I’m happy to report that my bookstore friends went back for second servings! :)
Talk about serendipity: Just as I was thinking of finally using my matcha, Kelli of Lovescool, and of those famous matcha tea cookies (and whose recipe is also part of my matcha files), posted a round up of the many bloggers who have made these popular sweets! Yay! :)
More serendipity! Amrita of La Petite Boulangette is hosting this round of Sugar High Friday and her theme is Asian Sweet Invasion -- encouraging all participants to put an Asian twist or use an Asian ingredient in a classic dessert recipe. So this will be my entry...hooray! I suppose, at the end of it all, this cake's timing couldn't have been more perfect! ;)
When Barbara of Winos and Foodies announced that she would once again be hosting A Taste Of Yellow to celebrate LiveSTRONG Day I knew two things for sure: 1. That I was definitely participating (like I did last year!) and 2. What exactly I would make.
You may remember that Hay Hay it’s Donna Day round I hosted (serendipitously enough another event created by Barbara!) where I ended up with a stockpile of semolina after using just a smidgen for my pizza. A lot of you answered my plea for semolina recipes to effectively utilize my stash. To all of you: a big Thank You! I will be trying them out and if they end up on this blog you are certainly getting credit :)
The first semolina dish I decided to make was the simplest – Semolina Porridge. I have come across many a blog post reminiscing about childhood breakfasts with this. Even a good friend of mine (the very same one that made the Jollof rice for our weekend at the farm) remembered this long-ago breakfast staple – When she spied my semolina stash she immediately exclaimed, “This is for porridge!”
And when I found out, after casting my net in the Net, that this was none other than what is known in some parts of the world as Cream of Wheat, I realized it was part of my childhood breakfasts too!
So, for A Taste Of Yellow 2008, I’d like to submit these tiny yellow grains and the wholesome and comforting porridge they make…simple and humble, yet touching the memories of people from Europe, Africa, America, and all the way here to my island in the Phillipines.
(adapted from this recipe)
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup semolina
- Heat milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until almost to the boil.
- Stirring with a wire whisk, add semolina in a thin stream.
- Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously, then turn off the heat (or leave at the barest minimum) and cover the pan. Leave covered for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent porridge from burning or forming a skin on its surface.
- Season the porridge with a little sugar, salt, and a pat of butter. Serve with fresh fruit, jam, honey, or any combination thereof! I've drizzled it with honey here :)
Semolina comes from durum wheat (and other hard and softer wheat) and is used in making pasta, couscous, and bulgur. It is also used to make puddings, desserts, and cakes. In India it is used to make rava dosa and upma. In Greece they use semolina to make halva (which has its own versions in Cyprus, Turkey, Iran, and other Arab countries). Cream of Wheat comes from semolina taken from a softer kind of wheat.
Please head over to Barbara’s for more information on A Taste of Yellow. This year, aside from posts about yellow food, there is also a photo contest! And even though I am far from a pro, and don’t quite know what all the buttons in my camera do yet, I am submitting the first photo above. That’s my husband’s LiveSTRONG band…he’s a biker too! :)