Category Archives: Food

Vietnam: Food in Hanoi

We were pretty excited about the food in Vietnam, and I wouldn’t say it was bad, but I would say we were a bit let down. We definitely had a few amazing dishes and treats, but overall we found most of the food to be lackluster. Perhaps our expectations were too high, or we just didn’t know where to go to get the best pho…but we did enjoy Hanoi’s robust market scene with lots of unique food (some a little too unique for our tastes, if you know what I mean. Frog legs and chicken feet, anyone?).

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

We did have an amazing meal at Cha Ca La Vong a restaurant famous for one dish: cha ca la vong, which is made by you, at your table, and is a legendary Hanoi recipe. A hotplate and pan plus all the ingredients (fish, scallions, sauce, turmeric, dill, and peanuts) are given to you and you sauté it yourself. Delicious and fun!

Hanoi, Vietnam cha ca la vong

Hanoi, Vietnam cha ca la vong

We also enjoyed our meal at Koto, a charming cafe across the street from the Temple of Literature (read more about that here). All the servers are local young people from under-privileged backgrounds being trained in the food and service industry. While the clientele were mostly foreigners, the food is authentic and tasty–there are great smoothies and juices and Manor had a yummy tofu dish. And we felt good about supporting them.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Koto

Of course we did have pho, Vietnam’s national noodle soup dish. It was hearty and soul-warming, always a good thing. You can find pho almost anywhere.

Hanoi, Vietnam pho

Hanoi is full of little outdoor “cafes” with miniature plastic tables and stools lining the sidewalk. I’m not sure what the deal is with the tiny furniture, but we knew we had to sit at one. When we saw people eating what looked to be some kind of fruity dessert we plunked down and ordered one. It was simple and yet so delicious it ended up being one of our favorite things we ate in Hanoi: cut up tropical fruit (dragon fruit, papaya, pineapple, mango, etc.) with condensed milk. So yummy!

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam fruit

Vietnam used to be a French colony, so there is some pretty legit French food in the city. While we didn’t indulge in a fancy French dinner, we did hit up a bakery that really impressed us with their croissants and other pastries. Although not authentically French, after so much Asian food it was nice to have a European treat!

Hanoi, Vietnam Fresh Garden Bakery

Hanoi, Vietnam

We also enjoyed some great ice-cream at Fanny’s, a Hanoi institution.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Fanny's

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Laos: Sampling Laotian Cuisine in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the capital of temples, but it’s also a great place to try some typical and traditional Laotian food. We did our best to get some variety in, eating some street food, at a local noodle-slinging restaurant, and at a fancier place that caters to travelers but serves traditional Laotian food.

When we saw/smelled this cute crepes cart, we knew we had to get something. And besides, crepes seemed like a pretty safe bet for street food.

The various flavored fillings were achieved with squirt bottles full of sweet syrups. I opted for the pandan flavor, having grown to love it in Thailand. Manor went with chocolate and nutella–a never fail combo.

The best part about these crepes? You got to choose your own adorable cardboard holder!

Both nights we were in Luang Prabang we ate dinner at the clearly local favorite restaurant, Atsalin on Th Wisunarat. We were drawn in by the cooks slinging fresh noodles in woks facing the sidewalk.

We both loved our noodle dishes, and even sampled some of the various condiments on each table.

For our one splurge, we decided to have lunch at the well-known restaurant, Tamarind, which is in most (if not all) guidebooks. They do a good job of explaining some of the traditional cuisine of Laos in clear English, and offer a nice sampling of these dishes, although at tourist’s prices. But without speaking the language, it would have been difficult to order these dishes elsewhere. They also offer cooking classes and sell a variety of gifts and foods to take home, like sauces, rice noodles, and dried seaweed.

At our lunch, we decided to start with a sampling of traditional Laos dips and relishes (called “jeow”), served with dried seaweed crackers, like those we had seen drying in the sun in Mong Ngoi.  We especially loved the jeow mak len, a kind of tomato salsa, and the jeow mak keua, an eggplant dip with chilies and coriander. And then there was the jeow bong, a relish involving water buffalo skin! Manor reported it was quite delicious.

For an entree, we shared steamed fish wrapped in a banana leaf, served with pickled vegetables. Because Laos is landlocked, all the seafood served here comes from the river.

And of course, we had to try one of their delicious juices, even though we knew we were over-paying! But I suppose it was worth it for the guaranteed lack of bacteria…

While we’re not likely to seek out Laotian food on our return to New York (if it is even possible to find!), I’m glad we got to sample another variety of Southeast Asian food.

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Laos: Mong Ngoi and Ban Na

At the end of our long and crowded boat ride the charming village of Mong Ngoi awaited. Only accesible by boat, Mong Ngoi is a small village consisting of a few dirt paths–no cars allowed. There are numerous guesthouses though as the popularity of “getting off the grid” rises with travelers. Because we arrived on the last boat only one place had an open cabin left, but the next day we moved to a cute bungalow with a hammock on a porch overlooking the water. I was still nursing my foot so we took it easy, lounging in the hammock, enjoying the cheap and popular all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets, and taking short walks.

Sheets of seaweed with sesame and tomatoes drying in the sun. This is a popular Laotian snack.

Rice cakes drying in the sun.

Woman doing laundry.

View from our second guesthouse.

Perfect sticky rice.

Fresh fish curry.

You can find US bomb casings like this one decorating homes and restaurants all over Laos.

They come up with some pretty creative uses for them…

The village Temple.

Young monks.

A very pregnant pig.

We became friendly with a couple from Canada who had gotten there a couple days before us and they recommended walking up to some caves near the end of the village. I hobbled along the path to the caves but decided to wait down at the bottom while Manor scaled the steep cliffs where the caves were. No one mentioned that the caves would be pitch black, but luckily Manor met some explorers up top who lent him their flashlight for a few minutes. The caves housed a large stone phallus and were atop a mountain with a beautiful view.

When we got back to the village a pig was being roasted, which although it smelled delicious we did not partake in.

As usual, Manor woke up super early and managed to get some nice shots of our view.

 

 

 

 

I was feeling much better so we decided to make the hike to the next village, Ban Na. At first we followed a defined path, passing bamboo dams and kids on bikes and walking over several bamboo bridges. But soon we found ourselves in a large open field. After wandering around for a few minutes we almost decided to turn back, but then a young Laotian man walked up and when we asked him how to get to Ban Na he said we could just follow him.

Crazy insect we saw…still have no idea what it is!

Oh you know, just walking some pigs.

Criss-crossing the field, which is likely impossible in the wet season, Ban Na was on the other side. Upon arriving we immediately sat down at the small (and only cafe) and ordered food and drinks–we had worked up quite a sweat! We also enjoyed some relaxation time in their hammocks before walking through the tiny village (you can walk the whole thing in about 15 minutes).

Fixing a fishing net.

Ferns drying to be used as brooms.

Basket weavers.

We walked back to Mong Ngoi and enjoyed the peace and quiet there, knowing the next day we would return to Luang Prabang, one of the biggest cities in Laos (which still means it’s pretty small…but still).

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Thailand: Chiang Mai Cooking Class

The food we had in Thailand was so fantastic we thought it would be fun to take a cooking class to learn some of the recipes. I love to cook and especially enjoy trying new things, but I had never tried to cook any Thai food before so it seemed like a good idea. Plus, the class we chose–Thai Farm Cooking–was a whole day affair with a visit to the market first and then the day spent on their farm.

With an early start we were off to the market. There, we learned about different types of rice, condiments typical of a Thai kitchen (think fish sauce and chili paste), and we got to see the curry pastes we would soon be making by hand. Then we got a chance to stroll around the market ourselves; we were most fascinated with the chicken and meat on display, including a pig head!

Next we drove about an hour outside the city to the farm, which was quite idyllic. We went for a quick tour around the grounds and saw all the fruits and vegetables grown on the premises, including jackfruit, rose apples, strawberries, kaffir limes, tons of herbs and lemongrass, squashes, and much more.

We got to snack on the rose apples while we cooked.

Now it was down to business! First we learned how too cook jasmine rice and steam sticky rice. I loved the beautiful straw steamers they use!

Our stations were all set up for us to make our choice of red or green curry. That was one of the best parts about this class–you got to choose between a large variety of recipes and there was always a vegetarian option. So Manor and I each tried to make something different so we would have more things to learn–and eat! It was also really fun and interesting to learn about ingredients I hadn’t known about or how to use before, like fresh turmeric, which looks like orange ginger, pandan, which adds a sweet, vanilla-like flavor to desserts, and galangal, in the ginger family. Hopefully I can find these ingredients back in New York!

Next we had the choice of making either Tom Yum soup or coconut soup, so we each made one. They were both delicious!

Tom Yum ingredients.

Tom Yum soup.

Coconut soup.

Next we used our curry to create a chicken or tofu dish. And then we made another stir-fry dish with either cashews or basil.

Hard at work!

After all that cooking and eating everyone was exhausted! So we got to have a little break, which most people used to nap in the shade. Then we came back to make appetizers: spring rolls and pad thai!

And of course, we had to have dessert: mango with sticky rice and pumpkin cooked in coconut milk. Yum!!

Since not everyone can get to Thailand to take a cooking class, here’s one of our favorite recipes! As you can see, the recipe is fairly easy and fast, which is why I like Thai cooking so much!

Chicken or Tofu with Cashew Nuts

80 grams of sliced chicken or tofu
1/4 cup of roasted cashew nuts
1/4 cup of sliced carrots
1/4 cup of sliced onions
2 sliced roasted and dried chillis, without seeds
1/4 cup of chopped spring onions
1/4 cup of mushrooms
2 tbsp. of soybean oil
a pinch of salt
1 tsp. of fish sauce or soy sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce (there is a vegetarian version of this made from mushrooms)
2 tbsp. of water

Heat the oil in the wok. Fry the chicken or tofu until golden brown. Add carrots, onions, mushrooms and water. Stir fry until almost cooked. Add oyster sauce, fish or soy sauce, sugar,  salt, and spring onions. Stir fry again until mixed well. When done, turn off the heat and add cashew nuts and roasted chilli. Serve with rice.

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Thailand: Fantastic Eats in Chiang Mai

After our short stay in Bangkok we headed up north to Chiang Mai, a popular travel destination, and more importantly, home to my friend Mike for the last seven years!

Mike lives in the cool university district and wasted no time showing us around. While there is a lot to see in and around Chiang Mai, we were exhausted from the last month of nonstop travel and opted to relax. Our decision was made even easier when we had a minor motorscooter accident and I injured my foot. More on that later!

We decided to take full advantage of the fact that Mike had been living in Chiang Mai for so long and knew where all the best restaurants were, what to order, and of course where to get the best street food. Let’s just say we ate extremely well for those five days!

Our first night, we went to Khun Churn on Soi 17, Th Nimmanhaemin. This restaurant is all vegetarian, which makes it a great option for those not into strange meats. Plus, it’s delicious! We went for dinner, but they apparently have an amazing all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. We started with some beautiful fresh spring rolls, which just scream Thailand to me:

We also had a delicious mushroom and fried tofu dish, filled with several different kinds of mushrooms, including shiitake and hen of the woods.

On Mike’s recommendation we ordered the Lad Na, a kind of thickened vegetable soup. The broth is so thick it’s more like a jelly than a soup–but I promise it’s good!

For dessert we went to the nearby I-Berry (Th Nimmanhaemin lane off Soi 17) for yummy ice-cream. I tasted the durian flavor but it really was gross! If you haven’t heard of it, durian is a popular but controversial fruit in SE Asia. It smells terrible, but many people swear it tastes delicious if you close your nose. We opted for safer flavors like blueberry mango and caramel.

Somehow, later that night we were hungry again so we stopped off at a mini outdoor area with some food carts for some pad see ew, my go-to favorite whenever I have Thai food at home. Not surprisingly, this was way better. It had a lot more of a complex flavor instead of just the sweetness the dish has in America. And the Chinese broccoli was super fresh.

The next day Manor and I went to lunch at the restaurant right across the street from Khun Churn. I couldn’t resist ordering the black pepper mushroom and tofu dish and Manor decided to see what Pad Thai tastes like in Thailand. The answer is: delicious.

And of course I had to order a Thai iced tea, which was rich and tasty.

One of the best thing about Chiang Mai is the night markets. There are several in various locations and at various times, but one of the best is the Sunday night market starting at Tha Phae Gate. We found some of the items for sale to be kind of cheesy, but the food on offer is fantastic. The best stuff is found inside the temples. We snacked on fried quail eggs, a pad Thai omelet (pad Thai noodles cooked inside an egg–yum!), green curry, and some mango with sticky rice and taro flavored ice cream (that was rectangular!) for dessert. We also got to try some exotic juices, our favorite was bael juice. One of the best parts of the market is that most dishes are served in banana leaves–a great way to save paper!

We had some really great fruit while we were in Chiang Mai, but our favorite new discovery were rose apples. They’re kind of bell pepper-shaped, and they have a similar consistency to apples, but are much juicier. Strawberries were also in season, and they were super juicy and sweet. Even the dried ones we bought from a market were fantastic–not actually “dry” tasting at all, they were gooey and super sweet.

Fresh strawberry juice.

Aside from the markets, there are food trucks and carts everywhere. The most ubiquitous cart is for rotis. Unlike Indian rotis, these rotis are dessert: fried dough that can then be topped with various selections. Our favorite was bananas with chocolate and sweetened condensed milk. AMAZING. Mike also told us about a special bun cart that hangs out near Wat Suandok on Suthep Road. We had the black bean and custard. The custard was so good we went back for seconds! We also tried fried bananas one night. They don’t look so exciting but they make a great late night snack–the ultimate greasy post-drinking food. We’ve learned that bananas outside of America are much more flavorful. They are often smaller and juicier (yes, bananas can be juicy!). I guess Dole and Chiquita bananas are all about the looks and not the taste, unfortunately.

Shahrukh Khan followed us from India! Many of the roti carts are run by Muslims and I guess they love Shahrukh Khan too!

One morning when we were out on our bike we rode past a local market, so of course we stopped in. All we ate where some rose apples, but we loved checking out was for sale.

Our favorite meal was at the vegetarian restaurant Pun Pun, which is in the back of a temple called Wat Suandok on Suthep Road. The temple itself is quite beautiful, and the restaurant is in a lovely corner behind it. Mike insisted we order the edible flower salad and we were not sorry. Aside from being beautiful, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, chock full of fried leaves and flowers alongside fresh vegetables.

We also had excellent fried spring rolls and a fantastic red curry.  I washed it down with a black sesame shake that was out of this world.

Other tasty tidbits: okonomiyaki (a Japanese savory pancake) from a sushi restaurant and tofu nuway, a traditional Burmese tofu soup.

Honestly, I could go on and on about the food! We ate so well; thanks to Mike we didn’t have to do any guesswork about what to order and where to go. I’m salivating just thinking about all this….

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India: The People and Handicrafts of Kutch

Laundry day.

While the natural beauty of the Kutch region in the state of Gujarat is absolutely astounding, most of the visitors that do come (there are not many), come for the village handicrafts that abound in this area. Different tribal villages specialize in different types of embroidery, terracotta pottery, lacquerware, and other crafts.

A Jat woman embroiders a traditional neckpiece for women.

We knew we wanted to visit a lot of villages, not only to see the handicrafts but to hopefully meet some of the people. When planning our trip I saw in various travel books and websites that the man to see to arrange a village tour was Mr. Pramod Jethi. He can be found in the city of Bhuj (the city where you have to fly or take the train into to reach the Kutch region), at the Aina Mahal Museum, where he is curator and has a small tourism desk there. Mr. Jethi (literally) wrote the book on Kutch and knows everything about its 875 villages and multiple tribes. So, when we arrived in Bhuj the first thing we did was go see Mr. Jethi. After discussing with us what we were interested in seeing and mapping out a 3 day itinerary, he called one of his autorickshaw drivers/guides names Bharat, who came to pick us up there in a matter of minutes. Permission is needed from the police to visit certain villages, but Bharat arranged all of that for us. He was also a wonderful translator and very encouraging of our photography.

Village mosque.

The next three days were a whirlwind of villages, beautiful handicrafts, and generous people who invited us into their homes. And what homes these were! Although small (only one room), it is easy to tell how important artistry is to the people as soon as you see the beautiful painting and mudwork inside and outside of the huts. We were truly amazed at the beautiful mirrorwork  in many homes. Lunch everyday was had in someone’s home–some accepted payment and some did not.

Ceiling of a circular hut in the village of Ludiya.

Mud and mirrorwork in someone's home in Ludiya.

Outside of someone's home in Ludiya.

Just because they live in a desert village doesn't mean they don't have a television! And of course, the television has to be decorated.

But things are still a little old school...

Someone's home in Dhordo.

Storage in a home in Dhordo.

Lunch time!

Rabari women use a mixture of cow dung and mud to make a clay for coating their homes with.

Ingredients...

Hard at work refinishing the floors.

Dishes in a Jat home.

Jat women in their home.

Kitchens are outside; these women wash dishes.

The outside of a home in Khodai.

Detailed mudwork inside a Rabari home.

Not all the homes were so beautifully painted. The region suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 and many homes were damaged.

Traditional Jat women wear red dresses.

Of course, the children were always fascinated with us and wanted to have their picture taken! In the Rabari village of Khodai there was a wedding going on and we became the unofficial photographers of the groom’s side!

The groom is in the middle.

I don't have to tell you how awesome this guy is.

This guy is equally as awesome, in a different way. Wedding attire? Sure!

We interacted with several different tribes: Dhanetah Jat, Gharacia Jat, Harijan, and Rabari. Mostly, the men work in the desert grazing cows and sheep while the women take care of the home. They each have their own specific type of embroidery that they wear. Some are nomadic or semi-nomadic and they ended up in Kutch from places like Jaisalmer, Iran, and maybe even Afghanistan.

Check out his ear holes.

A Rabari woman demonstrates the tools attached to her solid gold necklace: a toothpick, earpick, and nail file

A Rabari mother and daughter outside their home.

A Rabari woman demonstrates her traditional ear piercings.

This man is part of a nomadic Rabari tribe.

The nomadic Rabaris travel with everything on their camels' backs.

This mother and daughter belong to the Harijat tribe.

Harijat woman in Bhirendiara.

Aside from the various types of embroidery, we also got to observe and learn about some pottery making with very unique painting on it, handmade copper bells (the Kutchis use them for their camels and buffalo so they can find them), the dying art of lacquerwork, and rogan–Nirona village is home to the last family that creates handmade rogan.

This woman paints a terracotta plate by rotating it on a stand to get an even, circular pattern.

Handmade pottery from Khavda village.

Broken pottery.

Beadwork.

Embroidery.

Detail of a Jat embroidered dress.

Lacquering is an intricate process. The crafter operates the lathe with his feet, spinning the item he wants to lacquer in this case a spatula) back and forth, first cutting grooves into the wood.

Next, he takes a colored wax stub and holds it against the rotating object. The heat created melts the waxy substance onto the object, coloring it.

Other colors are added, usually in stripes.

Finally, designs are added using various techniques.

These women sell handmade dolls and stuffed toys.

The ancient art of rogan painting is created with boiled castor oil that has turned into a gooey paste. Colored powder is mixed into the oil and an iron rod is used to paint half of the design onto fabric.

After one half of the painting is finished, the artist folds the fabric in half and a mirror impression is transferred to the other side.

A finished rogan painting. How insane is that detail?

Iron bells with copper coating are also made by hand in Kutch.

The crafters don't use any welding to create the bell, it's all done by connecting notches and hammering down the top to attach to the cylinder.

They make them in all sizes.

The bells are used by Kutchis on their cattle so they can find them when they stray from the flock.

During our three days of village exploration we spent one night in Bhuj and one night at the Shaam-E-Sarhad Village Resort in Hodka, a lovely village with a tribal owned and operated hotel. The hotel used traditional mud huts and “eco-tents” that they updated with modern amenities and are actually quite luxurious. Plus, you get a nice group dinner buffet and traditional live music around a bonfire after the meal.

The eco-tents of Shaam-E-Sarhad in Hodka.

Inside our eco-tent.

Even though the bathroom was technically outside it was super nice!

The lobby/dining area.

Our visit to Kutch was our favorite week in India. While we saw many beautiful places throughout the country, Kutch is an environment like no other. The combination of natural magnificence, fascinating culture, and friendly people came together to create a truly magical experience. And, we were certainly lucky to get such an excellent driver/guide who definitely enhanced our experience.

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India: Last Visits to Mumbai Favorites

After traveling for three weeks, we finally made it back to Mumbai for a couple days before setting off again. It was our last chance to visit old haunts, see our friends, and to show our visiting friend Judy a few of our favorite sites, shops, and of course, foods.

I’ve already written about our favorite sites and shops, but I’ve been remiss in sharing some of my favorite Bombay food joints. I’ve already mentioned the amazing pani puris available everywhere and our favorite South Indian restaurants, but here are few other favorites that we took Judy to:

1) The Haji Ali Juice Stand, which stands right outside the Haji Ali Margue, sells amazing fresh juices, as well as the amazing Pakistani delicacy falooda. Falooda sounds and looks kind of gross, but trust me, it’s good. It’s made of rose syrup, vermicielli noodles, basil seeds, tapioca pearls, jelly, and anything else they can think of to throw in there!

The faloodas are super popular, as you can see by the number of orders this guy is fulfilling!

Our falooda. That sounds like a pet...

Judy has mango juice and I have strawberry-kiwi-mango.

Manor had fresh grape juice.

Fruit hanging in the Bombay night.

2) One of our favorite desserts in India became rabdi, a caramelized pudding. Before we left for our travels I heard about Kailash’s in Colaba in Mumbai, which was supposed to have the best rabri, so we finally made it over there with Judy. It was so good we got seconds!

3) We had dinner with some of our Bombay friends at Sheesha, a lovely rooftop restaurant in Khar West with great food and fun hookahs for dessert!

4) Juhu Natural has some of the best ice-cream in India! They specialize in unique and seasonal flavors like anjeera (fig), toasted almond, coconut, sitaphal (custard apple), jackfruit, and many more. Yum!

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