Here in Vietnam: The bánh mì has become many self-proclaimed foodies’ sandwich of choice. In Vietnam where it originated, this light snack is served as an accompaniment to some kind of liquid dish, whereas Western iterations are served as a stand-alone lunch. While the airy baguette gives away the French-influence, the fillings remain traditionally dominated by Vietnamese ingredients like daikon and cilantro, plus a smorgasbord of meat choices.
We had our first banh mi of this trip yesterday for a light lunch. I ordered the mixed meats, while Matt and Mike Henderson had the pork, with one being spicy. He said it is not really too spicy, just American type spicy. So, along with a cold beer, it makes a perfect lunch, filled with pickled veggies, and some condiments that I cannot begin to describe. Absolutely so fresh and delicious, made right before our eyes.
This is one dish that has become even better since it arrived in the U.S. Many Vietnamese have opened shops, and improved on the banh mi, with many, many choices of meat, veggies, and sides. But I would not say the same for pho, the national noodle dish. Pho in Nam is still numero uno!
Our food tour was done on the back of three ( quasi military) motos, which I may have mentioned before. We started out in the squatters villages along the Red River. To get there, we had to cross the Red River on the famous old, railroad bridge. People are standing on the railroad tracks, open to the river and grounds below, about 50 feet or so. They are fearless! It did not feel very good looking at the squatters village, but I guess they wanted us to really know the culture, and how people from the country get to this city of 8 million.
Among the many dishes we had last night on our food and culture trip, we had some nice fresh spring rolls, as well as the fried version. But my favorite was the banana blossom, quite tasty, with the fried sheet of rice flour normally used for spring rolls. About two inches square, it is dipped in a fish sauce, then eaten with a variety of stir fried foods. Outstanding!!!
We topped the evening two ways. First, the famous Vietnamese egg custard, another remnant of the French colonial days, and a small pastry at a famous local French style bakery. I was tired from either the food or the frenetic moto rides through Hanoi, maybe both. So, as a consequence, rather than attend another Vietnamese dinner at a famous cooking school, we opted for something else.
Of course, we had to migrate to their French legacy here, and had some great French food lat night at La Verticale in the French district. We started with some Taittinger champagne, with foie gras. Mike had the tuna steak for dinner, Matt the crispy pork, and me, the Muscovy duck, of course. The place, La Verticale, quite French, quite nice, and quite expensive. Only one other table was occupied! Thanks to Mr. Mike for trying to reserve the entire place for us. A delicious Cote du Rhone accompanied dinner. But we had to skip dessert! Needless to say, Mr. Mike is quite generous with this poor soul.
I have a free day today (since the boys left at 3am this morning), probably some light shopping, and maybe a massage this afternoon. Then early morning back to Bangkok on Wed. before flying home on Thursday morning. I am looking forward to getting home, though my dear Uncle’s funeral will be in LA on Saturday. I miss my two girls!!!! And I miss being in our little home, our daily routine, our morning coffee, my long bike rides, and playing with Lexi. Even my class at the community college, as well as my friends.
After breakfast, I did some light shopping, then headed for the best coffee in Hanoi. The place? The Trung Nguyen Legend coffee, behind what will soon be the new Four Seasons Hanoi, on the lake. The coffee I tasted was very good, so I bought a kilo. Then, it was time for a bowl of pho, since I have not had any outside of our hotel. And of course, a cold beer. It will soon be massage and nap time before having a light dinner at the nearby cooking school.
Oh, it finally cooled off today, with some clouds and a light mist. About time! I am sweating more here than one of Kotter’s sweat hogs!!!! And my laundry bill keeps growing along with it. Good thing it is so cheap here to get my laundry done.
As the trip winds down, I realize a few important facts. Home is always best. And I am getting too old for long, arduous trips through the heat and humidity of SE Asia. The culture and food cannot possible be better anywhere. Prices are very reasonable, and the people are so friendly. There is really noting to complain about, other than being tired.
So, after spending most of the day on Wednesday in Bangkok, I headed home on Thursday. I took the new airport train to downtown, had a great Japanese lunch, shopped around famous Siam Paragon and MBK, before heading back out to my airport hotel. I was more than ready to head home.
I have two JAL flights, Bangkok to Tokyo, then Tokyo to LAX, both in Business Class. I much prefer, as you know, the foreign airlines on these long cross ocean trips. They are better in most every way, with better food, wines, and mostly, their young and energetic flight attendants. United needs to put their “flying mamas” out to pasture. Oh, and I got to try the new American Airlines “First” Lounge in Terminal 4 at LAX. Great place to kill about two hours!!!!
So, when Sheri picked me at the airport, Lexi was in the back of my car. She was squealing and barking at the top of her lungs. Lexi, not Sheri. What a great homecoming. I am so happy to be home, safe, I dire need of sleep, and a home cooked meal.