Monday, August 13, 2007

Vietnamese waffles

The sweet scent of freshly cooked Vietnamese waffles tempt many a passer-by to make that quick purchase of this popular street-side food. The dish is always prepared as close to the dusty sidewalk as possible.

The creamy mix of milk, sugar and flour is poured carefully into the mould. There are various patterns - simple squares, flowers or hearts. Cooked over a charcoal fire until one side is done, then a quick flip of the iron moulds makes sure the other side is well-done too.

The final outcome is irresitible! -browned and crispy outside but soft and sweet inside.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Famous Wonton Noodles

Ho Chi Minh City has an array of incredible food but to taste the authentic cuisine, you've got to hit the streets. There is a no-name hole-in-the-wall noodle shop that sells the yummiest noodles in town. Ignore the fact that the plaster is peeling from the walls, the wheeled cart hasn't been wheeled out for years and the floor is shiny with grease and grime. A fresh sprig of spring onions can somehow freshen up the place. Do note however that there are only two tables during the day (at night they pull out a few more so you get the cool winds and pavement view). This means this popular place gets packed quickly unless you come early.

The noodles seem to be handmade so instead of the rubbery, plasticky texture we're used to, its soft yet firm and has a taste all of its own. But the highlights are the pork-filled wontons. These Chinese gnocchi are made of thin skins of rolled out flour filled with finely ground minced, flavoured with a tasty mix of spices. The secret is where these wontons are kept. In the drawers of the cart!

We caught the chef preparing the wontons one day. I suspect the musky drawers added to the flavour of these delightful wontons.

The wonderful wontons are plopped into prepared bowls and then given a nice toss in the broth. I have never seen them throw out the rich broth - what a waste that would be. Thus i suspect this broth has been boiling for.. er.. very long time! No wonder the flavour of the stock is smooth like fine wine.

These are the secrets to this deliciously handmade noodles, topped with drawer-stored wantons, cooked in a broth that has been boiling for years! (WARNING: Readers eat at their own risk. Usually only foreigners who have survived the standard bout of a week-long agonising diarrhoea can truly savour this dish!)

Going shopping on a bike

There are only a few large shopping centres in Ho Chi Minh City which have dedicated parking areas for the bikes. Here you see a double storey parking lot for bikes. You can make out the second level if you peer real closely in the centre of the pix. A ramp allows you to drive your bike up to the upper level. Stop at the main entrance to ensure the parking attendants take note of your license plate number and have your receipt stapled onto your handlebars.

For small stores - park at the open bike parking lots labelled "Giu Xe" (literally "Keep bike") or if they allow you, park right in front of the store. Most employees park their bike inside the stores (just like some residents park their bikes in their living room - usually the only room in their home!).

Once you're done with your shopping, stuff the goods in the boot... oops, i mean the seat of your bike... oops, so small ah!

Never mind you can also tie up the rest and place them on the hooks at the front of the bike. Make sure the goods are placed properly or else you might lose your balance.

Don't just zoom off. Pay for parking and make sure they check you've taken the right bike out. Fees for parking is between 2,000 VND (S$0.20)or 5,000 VND (S$0.50)(usually in town or expensive spots like the Hyatt) per entry. At the open lots, your bike is chalked with your ticket number.

The locals have their shopping balanced to a tee! They even manage to pack in a child or two ... !

Views from a bike

Things whizz by rather quickly when you're on a bike. But the colours and flavours of the city still make quite an impression. Here are views of the recent* Tet decorations with traditional red buntings lining the streets.

We even caught sight of Uncle Ho conducting the traffic like it was some sort of orchestra. What a riotous melody we made.
As its the year of the pig, naturally piggies had to line the streets. Just park your bike in front of a pig and get your shot done. Then hop on again. No worries - its the normal thing to do. Generally, at the parks, you can drive your bike right up to a comfortable seat, or just sit under the shade of a cool tree and relax (or make-out - as most young Vietnamese would be found doing in the evenings).

The festive season however transforms "normal" traffic to a mad snarl. Actually, these riders are trying to find a parking space so they can catch a glimpse of the Tet evening sights. To get a real feel of riding during a festive season, check out this video. (The video's of us trying to navigate the Christmas traffic 2006. There was slightly more street decorations than Christmas 2005 but besides this, there really wasn't any great sights on the streets. We wondered why so many families were out on their bikes that night! Maybe it's just a sense of having fun. Watching Vietnamese traffic is really like having a non-stop movie pan out right in front of your eyes! - if only it was sans fumes and sound...although i guess that's part of the entertainment)

*Ok so this is a late post - at least i got it out whilst its still the year of the pig!