November 28, 2010
My return visit to Hanoi was fabulous! I spent three days with friends enjoying incredible food and touring various parts of the city. During my three-month stay in SE Asia last year I fell ill only once. It happened to be during my time spent in Hanoi. So I definitely needed a return trip knowing I missed out on many things the city has to offer. This time around I was greeted by friends Nguyet and Quyen. Both love the city and very excited to introduce us to a few regional culinary specialties. After a fun first day visiting the pottery village, our second day included a trip to the outskirts of Hanoi on motorbikes to visit a family making Rice Noodles. Traveling down the streets and through alleyways you really get a true sense of what life is like in this part of the world. It is so incredibly different from what I’m used to back home. Barrels of live snakes, women breaking down pigs in the hot sun and men carrying deliveries on motorbikes. The family Noodle business is located on the railway. So by the time we arrived mid-morning most of the Rice Sheets had been laid out to dry as far down the tracks as the eye can see. They allowed us to visit inside where we witnessed the Rice Noodles being processed and sheeted on bamboo. The more I learn about Asian cuisine, the more I’m beginning to appreciate both the simplicity and complexity of this region.
The food did not disappoint. I’ll mention that one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted is Nếp Cẩm. Yogurt with fermented Black Rice. The texture and flavor will take you to a place you’ve never been. I would rank this as one of the top delights Hanoi has to offer. We also discovered incredible vegetarian food. My friend Quyen treated us to one of her favorite restaurants where Tofu is the hero. The chef created a “Pork Belly” Tofu that resembled one of my favorite parts of the Pig so closely in flavor and texture I was simply amazed. He also prepared a Tofu dish shaped as a Fish and stuffed with Mushrooms. It was topped with a beautiful Tomato sauce. I also visited a restaurant that specializes in Water Buffalo. The Buffalo was cooked at the table wrapped in Leaves. It was here that I also sampled Sautéed Bees w/ Larvae. The Bees we’re interesting. Other notable mentions included BBQ Sparrow, Baby Duck Egg and a wonderful noodle soup for breakfast Mỳ Vằn Thắn.
The trip back was more than I’d hoped for. I look forward to visiting Hanoi again…
November 18, 2010
I arrived in Hanoi early Thursday morning to meet with friends and spend the day reacquainting myself with the capital city. It feels good being back in Vietnam. My dear friend Nguyet planned a special afternoon visit to Bát Tràng village. The word Bát means “bowl”; Tràng means “workshop” or “guild”. The village lies on the bank of the Red River about 14 km from Hanoi. Leaving the city center we crossed the Chương Dương bridge and traveled down a long stretch of rough pot-holed roads busy with cars, buses and motorbikes and bicycles. There are various theories as to how the village developed its craft. Along with so many other Vietnamese traditions, it was likely imported from China then given a local twist. At its height, the pieces were prized by the Imperial Court and shipped as far as the Middle East. Bát Tràng produces ceramic goods such as plates, cups, and vases, and decorative objects such as altars and statues. The traditional styles are gray-white porcelain with hand-painted Asian landscapes, village scenes, and abstract designs. Most of the painting is blue or black, though other colors are not difficult to find.
Around 80 percent of Bát Tràng’s population of nearly 7000 people are engaged in ceramics production and trade. I was amazed at the scale of work and the small artisan shops that lined the alleyways. The friendly people of Bát Tràng took the time to show us around the village and encouraged us to practice the art of ceramic pottery on a small stool with a ball of white clay. It didn’t take long for me to realize that designing ceramics was something better left to others. I decided I’d rather sit on the steps and capture a few images of life in this part of Vietnam. It’s hard to describe the feelings the people of this country conjure up for me. I’ve long admired the proud work ethic and rich family values instilled in Vietnamese people. It makes my heart very happy when a child says hello to me or when an elderly woman grabs my hand to show me something. I’ve truly learned to love this country and it’s people.
November 9, 2010
It’s been a great year for Culinary Design Studio! I’ve been busy in my test kitchen creating new products since my return from SE Asia late last year. I’m already looking forward to an exciting 2011! But now its time to revisit one of my favorite places again. The mystery that attracted me to SE Asia has captured my spirit again. The 15th of November I board a plane back to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Viet Nam. I must admit, the nervous anticipation of arriving in HCMC is not what it was a year ago. This time I know what to expect and really looking forward to greeting my friends whom I’ve waited a long time to see. The smells, the scooters, the chaos, the food and of course the people await. I’m also very excited two of my professional chef friends from Texas will be joining me in the capital city Hanoi next week for several days. South East Asian Cuisine is continuing its rise here in the United States. My journey this time will focus more directly on ingredients, techniques and finished products. My plan is to spend a few days in Hanoi eating Bun Cha, Pho, Banh Cuon and all the amazing Fruits I fell in love with in this part of the world. From Hanoi we will make our way down to visit one of the most beautiful cities in Viet Nam…Hoi An. I can already imagine myself back at the Central Market sitting on a bench and enjoying a bowl of Cau Lao and a few Banh Mi Sandwiches. And I mustn’t forget my favorite Indian Food place that serves some of the best Curry I’ve tasted. Yum! Leaving Hoi An, I will settle back into Saigon for two weeks. I will visit friends, cook and continue tracking down new flavors and ingredients. I’ll spend several days at the various markets I enjoy while chowing down on Banh Xeo and Xoi Gac Orange Sticky Rice. I plan to update my blog every couple of days with a post and pictures for those that enjoy following me. I hope everyone has a chance to visit this magical place at least once in their life. I’m very fortunate to be a week away from visiting a second time.