Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My Burger My

Things have been a little quiet here of late, mainly because our Cambodian experience has been more street crime than street food (we were recently liberated of our camera.)

Back in Hanoi, however, I wrote a review of a burger place that the folks at hamburger mega-blog A Hamburger a Day have been good enough to include on the site.

If you're interested, you can read it here.

Thanks again Robyn!

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Monday, 21 September 2009

Chau Doc Com's Good

As my last post not too subtley expressed, I've been feeling a little disillusioned with the street food in Chau Doc since I've been here. To be honest it wasn't just the food that was getting me down - the heat, harassment, and tiredness all had a part to play.

It's amazing, however, how a few good sleeps and Twins (starring Arnold Swarzenegger and Danny De Vito) can revitilize ones spirits. Today I hit the streets of Chau Doc reinvigorated and hungry for action, managing to score a street food triple whammy for my pains.

Strike 1: After booking our boat tickets to Phnom Pehn, Sarah and I spotted this little ice-cream stall on the side of the road. 2000 dong (about 7p) a piece bought us a single scoop in a cone with a sprinking of crushed nuts on top. The ice cream had a soft, rich, creamy consistency, and a mild coconut taste. It also boasted a brittle, savory, rose-shaped cone that was as tasty as it was aesthetically pleasing.

Strike 2: There's a great market down the street from our hotel with some interesting food options. The place bustles with street food (some good, some not so good) and today we went to one of the bigger outfits for lunch. I ordered the Com Suan (pork chop with rice) and was rewarded with a lesson in simplicity. The plate brought together the four elements of meat, rice, veg and chilli sauce with effortless grace, and reminded me why I love street food so much. The pork chop had been glazed then grilled, and had that dreamy charred/sticky thing going on. Two generous portions were served on top of rice, cabbage and some hot hot hot chilli sauce. Perfect, simple, filling, and at 15000 dong (50p) a real bargain.

Strike 3: Back in Glasgow one of my favourite sandwiches was the "flamin' spiceball" from Il Cappucino on Great Western Road. This super creation involved meatballs, hot sauce and cheese and is proabably number four or five on the "must eat " list when I get home. Little did I know that I'd come across something similar in Vietnam however. This tasty little number involved a crusty baguette, pork meatballs in spicy tomato sauce, and sliced carrots and onions. Had there been a little bit of cheese on top and I could have been back in dear old glesgae there and then (except for the fact that it was pushing 30 degrees and nobody was trying to bottle me.) As sandwiches go, this one was damn good, and at 15000 dong, about 40 times cheaper than the flamin' spiceball (yes, I did just work that out on the calculator.)

All in all, it was a great day for street food, and the perfect way to spend our last day in Vietnam.

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Friday, 18 September 2009

Ca phe sua da: Condensed milk with a kick.

We're currently in a town called Chau Doc on the Vietnam - Cambodia border, gathering our strength for Phnom Pehn and lying low for a few days while trying to avoid the tour touts and other hazards. Vietnam has been a bit of a mixed bag if I'm honest. Hanoi and the other areas in the north and centre were great, but Saigon and the Mekong delta has left us feeling a bit underwhelmed.

So too has the street food. It may be because my first street food experience in Saigon left me with food poisoning, but alot of what I see on the beat I find either uninteresting or unappetising. Much of the food seems to have been sitting out in the sun all day and there's only so many times one can get excited about a bowl of noodles.
Furthermore, we've been getting a little sick of being overcharged and talked about while we're eating. Only this morning a perfectly good bowl of won ton (pork dumplings in a peppery beansprout and green onion infused broth) was destroyed by the fact that everyone in a six stall radius was both pointing and laughing. I know I should be magnanimous and good humoured about being a massive pink idiot, but it does wear a little thin after a while.
One thing that never fails to perk me up however, is ca phe sua da - ice coffee with sweetened, condensed milk. This is something akin to Vietnam's national drink, and is available on almost every street corner. To make it, the vendor pours some pre-brewed black coffee concentrate over about a quarter of a glass of condensed milk, and then mixes the whole thing with a tall glass of crushed ice.

I've had ice coffee before, but nothing that compares to this. The coffee is fantantastic - rich, dark and strong, but in my opinion it's the condensed milk that makes the glass. Off white in colour, thick, sweet and syrupy, its the kind of thing that should disgusting, but somehow manages to interact with the coffee and ice in a way that can only be described as transplendent.

Ca phe sua da is at once refreshing, stimulating and moreish - some of my best moments in the country have been spent sitting in the shade with a glass of this in my hand watching the motorcycles whizz by. While Vietnam has its fair share of touts, scammers and serial starers, it also has ca phe sua da, which in my mind more than makes amends.

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

RIP Keith Floyd

Just a quick note to mark the passing of Keith Floyd, who died Monday at the age of 65 from a heart attack.

Floyd was the orginal food punk, cooking glass in hand with a devil-may-care attitude while Anthony Bourdain was still washing dishes (no disrespect to Tony.)

I first encountered Floyd on the BBC's Saturday Kitchen, where re-runs of his mediterrean adventures ran at just about the same time as my own, latent relationship with cooking was starting to develop.

He embodied a relaxed, fun and creative approach to cooking, emulated today by chefs such as Jamie Oliver (one of Floyd's most vocal eulogisers) and played a part in taking alot of the starch out of British food culture.

Cheers Keith.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Street Shots: the week in pictures.

We came across this mobile fritter factory on the main street in Hoi An. Not sure what the balls were but the ones in the wok are banana fritters. Sarah tried one and said she couldn't taste any banana. Just out of shot were some thin donuts with lots of sugar on them. They tasted kind of chewy and stale - the type of thing you might buy in packs of twenty at a cheapo supermarket.

Not so much street foodie as sea foodie. I ate these tamarind prawns in a sun lounger out on one of the beaches by Hoi An. All along the beach there were little huts that specialised in Vietnamese seafood, This wasn't great but the day before I had tamarind crab (no photo unforunately) at a different place which was out of this world (the crab, not the place.) The crabs' shell had been lifted off and right where the roe lived, was placed a mixture of tamarind, onion and chili. Delicious

A contender for the Hoi An heavyweight title? Chao Vit is a semilina like mixture of rice, chilli sauce, green onions, oil and duck. It's savory with a surprising kick to it, with decent pieces of barbecued duck thrown in here and there. My enjoyment of the meal was hampered however, by the constant overselling of the vendor next door (whom Sarah ordered from.) When we finished she tried to charge us double, and the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

Mmm. Some sort of "sea fish" wrapped in banana leaf and grilled with lemongrass, tamarind, chili and soy sauce. Slightly underdone but still delicious. There's a bunch of outdoor eating places next to the river in Hoi An that do this kind of thing for the tourist crowd. The food is good and cheap, and we ended up eating there three nights in a row.

Finally, my first street food in Saigon turned out to be dud. I got these fried noodles with chicken and shrimp left at the Banh Than market - a supposed street food goldmine. They left me feeling queasy, and led to the first tangible case of food poisoning in the six months or so I've been writing this blog.

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Sunday, 13 September 2009

Street Fighter: Cao Lau vs Com Ga

Hoi An, in central Vietnam, is a place where you can very easily drop some serious coin. The streets are lined with hundreds of tailor shops, and the lure of tailor-made cloths can stitch up even the most rigourously observed budget. Whilst there I went a little overboard and got a three piece suit, two shirts and a fantastic imitation Baracuta Harrington jacket.

One thing that doesn't cost the world however, is street food. And in Hoi An, two of Vietnam's most famous street dishes wage a nightly battle for supremacy.

It's a classic match up of noodles vs rice. In the red (street) corner, Cao Lau comes out punching with a heady dish of noodles, beansprouts, croutons and pork slices, while in the blue corner, Com Ga (translation: chicken rice) plays the long game with its simple yet arresting combination of flavours.

From where this commentator was sitting, it was a one-sided match from the outset. Although Cao Lau made a decent show of keeping its fists up, I found little to excite. The noodles were tired and worn out, the broth tasted brackish and the meat was of that "don't look at it while you eat it" quality. All in all a pretty common routine, and one that Yunnan runs rings around.

In Com Ga however, I got the impression I was around some serious talent. The rice had been cooked in coconut milk, chicken stock and turmeric, giving it a light, delicious savory-ness that could survive all by itself if needs be. As for the chicken, it had been roughly shredded and was of top rate quality - neither bone nor gristle in sight. The plate was topped off by a generous forest of green leaves, one of which tasted incredibly like coriander but looked intiguingly unlike it.The combined effect was a studied, gentle form that took a bunch of simple flavours and ran with them all the way to the moon.

And for me that's the true mark of a champ

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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Gimme some suga!

I originally thought this stuff was bamboo, and had worked out my intro to this post before I even tasted it. I wanted to mention the fact that some species of bamboo can grow up to 18 inches per day, and that by tensile strength, bamboo is in fact stronger than steel. I even wanted to say how I someday hope to own a light green short sleeve shirt with a dark green bamboo pattern coming down it in vertical stripes.

Turns out, however, that I was wrong. These long green shoots are actually (and probably obviously) sugarcane. The cane had been stripped and was being made into a cold drink on a pierside on Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay. The vendor fed each stalk into a motorised mangle one-by-one, collected the liquid in a jug underneath then mixed it with crushed ice in a tall glass.

The result was a white, cloudy drink with a light, sweet, refreshing taste. My realisation that this stuff would go great with rum was only slightly before I realised they were basically one and the same.

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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Beer Ahoy!

It didn't take long for Sarah and I to discover another Vietnamese institution: the Bia Hoi.

These street bars are located all around Hanoi, and supply the basics - cold beer and a seat from which to watch Hanoi whizz by.

The beer is based on chezch pilsner, and brewed on rooftops all across the city. It has a fresh, hoppy taste, and most importantly, it is cheap - one glass will set you back no more than about 10p.

All this makes it incredibly easy to simply sit back, run up a tab and let the chaos get on without you.

Which is exactly what we did.

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