Tag Archives: Vietnam

Little Vietnam in Prague. Finding Pho.

My favourite dish in the entire world is Pho. First discovered when I was just nineteen and wide eyed in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Min city, after finding my way to the city’s famous Pho 2000. After that I could, and would, quite happily eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A bottle of Tiger on the side and I’m in heaven.             

You can find somewhere serving Pho almost everywhere in the world. In Sydney, for the best and most authentic head to Cabramatta. In London? Head straight to Shoreditch. For the past two weeks I have been craving it more then usual. Most of my Sydney expat friends in London just happen to be of Vietnamese origin, all their parents being born and raised in Vietnam. So it wasn’t just me that was constantly craving a bowl of Pho, or a plate of Summer Rolls – I’m just the only one who is white. So for the past few weeks I had been sending regular messages; “Pho this week?” Though true to London form, making plans isn’t as easy as it should be. So off I set for a week in Prague still thirsty for soup.

One late morning a few days later however, I came across a market which really wouldn’t have looked out of place in any Vietnamese town I have ever been to. Squeezed inbetween stalls selling cheap knives and fake Calvin Klein underwear is where I found a tiny little shop, consisting of a two burner stove, a drinks fridge and a woodern board with a menu. I smelt it before I saw it, coming from a huge pot of broth on the stove; Beef Pho.

In front of the ‘open kitchen’ where several long communal tables with bench seats. Above then sat a wooden board with the menu, in Vietnamese and Czech, though it didn’t matter that I couldn’t read either of them. “One beef Pho please. Oh, and this beer”, opening the fridge and holding up a can of Czech Kozel. Proper South East Asian service; ‘Relaxed’.
  
It came out quickly enough and though it didn’t have a side plate of the usual bean sprouts, basil and mint, it was accompanied by some lemons and a chili and garlic oil. And of course a bottle of chilli sauce. The soup had the usual rice noodles and coriander, though it was a bit light on the spring onions – my favourite part. The broth however was clear, a slight layer of fat sat on top, and was just what I wanted.

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Though not my usual Tiger, I sipped the beer and slurped my soup in the warm and slightly humid weather. Around me small children wander around, their parents minding their respective stalls, Vietnamese chatting and laughter, it felt like being back in South East Asia even though I was as far away from there as I could get. Craving satisfied.

The Best Vietnamese In London

In Canada Water, London, there is car park which acts predominately for a randomly placed movie theatre, and next to the theatre is a Pizza Hut. Way across the other side of the large concreted area is a gated brick building. This is Cafe East, the best Vietnamese in London. And if you manage to find it, you are in for a treat!

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Whether you have had the chance to experience real, fresh Vietnamese itself in Vietnam, you love good, fresh Asian food, or a a first timer, this is the place to go. Just beyond the gates is a alfresco garden, used mainly for the tens of people which are always present, holding numbered tickets, waiting to be seated. Don’t let this put you off, I have never had to wait for more then 10 minutes for a table. Inside it is chock-a-block full of Vietnamese families and groups, and they are loud, but that just adds to the atmosphere, right?

First of all, they only take cash. A huge inconvenience in today’s society I know. Why would anyone not bother excepting card is lost on me, but it doesn’t seem to affect their business one bit. Secondly, they don’t serve tap water. Again, annoying, but in this case it doesn’t matter. Their traditional Vietnamese drinks are that amazing you don’t mind paying for several of them.

So once your seated (if you are a group of two and it is particularly busy you may be asked if it’s okay to share a table with another couple) you are given your menus and left to decide. I am not one to order the same thing when I go out, in fact I never do it…except here. As I usually eat there with my friend Karl, this is our standard order:

2 Vietnamese Iced Coffees (To start with. By the time the bills arrives to count is usually at six.)

1 Spicy Rare Pho Pho Tai (For myself)

1 Welldone Pho Pho Chin (For Karl)

1 Serve of Spring Rolls

1 Serve of Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls

994598_10152814881438539_361387599_nOur Pho and the remainder of our spring rolls.

So if you like spring rolls, (which who doesn’t?) then obviously get them. I’m not a huge deep fried food person, and after a trip to South East Asia (where they aren’t to big on the idea of actually letting the oil drain before serving) over a year ago when I ate so many spring rolls I put myself off them, this was the first time since that trip which I have had one; and they didn’t disappoint. They were great! Fresh spring rolls however, I could eat every day! I’m very judgemental on fresh spring rolls. When in Hoi An I took part in a cooking class and made the most amazing fresh spring rolls I have ever tasted in my entire life. I also received the recipe from the Vietnamese chef (I may need to make these soon!) So let’s just say that anything else has a tough competition to beat…but these come pretty damn close. A lot of places can do fresh spring rolls so, so wrong, so it is really nice when you can get some and it feels like you are back on a beach in Na Trang, eating them freshly made and enjoying everything there is about your life in that particular moment.

Then there is the pho! (Pronounced fur. Trust me) Easily one of my favourite foods in the entire world! When ordered you receive your soup base, which contains beef, vermicelli noodles and a few shallots for garnish. On the side they present a plate over-flowing with bean sprouts, mint, lemon, lettuce and chilli. All of which you add to the soup at your own desire! I get the spicy soup, though it is proper Asian style spicy. The chilli isn’t over powering where you can’t taste anything and your mouth is on fire. No, there is a heat and you can still taste every other flavour in the bowl, you just get a bit flustered and start to sweat (I love that feeling). Though if your not use to Asian types of spicy but still want some heat, I recommend just getting the plain based pho and adding the freshly chopped chilli to your liking. Once you try a proper pho you will understand why I love it so much. It’s light and fresh, absolutely packed full of flavour, yet really expectantly filling.

1239478_10152814882513539_1819401189_nYeah, it’s really fucking good! Annnnnd, I’m the only white person in the entire restaurant.

This is also the place where you can get an amazing standard of coffee! Their Vietnamese Ice Coffee is the best, and strongest I have been able to find so far while here! Even if your not a coffee drinker, you need to try this!

So there you go! My favourite place for Vietnamese in London. Although, yes, the food is amazing, I think I also love going their because being in an environment like that brings back a lot of memories of an amazing country. I think anyone who has ever been to Vietnam knows what I’m talking about.

A ‘Totally Sweet’ Vietnamese Ice Coffee

Fact: in 2008 Starbucks closed 61 out of it’s 85 stores in Australia. Why? Because we are picky, and we know good coffee. ‘But Clare, Starbucks has the best coffee!’ If you are saying this, you either live in North America or the UK. In which case, you probably also don’t know the definition of good coffee. This also means, that if you were to have a Vietnamese ice coffee your mind would be blown by it’s shear awesomeness! Obviously I’m a bit biased on the issue of food and produce quality (ie. Australia vs the rest of the world), and I like my coffee strong and unsweetened (double espresso no sugar, preferably), so when someone mentioned that I need to try one of these while in Vietnam – made with Vietnamese coffee and condensed milk – my first reaction was; ew no, that’s gross. I hate my coffee sweet, and even more I hate any form of milk or cream. However the condensed milk paired with the strong Vietnamese coffee compliments it perfectly! And Vietnamese coffee is good! Very good. And strong! Just to my liking. Have that over ice and it is the perfect pick me up, teamed with a good way to battle the South East Asian heat and humidity.

1238106_10152814882883539_1352208948_nLuckily for me, a good friend has introduced me to a Vietnamese restaurant here in London which recreates these perfectly! After not having a proper strength coffee in a while, and smashing three of these in less then an hour and a half, I was a bit jumpy and anxious for the rest of the day – worth it though!

Clare in Vietnam

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Exactly 2 years, 1 month and 10 days ago I was woken up by the rest of my household creeping into my room with a camera and saying; “Claaaaaarrrreeee…wake up Claaaaare!” It was my nineteenth birthday.
After plenty of ‘happy birthdays’ and photos of me having just woken up (for what I can only imagine is for later embarrassment), Mum asked what I was going to do that day white everyone else was at work and school. My reply was, “I think I’m going to go to the travel agent.” This was met with an “okay”, and another birthday wish. That evening I announced that was I going to Vietnam in a month. That was my first real travel adventure (I don’t consider an alcohol fused schoolies week in Bali a year earlier as traveling) and really, where the next 2 years, 1 month and 10 days of my life started.

???????????????????????????????Nineteen year old me!

I didn’t have any expectations of this country I was heading to in mere weeks, because I didn’t exactly know what to expect at all. In all honesty I don’t even know why I choose to go to Vietnam, it was (just like most of my other travels) completely spontaneous and booked at the last minute, because well, I wanted to. But boy am I glad I did! Like I said, nineteen year old me, walking into the travel agent and being in a different country several weeks later (September 2011) was when I caught to travel bug and is why, for the following two years, I spent  several months at home working my ass off to afford to travel for the rest of it! If you want to look at it that way, that’s the big picture. However, that trip I got to see an incredible country, which up until then I knew very little about, and which is now, still, my favourite countries in the world.

When I first arrived at the arrivals hall it was a crazy mess of people, and as I made my way through the crowd and outside I was hit with that immense heat and that smell which can only really be described as, well, Asia. And I loved it! This was a scene which I have since become very accustomed to since then. Walk through the arrival gates. Across the arrival hall. Outside. A few seconds to take in the weather conditions. Find the public transport/a taxi driver. Argue with the taxi driver about the price. Finally agree on a price, and off you go. Now I like to think that I’ve got this pretty down pact, but back then, my very first time out of the country by myself, I was a little unseasoned to how to go about this. But I managed.

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This was in Ho Chi Minh City (formally known as Saigon), which to this day is still my favourite cities. It is pure chaos, and that’s why I love it so much! Things to do in Ho Chi Minh? Well besides just taking in all the city’s craziness, trying not to get hit by a motorcycle, and drinking coconut juice which is sold on the street; Pho 2000 is obvious. The locals will not stop raving about it. Everywhere you go; “Pho 2000! You must go! You know President Bill Clinton? He ate there!” Inside the very modest restaurant, situated in the busy center of the city, inside there is a is a huge photograph of Clinton standing in the very same restaurant with all he staff at the time. Then there is the night markets, where it is said that if you can’t find it in the markets, you don’t need it. I would also highly recommend a visit to the Vietnam War Museum. Although the Vietnamese people actually refer to it as ‘The American War’, this is an excellent way to get an insight to what happened and helps piece together the reminders of the war which you will come across all over the country. Yes, it is very confrontational, with several people walking outside, or physically upset because of what they are seeing, but I believe that a visit to this museum is vital. It’s all well and good to lay on a beach and drink Tiger all day, but I believe that history should be explored of all countries I visit. Even if it is bad, your going to gain more of an understanding, appreciation and a personal insight into the country and more importantly, it’s people.

381317_753420377390_1517863171_nAs a friend said: “The most sobering museum I’ve been to.”

???????????????????????????????Everything in Ho Chi Minh City is chaotic – including the power lines! When one stops working they don’t bother repairing or taking it down (probably because they can’t find it), instead they just put up a new one.

So there is Ho Chi Minh City, but then you have the rest of the country, which is absolutely mind bowing. From the extremely friendly people, the profound beauty and the rich history. You have Nha Trang, a small touristy town which is flooded with Russian tourists and plastered with Vietnam/Russia alliance propaganda (there is a army base/airport in Nha Trang which the Russian Military use), plus there is a lot of golf courses. But don’t let the Russians put you off! We got a boat and a guide and spent the day on the water and hanging out on an excluded island – with our very own catering team of course! Between snorkeling, eating seafood which has been caught that morning, jet skiing, dancing and jumping off the roof of the boat, and just laying around on the beach, all of which was back dropped by an amazing view, it was honesty one of the best day’s I’ve ever had – and I think everyone else would agree with me on that.

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Then there is Hoi An. Yes it’s touristy, but it is beautiful! It’s French cross with Japanese architecture and style is incredible and amazing to walk around. Plus, you can buy a tailor made suit for $50 USD, and have it ready in less then 12 hours – how is this not one of the most amazing things ever?!

???????????????????????????????A beautiful town.

DSCN0243Two of the cutest kids in all of Vietnam! Myself and (the best room mate ever) Agraja spotted these cuties and asked if we could photograph them (by pointing to our cameras and then the kids). Their mothers were more then happy to show off their little ones. We may not have spoken the same language, but we all could appreciate the joy everyone else felt when these little guys showed off their somewhat toothy grins.

DSCN0251Surroundings of Ho Anh.

A little further up the coast is Hue, and then on to the country’s capital, the still very much communism dominated Hanoi. Both of which are packed full of history and overpowering monuments.

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DSCN0415A monk hiding away for his lunch.

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And last but definitely not least, Halong Bay. One of the most breath taking, surreal places you will ever visit. Photos really do not do any justice to the power of this bay. Spending a few days on a (very, very nice and comfortable) Chinese junk boat, we were able to discover this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although, one night our boat did get stuck by lighting and cracked, but we weren’t really that bothered – we were a bit preoccupied partying. There isn’t much I can actually say to describe it, but the views are some of the best I have ever witnessed! Just have a look for yourself:

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So we know Vietnam is beautiful and has a rich (not always good) history, but then there is maybe my favourite thing about the country. The food. The. Food. A-mazing! I will never be able to get enough fresh spring rolls to be satisfied. Man do I love them! And then there is Pho (pronounced fur) – every day I would have a bowl of this. Crispy Vietnamese pancakes! Fresh seafood. Fried spring rolls. Doughnuts and pastries sold by vendors who walk around  with them on a huge plate on their head. Dog… (Erm, that’s a separate blog post for another time I think!) Green papaya Salad. Vietnamese pork rolls bought off the side of the street, with a pate that probably isn’t to safe to eat, but yum nether the less. And (not Vietnamese) but the most incredible swordfish capaccio I have ever had, made for us by a an Italian chef.  I can not get enough of Vietnamese food!

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And of course, me being the one writing this, there was plenty of drinks. We had three favourites. The first being pina coladas – like,  A LOT of pina coladas! Secondly there was the more traditional beer. And three, pretty much any form of alcohol which came in a bucket.

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And then of course, there is the hangovers…

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And then, some more hangovers…

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So that’s it, an amazing trip in an amazing country! Which subsequently  set me off on a crazy adventure which has lasted another two years – and I’m sure for a lot longer. But what I also got out of it, was the friends I’ve made. As corny as that sounds, and I’ve made plenty more since then, but these guys are what made this experience so memorable. Being stuck in another country with the wrong people is not fun and can be a real downer, but with the right people can really make traveling. From people I talk to every now and again online, those I catch up with whenever we are in the same city, or some who I consider really good friends, whether we live in the same city or on the other side of the world!

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A very big thanks to everyone on this trip. An extra big thankyou to Agraja, Dave, Ness, Jo, Charlton and Champston, and Jess for the use of their photos! 🙂

Sushi…Ice Cream?

297886_10150321910556945_935683633_nIn Hanoi, Vietnam, there is quite well know ice creamery named Fanny’s – hilarious to any Australian that goes there, that they always insist on taking a picture with the sign. Inside they have an extensive menu of flavours, combinations and styles. One of which is ice cream done sushi style. Really, the most fun about the entire experience is seeing all the funky ways they serve the ice cream. That, and during summer it is so hot outside that an ice cream is well needed –  Fanny’s just makes it a little bit more exciting – I can hear all the Aussie’s laughing…

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The Things You Can Transport On A Motocycle in Vietnam!

The Things You Can Transport On A Motocycle in Vietnam!

Probably not a fish you would want to eat, but venture a little out of the centre of the city (or get lost, like in our case) and you will find plenty of things that would be out of place back home – but not in Ho Chi Minh City. Confused as to why three Australian girls would want to take a photo of a motocycle transporting dozens of gold fish, locals wouldn’t even look twice at this site. A few even stopped to by a fish!