Monday, January 16, 2012

Horrible Beginning, Tasty Ending

After the drama from the morning I was looking forward to settling in in our hotel. It is clean and safe, it is a smoking room, not by our choice, but isn't too stinky. Two nice double beds, a stark contrast from the backpacker hostel up the street with it's 12 bunk shared rooms. 

We decided to head down the street to the Voyage Vietnam (our tour company) offices from our hotel. The office is on the third floor of a building that houses an Irish pub (complete with Guinness signs, but may not have actual Guinness?). The guys weren't in the office so a quick phone call arranged a meeting for later. 

Ryan is my food tour guide since he has been here before and has a knack for finding amazing treats. I have to warn the sensitive vegetarians that Ryan is a pretty big carnivore so consider this fair warning. He asked one of the waitresses at the bar where to go for bun cha, and she pointed to the alley immediately next to the bar. At the enterance to the alley there was a woman cooking pork between two bamboo sticks over a rectangular charcoal grill stoked by an electric fan :-). 

Behind the woman cooking there are squat plastic tables with short little chairs (think of a play table for kids). Ryan and I sat down and were served a fantastic soup and a plate full of sticky rice noodles. The lump of rice noodles were cut into 4 chunks with scissors (this may have been just for the white folk, we were the only non-locals). Picking up a hunk of sticky noodles and dropping them into the broth instantly separated the hunk into tasty strands. This repeated, instant transformation was one of the best things about the dish. In the soup the barbecued pork was combined with cabbage as well as a sweet, spicy, vinegar broth. We also had a super tasty spring roll filled with noodles, cabbage and pork. 

I don't think that you could have a more literal translation of street food because throughout the meal in the alley there was a near constant flow of scooters and bikes passing behind Ryan. I kept wanting to snap a picture, but the food was too good and it wasn't a place that you linger after finishing the meal. 

After the meal we decided to head down to the lake which is a central fixture of the old quarter, surrounded by busy boulevard streets and french colonial architecture it was a great way to walk off lunch. On the way to the lake we ran into two girls that had been on our bus from the airport - Maggie and Kristen. They are both Americans teaching English in Korea and are currently on winter holiday. 

The whole city, and particularly the area around the lake is decked out for celebration of the lunar new year - Tet. Flower arrangements as well as mandarin and pear trees with fabulous pink flowers dotted the landscape, a stark contrast with the constant flow of motorbikes and honking taxis. 

As many people are off of work for the holiday and excited for the prospects of the new year the shops are completely decked with wares. We found a fun store with reproduction propaganda posters that Ryan and I are fighting over. 

Walking around the lake with Maggie and Kristen we stopped for Vietnamese coffee, and took a lot of pictures. There were several couples decked out taking wedding photos around the lake. 

After our walk we returned to Voyage Vietnam where Ryan was reunited with the guide from his trip three years ago. After sharing some strong jasmine green tea in their office we headed down stairs to the pub. We shared a couple beers with the guides and the girls, the perfect way to while away an afternoon. 

Soon it was time for dinner. Being a French colony, Vietnam has some tasty French cuisine. Luckily tour-guide Ryan had a spot in mind - the green tangerine. When you first walk through the door off of the street you are greeted by a pretty open air courtyard complete with trees and hanging lights with small wire tables lining the edges. We were lead inside and seated upstairs. Our first course included cheese and a crab dip layered between thick sheets of pastry. Ryan chose rabbit stew, I had a duck breast, Kristen chose the pork and Maggie the rack of lamb. The food was good, with fun presentation and the complex sauces one anticipates with French cuisine. 

After dinner my jetlag caught up to me and I crashed at the hotel. With the aid of ear plugs to block out the club next door I fell asleep instantly.  


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