Eating Local in Vietnam

Some of the food here is a bit weird, tasty but not what we’d do in the west.

I have a room in a house that’s far from any tourist centres sort of a well to do middle class area, there’s some nice houses and lots and lots of front room type eating places (it’s a stretch to call them restaurants) dotted around the neighborhood, then there’s a main road with more dedicated food places, a few stalls and yes things I would call a restaurant.

Many of the houses here are 3 story and the ground floor has large shutter doors so the space can be used for seating for a coffee shop, a small eating place and at night the place to park their car. On the main street there are dedicated food places with a similar set up and a couple of cafe / restaurants, there’s lots of stalls that sell filled baguettes, smoothies and noodles.

Vietnam has a few national dishes, some shops specialize in rice or noodles or one particular dish some do a variety some do all. Rice and a meat, different types of noodles soups, and a couple of thing I haven’t seen before.

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This is my new favorite, Banh beo, nem lui. The yellow thing is 2 thin crispy omelettes with bean sprouts and a prawn in between, then there’s some sort of pork meat wrapped around a lemon grass stalk, rice paper wrappers, salad which includes a very bitter green thing and some dipping sauce. It’s a self assembly deal with chop sticks (my skills have increased exponentially since arriving). While sitting eating I saw a rat run across the floor, a cockroach around the table legs and grandma wrapping the raw meat around the lemongrass stalks in what looked like a basic living room sitting area while watching the TV! Safe food can be made in a dirty kitchen – difficult but possible!  Food was freshly cooked and only cost £1.30 and filling.

Then we have the noodle soup, some is totally self assembly some get half assembled but you always get salad, the salad your supposed to put into the soup and eat hot – now that’s weird.

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Breakfast is variety of eggs here with beef (bo ne)  the french baguette influence remains.

There’s the classic use of western brands and names on their local shops.

Unusual products in the shops. White fungus drink – yummy. Weasel Coffee! the weasel eats the best coffee beans, poop out the fermented beans which are washed (i hope) roasted ground and brewed up into coffee – It’s quite nice. But I wonder if it can be called vegetarian?

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Just about everywhere you will see the washer woman squatting over bowls of soupy looking suds washing the utensils which after rinsing will be dried in the sun.

Another favourite is My Quang and this is from a place that’s the nearest thing to a local chain restaurant, from what i can gather there’s 7 branches and they even have a web site.

I sat down looked over the menu, practiced my best pronunciation and for the beef but the girl pointed to one thing as if to say that’s all we have now & that’s what i ordered. (when in Rome!) As you can see the a big rice cracker salad and a bowl of mixed beef shrimp chicken & noodles, hmmm very nice. I broke the cracker nibbled some with salad and one if the kind waiters came over and showed me I was doing it wrong and I should or everything in the bowl of noodles and eat from there. No problem (when in Rome!) Hihi (Vietnamese way of writing ha ha or lol)

The last time I saw a whole pig roasting on the pavement it had head and teeth still intact.

I will add some more food photos as my trip goes on.

7 Things I’ve Learnt After Living 7 Months in Chiang Mai

1. I’ve found the most annoying and irritating sound in the world.

I’m somewhat asleep and I’m woken by the high pitched fly-by buzz past my ear of the much hated mosquito. This has caused me to slap my head a bit too hard on more than one occasion in the hope of getting that little blighter. Worse still I’ll then be fully woken with numerous itches and have to get up in a quest to hunt down that bugger till it’s dead.

2. I find riding a Scooter quite pleasant – despite all the warnings otherwise.

Apart from a half day basic training course I took a week or so before coming to Thailand I’ve never driven a Scooter before. I’m so glad I did, as it took some slow shaky learning and a minor fall on some quite streets in the UK before being unleashed with a hire bike in Thailand, even then I had a couple of cautious hours until I got the swing of things.

But I have one huge advantage to most other tourists in that I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles in UK which also drives on the left, my years of carefully honed spatial awareness has certainly helped when I’m one of 40-50 bikes around a few cars at lights all turning right but like a flock of birds we all seem to keep just far enough apart and speed off to leave the cars in our collective dust (there’s a lot of dust here as well!)

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Britain likes to follow rules especially in traffic but I soon realised the rule of self preservation is the only one followed here. It’s not unusual to see:-

  • Scooters driven in the hard shoulder (it’s safer away from cars & trucks)
  • Scooters driven on the pavement to get past traffic queues.
  • Scooters driven the wrong way against traffic on the hard shoulder.
  • Jumping red lights – if safe to do so – why wait in the sun.
  • No helmets, especially if the youngsters have done their hair for a night out.
  • 3 people and a child on one bike or more – with no helmets
  • A ridiculous amount of shopping or such stacked & balanced on the bike
  • Traffic not stopping at zebra crossing unless they might actually hit something.
  • Flashing the full beams means here I am, watch out! Not allowing you to pass.
  • Cars blocking walkways/pavements as they wait for traffic to give them space.
  • Scooters and cars slowly turning left into moving traffic, expecting the on coming traffic to move over and give way.

The vast majority of car drivers started out on a scooter and they seem to be aware of how a bike might manoeuvre and generally give enough space for bikes to pass, not like the UK where car drivers will deliberately close a gap so bikes have to wait behind them.

If you’re a confident driver that’s aware of what’s around you and have at least a minimal amount of experience on a scooter then go for it. If you’ve never used one before you’ll have a steep learning curve on not only how to use a scooter (practice in the car park before the road) and how the traffic flows here in Thailand.

3. Find the shade whenever and wherever you can.

I didn’t at first but it was fairly cool and pleasant winter but as soon as it heated up anywhere from 27c to 44c  I soon learnt to find the shade.

I’ve pulled up an waited under the shade of a tree somewhat away from the traffic lights until they turn green. Driven around and around trying to find shade to park in – it’s not nice to sit on a hot hot seat and wear a hot hot helmet any time of day. Of course I cross the road to walk in a sliver of shade. I regularly see the pillion passenger with a coat over their head and the driver holding up a magazine to shade their face as they drive.

If you come from a cooler climate it takes about a month to adjust to the warmer temps. Some ex-pats call unseasoned tourists “sweaties!” but I still can’t get used to temps above 27c and most Thais complain as the temperature rises above 30c.

4. It’s fairly easy to live a western lifestyle and eat western foods.

There’s plenty of western style places to live with western furniture and fittings the only main difference is the little bum wash hose they have in the toilet, oh and air con (thankfully). With the right gadgets and gizmos you can access your home countries TV, movies, radio and news media.

There’s plenty of western food restaurants dotted around, okay maybe It’s not exactly just like home but it’s not spicy papaya salad. In the various supermarkets you’ll find all the main western products and big brands, I’ve found the Waitrose range! You can get all the main basic ingredients (at a price – cheese is surprisingly expensive) to knock up what ever is your favourite dish,  but I don’t see the point unless it’s a special occasion, when there’s so much fresh local produce and excellent cooked Thai food not that far from your front door.

There’s plenty of English language cinema screenings, all the main clothing stores and the big mall shopping experience, but they don’t stock shoes above size 45 or clothes above a western Extra Large.

5. Nearly all local food has extra added sugar.

I’m not surprised there’s so many dentists they must be coining it in.

It’s hard to find a savoury product, sauces, pizza, bread, sandwiches, soup, pastries are all aimed at the sweet tooth of Thailand. Even if the product packaging says 100% ‘whatever’ it will include 5-10 % sugar. Unless the fruit juice is imported the 100% juice brands elevate the natural sugar content to above 20%. The only soft drinks with no sugar is the hard to find Coke Light/Zero or the even harder to find No Sugar Japanese Green or Oolong tea.

The condiment tray, whether its the street food stall or a chain restaurant will have sugar but not salt. Sugar is automatically added to iced teas, a new trend is for bubble drinks which are a sweet milky tea with bubbles of sugar flavour added.

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6. If you gonna speak to Thai’s in English do so in Thai grammar.

English grammar doesn’t translate directly, so most Thais will talk in what appears to be simple broken grammar but it’s more akin to them directly translating into English how they would speak in Thai, once I picked up on this many Thais said they understood me much better and I could easily get across what I was trying to say. Here’s some examples

It’s He or She nothing else like him/her, Me/I or You and what’s even more confusing is they will get these easily mixed up and could be talking about themselves but say ‘you’ throughout the conversation. It’s ‘Have’ or ‘not have’ not I don’t have or had, it’s ‘blue colour’, ‘green colour’, ‘red colour’. It’s ‘like’ or ‘not like’. It’s ‘before’ not last week, last year or yesterday.

So a sentence in English like,  “Excuse me,  may I buy that red t-shirt please” might go in broken ‘Thanglish’ (if that’s a word)  “Sawaadee Krap (hello), Me/I have, red colour t-shirt, – krap” I know it’s far from perfect but less will be lost in translation.

If you can learn numbers and some basic phrases it helps a great deal.

Men say krap and ladies say kaa at the end of sentences as a sign of politeness, there’s very little ‘please’. I started by copying what was said to me so for a while I was ending my sentences with an effeminate kaa, after a few giggles I twigged what I was saying wrong.

Some words are doubled for some reason, sure-sure, ok ok, joop-joop boom-boom! it’s perfectly okay to say – I go pee-pee/poo-poo, instead of “excuse me I need the toilet.”

Use simple words and simple grammar, use the words and phrases that they know already even if it means it’s a very poorly structured sentence.
“Before Chiang Mai, I go Phuket, have bike, have condo, not have car. I eat farang food.” If you’ve spoken to Thais you’ll probably have heard:-  What you do? What happened? Help me. Up to You? Kaput.  “I’m full, would you like to finish that last slice of pizza?” Will get a blank look but “Help me” as you point to the pizza is understood.

And because Thai is tonal it’s easy to express one’s intent or feelings. Thai will express yes, no, like, dislike, surprise, shock and question all with tone of voice which is extremely hard to type but here goes, urgh-urgh, ehurgh, eeee,  oowwwe, aaahhhh. etc etc. you’ll get the idea.

7. Thai’s have a lucky, positive outlook on life.

Thais see good or bad fortune in most things that we might pass off as coincidence. I had the same room number in 2 different hotels, after mentioning this to the reception it was seen as good luck.

Phone numbers that have supposed lucky numbers are displayed and sell for much more than none lucky numbers, lottery ticket numbers are displayed by a row of individual sellers and Thais will pick out from the hundreds on offer what they consider lucky.

After a stall holder sells one of their trinkets to a passing tourist those notes are waved over the rest of their goods as a good luck charm. ‘Bring me money, bring me money’ is the chant.

Amulets, blessed by their favourite ‘lucky’ monk or guru are worn, protective and lucky tattoos are often all across a persons back.

 

Some might say they put their destiny purely in the hands of their gods, they seem  surprised they didn’t find a job or find a rich husband even though they went to the temple to pray for it, got the tattoo, gave many donations to the monks, wore the amulet etc. But didn’t follow through with their many intentions with some positive actions, but it’s a small minority.

The positive attitude shines through and if anywhere in the world personifies the good advice of -smile and the world smiles with you it’s Thailand.

 

 

 

Organic Farm Resturant – with Medicinal Properties

I went to a great place last night Ohkajhu and it was packed for a Tuesday night but there was some car promotion on, and it was a full moon..

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It’s aimed predominately at Thai customers the descriptions in the menu are in Thai but there’s pictures and the product name is in English. It’s located near Central airport plaza and I could only find non English reviews

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It’s a Farm to Fork type restaurant where they grow their own fruit and vegetables in there own farms and source what they don’t produce themselves from organic sources.

The portions are huge and prices reasonable for what you get.

But the most interesting thing I saw on the menu was the medicinal qualities of the drinks they had on offer, fights cancer, prevents alzheimer’s!!?

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Well I’m impressed not only do they feed you, they can cure what ails you.

Muang Mai Market in Chiang Mai

There’s loads of markets in Chiang Mai, but you can’t beat Muang Mai for the freshness of the fruit and vegetables and bargain prices.

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It’s an old sprawling warren of streets with stall after stall, most with a selection, some buy in produce by the truck load and prepare if needed.

 

You can’t get much fresher than these fish still alive in the tubs and killed to order. With the meat there’s no refrigeration so the flies are kept off with spinning streamers above the freshly prepared meat (if you’re lucky.)

Stack it high and flog it cheap is the motto. Stalls specialise in huge bags of peeled garlic, peeled onions, peeled shallots, dried chilli’s.

This grapefruit stall has just bought a truck load off the local farmer , they spend the day peeling and preparing, 1 tray goes for approx £0.40 or $0.60, cheaper than you can buy a unpeeled one back home. Be warned that little bag isn’t just sugar, it’s more like a bag of chilli powder with a hint of sugar!

A lot of the stock gets bought and resold in the surrounding local markets, so it’s definitely worth the trip.

I found a short Zen story suitable for a post about markets.

Socrates believed that the wise person would instinctively lead a frugal life. He himself would not even wear shoes; yet he constantly fell under the spell of the marketplace and would go there often to look at all the wares on display. When one of his friends asked why, Socrates said, “I love to go there and discover how many things I am perfectly happy without.”

Chinese New Year in Chiang Mai

Happy new year, it’s the year of the red fire monkey. In Chiang Mai there are many tourists from china and in northern Thailand and Myanmar they also follow the same 12 year cycle. Typically though they swap the 12th animal from a pig to a elephant – see the bottom animal on this zodiac pillar.

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Even though the pig is one of the favourite animals in the Chinese, for a westerner the elephant is more respected.

New Year 2016

The celebrations centred around the Chinatown area close to the popular Warorot Market area. 2016-02-11 15_03_44-Warorot Market - Google Maps

The roads around it were closed of and they were lined with stalls selling mainly food and clothes.

Would you like some sunshine sushi!?

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Yummy, sunshine sushi, what’s not to like!?

It was busy during the day in those narrow roads, in the evening it will be packed.

Good luck dragons, put your hand in it’s mouth, stroke it’s tongue and give it a tip.

The Chinatown Temple

Lanterns, lanterns lanterns everywhere.

Selfies and traditional dress, check out those heels.

These guys were awesome.

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There was a knockout checkers competition going on, some games drew a small crowd.

Chiang Mai reports and ever increasing figure of Chinese tourist with hotels reporting 90% occupancy for the 2 weeks over the celebrations. with the flower show it’s a great time to visit.

 

Chinag Mai Flower Festival

I went to this years flower festival at Suan Buak Had Park on the Saturday of the 3 day festival.

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In the park they had Orchid and Bonsai competition displays.

The highlight of the day was the big parade. Marching bands are a thing, there was the bond theme, traditional Thai drum and cymbal music and a gansta’ band!

 

It wasn’t all flower they had a vegetable float as well.

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As the parade went by there would be occasional bikes and cars let through and the rear was jammed packed with bikes trying to get past, of course no crowd control barriers, marshals or hi-viz jackets anywhere, it’s Health & Safety gone mad!

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They also had a life size elephant a couple of show pieces and people in traditional dress in the park.

Surrounding the park were loads of local clothing and craft stalls and the typical range of food stalls including insects.

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This set of rocking guys got some of the crowd dancing in the streets.

It was a great day out, highly recommend it for visitors next year.

 

 

 

Thai Buffet Dinner

I went to a new dining expereience last night, they call it a BBQ buffet, a sort of all you can eat cook it yourself dinner that’s very popular in Thailand.

Firstly the place was huge, the dining room is about 2 thirds a football pitch and could probably seat around 2,000 people. It had some kids entertainment in the corner, a couple of trinket stalls, and a stage for bands or the ever popular Karaoke.

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My table had a big scortch mark from the previous hot coal bbq that’s placed in the middle, but now it was covered with a large metal plate ready for the new bowl of hot coals.

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A little dome tray with with a surrround of water goes on top and it heats up and will cook anything you throw at it for the next couple of hours.

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Once it’s all set up you go and get your plates of stuff, there’s a long table with large trays of thinnly cut meats, liver, (not very popular) fish, sausages, whole prawns, vegetables, there also salads, cut fruit, soda pops, water, even mini ice cream cones all for the inclusive price of 209 Baht – about £4.  The food isn’t refridgerated so to keep the flies of the meat is positioned under sets of fans that have the blades replaced with a bunch of  streamers, sort of an automated fly flail they used to use in ancient times.

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A tip is to place 2 large chinks of pork fat on the top which slowly greases the dome griddle. There’s only chop sticks to use so you better be half decent with them as you have to palce, turn, dip into the sauce and eat what ever you put on the grill (prefabley without dropping them onto the rough wooden table!)

Another version of this is the hot pot, no griddle just a clay pot of water you add the variety of produce plus an egg to make a chunky soup.