Wrap and go

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Americans have burgers, British have their sandwiches, Chinese have our springroll, whether fried or steamed.
This is the Southern Chinese popiah, we usually eat this at home when my mum has time to prepare it.

She buys the crepe skin fresh from the market. It’s still done by hand, smearing the water dough quickly on a flat pan and then removing it. Needs a lot of skill.  By two days it would harden out. Usually we cover it with a damp cloth.

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The ingredients. Shredded carrots,  white  Radish with Chinese mushrooms and dried shrimps  (the latter are removed but usually for flavour) cooked in a pot over low flame for 20 mins until you’re satisfied with the texture. Season to taste with pepper and salt.

A lot of liquid is produced as the radish cooks, remove it. Then keep warm in a slow cooker.

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Serve with sliced Chinese sausage, fried egg, cooked and sliced prawns and parsley Arrange.

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Anything goes. Then dab on sweet black sauce and chilli as you like it. Roll and eat.

This is how my family does it. Everyone rolls their own. Use one and a half piece of skin if you’re not an expert.

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If you find that too much work, the eatery Qi 奇 sells it.

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I think the Vietnamese springroll was adapted from the Chinese version.

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I like springrolls. This is the Vietnam version. The western herbs (including mint) are served on the outside, wrapping the springroll. You can include vermicelli to make a full meal instead of as a snack.

Wrap and Roll in Saigon city serve many variations of wrapped food. Quality differs from restaurant to restaurant. This is a chain which the locals patronise.

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And the ban xeoh. With a springroll placed on side for size.

Vertical Green in Saigon City

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On my recent trip to Ho Chi Minh, I see more attempts to greenify the city. This building opposite the District 1 at Don Ton Tat Thiep street.

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Opposite Saigon Centre, a Singapore restaurant with green wall using encheviara. I’ve not tried the food although very much want to support a Singapore chef.

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But my love for Vietnamese spring rolls was just too overwhelming.

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Maybe it’s still new. Visit in a few months time to see how well the vertical green wall is doing.
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Amazing. Cactus and sedum on vertical green. The wall is on the shade side. Perhaps it may work as not much watering needed.
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So far no one has attempted to pry off the plants at night. They’re all at eye level. In the day time there’s a security guard standing outside.

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Hanging plants in balcony makes a difference to the drab street scene.
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Or tie fairy lights on old branches for a Christmas feel.

Merry Christmas from Asia

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Recently in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh city for my first time there in December. Pleased to see the creativity of the season celebrations in this country.

Above, snowman made from paper cups at McDonald’s in Takashimaya.

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Nutcracker and ballerina. Employing Vietnamese paper cutting skills to create a mobile.
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Christmas tree made from layered wood.

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In front of Takashimaya, Saigon Centre, Ho Chi Minh city

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Christmas is always associated with carousel in Asia. But this is only decorative. There’s also a tiny skating ring – highly popular.

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This little bubble room has quite a queue for taking photographs.

District 1 has street lighting and decorations. Shops play Christmas songs celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. What a Christmas mood. Young people are taking to the streets with huge professional cameras and lenses.

Ho Chi Minh city is truly vibrant like I’ve not seen before.

Vietnam – Kingdom of the South 越南

I recently made another trip to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam which is about 2 hrs away from Singapore. Incidentally I’ll be going again in October. If you book a flight now till end September and 90 days advance till August 2017, return flight is only Singapore$190 inclusive of all taxes, meals and 30kg luggage.

I booked on short notice, so my flight cost Singapore$560 but I prefer Singapore Airlines. I’ve taken Tiger Airways before, which is cheap and effecient. Some of the routes are operated by SIA anyway.  But I like bigger seats. If you plan your tickets in advance, SIA is having a promotion now.

I stayed at Sedona Suites, operated by Keppel, it’s quite old. But recently undergone a renovation. I noticed that most of their tenants are Asian. Breakfast spread for instance was prawn noodle, roti prata, wanton noodles etc on different mornings. Home away from home feeling. But if you’re used to continental style breakfast, this may not be your thing.

They’ve a recent partnership with Liberty Hotel 10F across Le Loi Boulevard. Advice of security guard : clasp your handbag tightly under armpits in case of moving motorcycles
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Posh lobby of Liberty Hotel

This is a new hotel with roof top tiny pool (fabulous view) and gym. Including a movie theatre . Get a coupon from the receptionist at Sedona.

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Pool view. Chill at night. In the afternoon after 9am, gets a bit warm.

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Le Loi Boulevard where you cross to Liberty Hotel – grey taller building

Takashimaya department store just opened next door to Sedona. So even if you’re caught by the monsoon rains, no fear – all day dining of Western, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine around the corner.

Ben Tanh market where I bought fragrance, bags, fresh seafood, cut out greeting cards.

When I first went to Vietnam in 2007, you get a favourable rate with US$. Now you get a better rate paying with Vietnam dong.

Watch DVD such as House of Cards series in the hotel. They fixed a DVD player for me.

Miu Miu 4 spa is around the corner and walking distance. They speak English and take reservations. Rates inclusive of tax and tips. Good and clean. Rates on websites. Miu Miu is so popular among locals and expat that they’ve 4 outlets 1, 2, 3 and 4. So note the branch address.
http://www.miumiuspa.com/
Address: 4 Chu Mạnh Trinh, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

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After spa snacks and lotus tea with ginger and lotus seeds.

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Want to try fruit juice , French bakery etc ? Just across the street. Same street as the photo showing Liberty Hotel. Le loi – pronounced the Vietnamese way not French.

Distance to the airport: 20 mins

Address:

Sedona Suites,
Saigon Centre Building
Le Loi Blvd,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Eating Cultures

Dogs packed to be sold for meat

Dogs packed to be sold for meat

When we last visited Hanoi in 2007, we saw numerous dog-meat eating places near the airport. This was pointed out to us by our friend who was living in the city. During our recent trip, they were gone. Was there a clean up? Apparently not so. Merely relocated as the land had become expensive and used for residential purpose.

According to Mae, our guide, dog-meat is considered a delicacy by North Vietnamese, not the South. If you see any dog-meat restaurants in the South, it is likely to be owned by a North Vietnamese. Although they do not wish to admit it, the North Vietnamese are quite influenced by Chinese culture and eating habits. Dog-meat is considered nutritious, warming for the body but can only be eaten for 10 days from the 21st to the end of the month (lunar calendar). Hence dog-meat restaurants are only opened during that period. Otherwise, eating dog meat is harmful to the body. The Northerners eat cat meat too, which they term “little tigers”.

Another difference between North and South Vietnamese custom is the tradition of inheritance. In the North, largest share of the property is given to the eldest son, similar to the Chinese. In the South, largest share of the property is given to the youngest, who usually stays behind to look after the parents.

Mae is a Taoist, so she doesn’t eat dog meat. Why do Vietnamese eat beef as in pho if they are Buddhists/ Taoists? In Singapore, the Buddhists/ Taoists do not eat beef but Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Thais do. Told by Thais, its because Buddhists are not choosy over their food, I didn’t find the explanation convincing. When McDonalds’ first came to Singapore, as children we were not allowed to eat hamburgers. Only Fillet O’Fish. Cows help the rice farmers in the padi fields, my mother insisted. Out of gratitude to the cows for giving us rice, we do not eat beef. [Hindus do not eat beef because cows are considered sacred.] So I was very surprised when I found that the Vietnamese and Thais who also plant padi and ethnically close to the Chinese in terms of religious beliefs, do.

Turns out, they don’t eat water cows (water buffalos) “shui niu” but they eat yellow cow “huang niu”. Being a Vietnamese Chinese Taoist, Mae eats beef from yellow cow, not the water cow. Mae even had an account of how she was once tricked by a beef pho seller into eating “water cow” meat. Before she stepped into her home which had an altar, she vomited everything. Immediately, she knew she had committed the ultimate sin. Cleansed herself, and burned her joss sticks to be forgiven.

Every culture has its own list of taboo food. When I first went to the UK for training, I was shocked by the rabbit meat on the menu. Unfortunately, as we were huddled in an old run-down castle, with no transport, and the nearest town 2 hours away, I swallowed a little of the meat. Personally, I don’t like to eat exotic meat, even though nothing stops me from doing so. Of course, exotic is subjective.  Sea cucumber, sea urchin, puffer fish, Duck neck/tongue, geoduck, shark’s fin, snake, I do not consider as exotic.  Skewered chicken backside, horse, monkey, dog meat, ostrich and turtle meat I won’t touch.  Beef – only in American or Japanese restaurants or Vietnamese pho.

As a child, I disliked eating pork, to my mother’s inconvenience, although I like to eat frog’s legs very much. Once upon a time, I ate coagulated pig’s blood cake in Pig intestine soup. When it was banned in Singapore, I thought I would miss it. Now I can’t imagine doing so.

I used to feel sorry for the expatriates in Vietnam, seeing how pathetic the raw meat/ vegetable section looked like in a supermarket in a department store.  Until I went to a Vietnamese wet market, and then I felt really sorry for the expatriate. The Vietnamese wet market I went to, patronised by local Vietnamese, is opened from 9am to 9pm, filled with great variety of fresh herbs, vegetable, meat and live seafood still swimming in tanks. Alas, as I can’t speak Vietnamese, I don’t know what the real price of the food items were.

Skinning a frog at the local market

Skinning a frog at the local market

Coagulated pigs' blood

Coagulated pigs’ blood at Vietnam market

Chicken feet, silkworms

Chicken feet, silkworms in Vietnam market

Recently, I met someone who’s turned vegetarian, out of compassion for animals. Has her complexion and health improved, I asked, hoping to find some compelling reason to convert. Meat sans seasoning has no taste, she offered. Whereas fresh vegetables from local farms are very sweet.  Maybe in due course.

Best kept secret in Ho Chi Minh – Green wall at Rex Hotel

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Opposite Rex Hotel, a French/Vietnamese manicured bonsai garden

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Best kept secret in #Ho Chi Minh# – the green wall on the ground floor of Rex Hotel.  As you can tell from the photo, its very crowded, but we stumbled upon it, when we were at the Rex Hotel for a night time pub crawling session at the swinging roof-top bar (I had earl grey tea).  There’s a little man-made waterfall, which makes this a pleasant and cool-air conditioned environment. Did I recall birds chirping?

Aside from the courtyard, I’m not sure I’ll stay at the Rex Hotel.  I’ve not looked at the rooms, but the interior looks dated.  For the price, the New World Saigon, where US Presidents Clinton and George Bush stayed, may be more value for money.

Do the Vietnamese have green fingers.  Coming from uniquely Singapore with our beautiful road-side trees, I’m surprised by how talented the Vietnamese are, (more precisely Ho Chi Minh – I didn’t see this in Hanoi) in maintaining their greenery. I’m assuming they’re not using foreign talent to design the green wall and maintaining their plants.

Why are the trunks of the road-side trees painted in white? They’re also numbered.  Someone’s keeping an inventory of the trees and certainly maintaining them.

 

Land of Herbs – Vietnam

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Fighting roosters prized for their plumage and fighting prowess. Each cost US$50, but if they’ve won a fight, cost can go as high as US$2000.

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Quick lunch on the sidewalk

Quick lunch on the sidewalk

Common sight to see well-groomed ladies and gents sitting on stools by these road-side vendors to have a quick meal.

Cluster Fig tree

Cluster Fig tree

Our resilient tour guide Mae

Our resilient tour guide Mae

Her grandfather was a businessman with three wives. During the Vietnam war, they took a neutral position and were sheltered from the war. The fighting was fought by the Vietnamese and took place in the countryside. The Chinese stayed in the city and went about what they did best as wholesaler businessmen.

But in 1979, the Vietnamese Chinese left in big numbers as boat people with diamonds hidden in their teeth and gold bars. Mai made a perilous journey to Sumatra. From there, she was accepted as a refugee in Canada. To ensure she could go to school and learn English, her father reported that she was 12 when her real age was 22. Even then, she found attending class with Canadians of that age difficult as she didn’t know her alphabets. She later learnt to speak Cantonese (lingua franca of Canadian Chinese) and English on her own.

12 years later, she left her entire family to return to #Vietnam#. She spent 3 months in Singapore in 1992 as a mid wife. She joined a tour to Malaysia and Vietnam, subsequently taught herself to be a tour guide. When she started, she was the only female tour guide in Vietnam. This is the story of resilience.

Dragon Fruit plant

Dragon Fruit plant

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Dragon fruit, pineapple, pomelo, longan - fruit paradise at My Tho

Dragon fruit, pineapple, pomelo, longan – fruit paradise at My Tho

Mae, our guide to the My Tho area of Mekong Delta enlightened us of the difference between the ruby red dragon fruit and the white flesh dragon fruit. Difference is apparently caused by a particular type of fertiliser used by the farmers. When the Vietnamese farmers planted the ruby red dragon fruit plant, without using the fertiliser prescribed by the plant breeder, the flesh of the dragon fruit turned successively lighter until the color was reversed.

Red Kheng Huay

Red Kheng Huay

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Fish farming in the Mekong Delta

Fish farming in the Mekong Delta

Drying tea leaves

Drying tea leaves