Three Years of Unlimited Grub Grabs

I am the soul of the gourmand.
Good food fuels my body, and good wine burns my blood.
I have tasted hundreds of dishes
Regardless of cuisine yet mindful of the price.
I seek great-tasting food and drinks.
My heart will only be satisfied by the best.
And so I invite you to my UNLIMITED GRUB GRABS.

Today I’m celebrating the third anniversary of Unlimited Grub Grabs. It will be a quiet celebration: no grand restaurant raid, no contests, no special stories (apart from my Vietnam trip). Sorry if I couldn’t give away freebies just like what the other blogs do. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I can’t. Boring, isn’t it?

To be frank, I’ve been thinking about how I got myself into the food writing business. I’ve always said I love food, and I want to learn how it relates to life and society and all those philosophical stuff. Now that I think about it, I’ve been exploring and writing about food quietly since Day 1. I pop out at events here and there, eating and picking up as much knowledge and tastes as I could.

Up until now I can’t function properly as a food writer. I can’t go to restaurants every week, post pictures and join trips and tasting sessions. That’s because I have to make do with the little that I have to make a food raid. I have a full-time job too, among others. (Not to mention that I’m sick.) They look like trifling reasons, but if you knew the limitations of one who doesn’t have the luxury of time, budget, and opportunity to nurture his interests, you’ll understand.
Yes, I am whining. Part of me is. Sometimes I whine to myself about how pathetic I feel as a food writer. I even get demoralized, falling into deep slumps and losing my appetite. I get envious of blogs that get endorsements and sponsors, who can sponsor and give away stuff the way those in the food industry do. Negative thoughts like that get to me.
But part of me says it’s okay, I don’t have to whine, I’m fine as I am, I’m doing a great job. I still manage to make something good, after all. I still get to share my story, my thoughts on the food I eat and the places I visit. Besides, I started this blog as a foodie diary, and I like it like this. At least I can visit and review restaurants subtly, like a ninja in the shadows.

I do want to make it big. I want to go places. I wanted to get paid to eat and write. I want to be a popular blogger. I still want to until now. I know I’m supposed to work hard, write uniquely, and get my blog recognized, so I can make a name for myself.

I’m thankful for the hundreds of people who read my posts, joined and supported me in my adventures. There are a lot of new places to discover, and more delicious stuff to eat and drink. I hope to be there and tell you all about them.Here’s to another year!
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By the way, I’ve started writing a book. It’s gonna be a part memoir, part behind-the-scenes-look of my life as a food writer, an amateur one at least. I’m saying this so that people will remind/motivate/bug me into finishing it. Let’s hope I can finish it soon, or at least before my 4th anniversary.
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Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Epilogue)

Sunday, six in the morning, Manila time. I slumped at a corner of the NAIA arrival area, my body wide awake but still adjusting to the one-hour time difference. MC had left ahead, taking a taxi back to his place. I, on the other hand, did not feel like going home so soon.

The terminal was quiet at this hour. It felt calm and relaxing, and it cleared my mind enough for me to contemplate on a lot of things.

Two days and three nights in Vietnam… Our vacation was so short and we didn’t do so much as I expected, but it felt like I stayed there for so long.
Back at Ho Chi Minh City, everything felt so slow-paced. I wanted to see everything. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many places to visit, so much stuff to eat and drink. It’s as if every nook and cranny, every scent, every color of the city is begging my attention, urging me to stay on and drink into the sights I behold. It’s saddening that such could not be done.
Two days and three nights was such a short time. It was enough and not enough.
Why did I come to Vietnam? Was it to see our father? Was it for a vacation? Was it because I needed a break? Was it to try out Vietnamese cuisine, as the foodie in me would do? It felt like it was all of the above and none at all.
At the back of my mind, I really intended to emulate Anthony Bourdain’s adventures there, roaming around and trying out as much of Vietnam’s food as I could. That didn’t go exactly as I planned, but what I experienced was just as wonderful.
When I first stepped into Vietnamese soil, it felt great. I was in another country, experiencing another culture, seeing a new perspective of the things I know of. Being in a new environment is indeed refreshing.
I had so much to learn about Vietnam. The language was strange, but it rolled off everyone’s tongues like they were singing. The language barrier was so difficult to overcome, and understanding each other was a challenge. Yet the people are kind and gentle, respectful of others and their circumstances.
HCMC was highly urbanized yet very peaceful, more so at night when the lights are out and every store is closed. It felt like being in the countryside, or more accurately, it was like living so close to nature, with the parks and trees and the Saigon River kilometers away from where we stayed.
Vietnam’s history is so rich, exuding a tinge of nostalgia and sadness with a sense of resilience despite all of the hardships their people went through. Their sense of nationalism is so strong, thanks to the lessons of the Vietnam War.
Of course, there’s so much to say about the food. The cuisine is healthy, the dishes are delicious, and everything tasted so fresh and appetizing. More importantly, the food is prepared with great love and care. Everyone is so proud of the food they make, the herbs and spices they use to flavor their meals, the meat and seafood they raise, the vegetables they harvest, the dishes they are able to make out of whatever they have.
Just for a few days, I made a great shift in eating habits and preferences, and it was good for me. I mean, I ate so much seafood, stuff that someone with gout and other health problems should avoid, and yet I feel great. No gout attacks whatsoever.
There’s so much to love about Vietnam, but at the same time, it gave me a lot of reasons to love the Philippines. It gave me a reason to look back at the place I came from.
Because of this trip to Vietnam, I gained a newfound appreciation of my own home, my own country, where my dreams to be a food writer were born. I learned to appreciate my country’s strengths, imperfections, and struggles. My hunger for knowledge, wisdom, and insight with regards to my own culture was rekindled.
I long for the day my country, Metro Manila for starters, would be more conscious of its surroundings, its culture, and its relationship with the rest of the world. I long for the day people would clean up their act altogether, work together, build a country worthy to be shown off to the world.
My goodness, what am I saying? There’s so much in my head right now, most of it appreciating Vietnam in all its beauty, and yet part of me is wishing to see the same in my own land. My dreams have yet to fall into their proper places.
Now that I think about it, before I dreamed of having a food trip around HCMC, I dreamed of having a food trip around the Philippines. I always say that one can learn a lot of things about a place from the stuff the locals eat. It applies now.
I learned a lot about Vietnam from what I ate. I hope to do the same as I resume my search for great food here. And I promise to go back to Vietnam and eat my way around.
I boarded the shuttle out of NAIA, the MRT, and the bus taking me home. As soon as I got off, I could smell the newly-cooked beef nilaga from my favorite turo-turo store.
I’m home.

 

Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 5)

Night 3 – Oct. 6
So there I was, cruising at 60kph on a motorcycle over Phu My Bridge, gazing at District 1 on the horizon, while straining my eyes to find our way to District 7.

District 7 is an urban district of Ho Chi Minh City being marketed as a high-end, financial and commercial area. It’s kinda similar to Bonifacio Global City, though it looks much bigger. District 7 is connected to District 2 via the Phu My Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge over the Saigon River.

Our next stop for the day was District 7’s shopping complex. It turned out that Kim had brought her motorcycle, and she invited me to try driving it down the highway and into the district.
I ride a motorcycle everyday to work, but driving one in a foreign land seems so surreal. Not to mention that the bike I’m using is so light despite having someone riding behind me (Kim). Somehow, I felt really at home, though. Well, when in Vietnam, drive as the Vietnamese do.

District 7 is so wonderful up close. Condominiums and office buildings are everywhere. Boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery shops lined up the streets. It’s really a luxurious district where you can definitely live it up, so to speak.

We stopped by a park near Crescent Mall, overlooking a lagoon. This, I believe, is part of what they called the “Crescent Promenade”. It’s a Saturday night, so a lot of people have come to stroll and hang out.

The whole place is breathtaking. The streets are lined up with trees. From afar, you can see the mall, lively and brightly lit along with the establishments near it. Nearby is a bridge lined up with blue lights, giving one the impression of walking among the stars. Such a beautiful night scene is a sight to behold, so lonely yet romantic.

This, by the way, is Cham Charm Gallery Cuisine, a buffet restaurant that also houses a miniature museum of artifacts and sculptural works from Southeast Asia’s culturally rich “Champa” period (2nd to 12th century). For some reason, I hear varying reviews about it, aside from the food being very expensive. Someday…

Finally, it was time to go to Crescent Mall. Yay, shopping.

Crescent Mall is a simple but huge shopping center, newly built as a highlight of District 7’s claim as a high-end district. Aquariums and bubbly pillars have been built in some corners of the mall. Several high-end stores are open. It also has a lot of restaurants, a food court, cinema, and an arcade.
It’s pretty much a typical mall, except it’s what some here would call a real, high-class mall, not like the shopping centers in District 1 (Diamond Plaza would like to have a word with you).
By this time, Kim’s kids have been brought home, so it’s MC, Kim, and I who have been walking around the mall. MC went shopping at what I thought to be a surplus store, and it looked like he got a great bargain. He was able to buy several long-sleeved shirts at an equivalent to P800 or so each. Me? Nothing.
We also stopped for a snack (again) of mochi. They’re a bit expensive, but quite popular in Crescent Mall. (We bought so much, MC and I even got to take some home back to Manila.)

It was already nine in the evening (plus it had started to rain) when we got back to District 1. We have one last stop before saying goodbye to Vietnam: Ben Thanh Market. Now I wanted to walk around Ben Thanh Market, to try out every bit of Vietnam’s street food in sight, just like Anthony Bourdain. I guess I can not do that at this hour, or in this lifetime. But I was in for a better treat.

I don’t remember seeing a streetside restaurant the first time we visited Ben Thanh Market. I should have known there was one outside. This turned out to be a treasure house of seafood and other Vietnamese delicacies.
First on the table was “tom hap nuoc dua,” prawns steamed in young coconut, but this time the waiter threw the prawns in to the coconut water and set the bottom of the coconut shell on fire. This way, they’re basically simmering inside the shell, letting the juices mix with the water.
Those giant prawns made an appearance again on our table, but this time they were grilled. They were fragrant and appetizing, and went very well with the all-too-familiar dips and herbs served on the side.
Another dish we tried was “banh xeo”, a type of crepe made out of rice flour with turmeric, shrimps, pork, sliced onions, and mushrooms. This is eaten with lettuce and various local herbs and dipped in peanut butter sauce.
Finally, there’s hot vit lon, that familiar fertilized duck egg that has sent chills to foodies all over the world. MC said the diners at the other tables were looking at us as we each took our share of this horrifying dish.

The Vietnamese eat this with style: The top of the egg is broken with a spoon, and then the contents are scooped out, dipped into one’s sauce of choice, and then eaten.

Some consider hot vit lon to be gourmet food in Vietnam, although I guess it could actually be eaten anytime here. In the Philippines, the best time to eat it is at night, (wink, wink).

MC and I gave Kim a bottle of perfume as a token of gratitude for all the time she spent with us. (Seriously, I can’t remember what brand it was, but it looks like shops in Vietnam didn’t have that brand.)

We also promised to visit Vietnam again someday, and invited her to come to the Philippines as well for a vacation.
The rain poured on as we took our final steps in Vietnamese soil, to our plane and back to warm, sunny Manila.

Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 4)

Day 2 – Oct. 6
It’s our last day in Vietnam, so MC and I had to eat breakfast as fast as we could. This time, Kim and her twin daughters are joining us for a trip around Ho Chi Minh City’s tourist destinations. We’re going all out.
Along the way, we stopped by a store several blocks from Duxton Hotel Saigon to get food for the kids. I remember seeing this store still open last night. Today, though, other food stalls have opened near it. Street food sure is popular here.

The whole store sold fruits, breads and freshly baked pastries, fried and roasted duck and chicken. Roasted duck and chicken on the street… feels just like Manila.

The store also had space for those who want to dine in. Again, pho is the star.

Several minutes later, we reached Diamond Plaza, a luxury shopping complex at downtown HCMC. As far as I’ve read, the complex includes two buildings, and serves as a shopping center, 6 cinema lounges, restaurants, café, and hospital.

The whole complex was luxurious, homey, and really classy. On the other hand, I felt like I was stepping into that shopping complex from “Crisis Zone” (it’s an arcade game that takes place in a commercial complex; think “Time Crisis” where you wreck everything and everyone with your machine gun). But I digress.

Speaking of arcades, after passing by the department store, we went straight to the arcades. It has a bowling alley, a coffee shop, and the usual video games.

“Simz,” anyone?

Now what got me interested in the place is that it has a cocktail bar, with a large collection of alcoholoc and non-alcoholic drinks. Plus it’s a smoking area too. I guess this area is supposed to cater to mall-goers of all ages, though it’s gonna be awkward if you got drunk.

MC took the time to visit the perfume shops to ask about a certain brand. Looks like they don’t have it, whatever it is.

After an hour or so of hanging out at the mall, it was time to walk around the city a bit. Along the way, we passed by the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, also known as the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. It’s one of the establishments built by the French colonialists in Vietnam. What a grand-looking church, I thought.

 

I heard that the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of the church once shed tears, though this was disproved later on. I wish I had a closer look at the church.

Our next stop was the Reunification Palace (some also call it the Independence Palace), one of the most
important historical landmarks in Vietnam. Once the seat of government of the French, Japanese, and what was called South Vietnam, this was where the Vietnam War ended.

We had a tour around the palace’s numerous meeting areas, gardens, dining rooms, and other facilities. The palace also had a theater, dance floor, library, and a collection of artifacts. The place is so big, I might as well try making a separate post about it.

 

The Reunification Palace has a balcony where the president would come and give (probably yell) his speech to his constituents and followers below. As I stood on that balcony, gazing at the garden below, I felt like I was in that scene in “Evita,” except I’d probably be singing “The Heat is On in Saigon” instead of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

The fun part of the tour was when we went underground to see the palace’s war rooms. It’s like stepping into a war-torn past, except you’re a tourist learning Vietnam’s history and not Solid Snake infiltrating a military base.

Old radios and other communication equipment are lined up in every room, carefully preserved and set up like a functional palace facility. Each government function had its own office (plus a bed for the president). One room even had several maps, and a list of phone numbers of other countries, including the Philippines!

 

The tour ended at a museum highlighting important dates in Vietnamese history. Soon enough, it was time for our next stop. But first, snacks.
Pho 24 is a noodle restaurant chain that is popular in Vietnam for serving authentic Vietnamese dishes. It has branches in Indonesia, Cambodia, Macau – Hong Kong, Japan, and even in the Philippines (I hear there’s a branch at the Power Plant Mall in Makati). It’s also known for introducing instant pho noodles that can be enjoyed at home.

Pho is also called the national dish of Vietnam, as it “represents the heart and soul of the Vietnamese people.”

Our snack session (it felt more like lunch) consisted of pho, grilled pork with broken rice (rice grains fractured to give it a softer texture), and coconut juice to wash everything down. Of the numerous times I’ve eaten pho, this would be the best. I sort of added a bit too much chili, but who cares.
Before we knew it, it was already late afternoon. Kim had a few more places for us to see, though.
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Up next… The last night of the world, I mean, Saigon, er…

Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 3)

Night 2 – Oct. 5

“We’re going over there later,” Kim said as she pointed at a port while we were at the Saigon Sky Deck. Our father’s ship was docked there near a canal, she said, and we would go meet him during his break time at her shop, which stood nearby. She also promised to cook dinner for all of us. (Mmm, home-cooked meals.)
It was rainy on the way to the Port of Ho Chi Minh City, which was at the outskirts of HCMC. It’s a good thing traffic isn’t as fast as what we usually have back in Metro Manila, except when there’s a traffic jam.

Along the way, I noticed that motorcycles are indeed a popular form of transportation here, and a large portion of the population use one to go anywhere.

Because of the large volume of motorcycles, the roads in HCMC have motorcycle-only and non-exclusive motorcycle lanes. Motorists only run at about 60 kph, if I remember correctly. It felt like I was in Metro Manila, except there it’s easy to mow motorcycles down even in motorcycle lanes.

By the time we got ourselves in a rather flooded part of HCMC, I thought yup, it really felt like I was in Metro Manila.

 

Kim is a businesswoman, our dad said, who sold merchandise such as electronics, food, perfumes, cigarettes, and clothes. He said a lot of Filipino seamen would hang out at Kim’s shop during their break. It was a simple shop (for a moment, we thought she had a large stall in a shopping center) but looks quite profitable.
We also learned that she already has twins (two daughters), though she is still single, or something like that. For some reason, I never bothered to ask so much. In any case, she’s living with her family and relatives who help her manage the shop.

The rain had stopped by the time our father arrived at Kim’s shop. It was nice to see our dad doing well after such a long time.

After Mom died, he tried to keep himself busy with work and a lot of matters. It was a hard time of mourning for us. Anyway, he left last May due to an assignment, and now he has been working on a cargo ship that goes around parts of Southeast Asia.

After a few hours of catching up, talking, and singing at Kim’s karaoke machine, it was time for dinner.

First up was a plate of stir-fried noodles with mixed vegetables and seafood. They were lightly oiled and seasoned, but very flavorful. Heavy stuff on the belly, actually.

Next came the steamed meaty crabs and some rice, followed by several plates of steamed prawns…

Wait, I’ve never seen shrimps or prawns this big. They tasted quite juicy and fresh, and I could feel some sort of a crunch in my mouth as I bit through the thick flesh. It’s so hard to describe this great-tasting prawn-shrimp creature. The salt-chili dip thing that came with it also made it more delicious.

Finally came a big deep-fried grouper with a chili-vinegar dip, and some dried, shredded squid. We were already full at this point, but they were so good, somehow we regained the urge to eat.

By now, we’ve eaten kilos of shrimps and clams, spoonfuls of crab meat and fat, gram after gram of freshly cooked fish, rice, vegetables, and spices. We’ve eaten so much, our host must really mean to show us how hospitable the Vietnamese are, how rich and healthy their cuisine is, and why their seafood – a major part of their cuisine – makes Vietnam a great place to dine in.

The last thing I expect is seafood cholesterol overload, or gout.

We spent the rest of the night singing and drinking (okay, it was just red wine). By then, Dad’s coworkers have arrived at the shop to dine, drink beer, and hang out. Now that I think about it, there aren’t a lot of shops near the port, aside from the banh mi stalls nearby. It’s like hanging out near Manila’s Port Area. There aren’t a lot of places to buy merchandise. No wonder Kim’s shop is doing well.

By the way, I sneaked out and ate a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) at a nearby banh mi cart while everyone was busy. The banh mi reminded me of the Nom Nom Truck.
Before we left, Dad told us that he’ll be coming home by November. He said he originally wanted us to join him for a week at sea. In any case, he said he will call and check up on us throughout the rest of the time we have left in Vietnam.

How do I say this… Dad was never good at goodbyes.

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MC left the hotel about midnight to meet up with a friend. He said this guy has been based here for a few years now, and he promised to show him around some of HCMC’s night spots. Lucky him.

MC would later on tell me how different going out in Vietnam at night is. A beer, he said, would cost 100,000 dong, and the cocktails cost more. People dressed up formally, like they’re going to a high-class party. Mostly yuppies and foreigners hang out in the bars. If it’s any consolation, K-Pop is popular in their dance floors.
While MC had a taste of Vietnam’s night life, I was left all alone in the hotel.

After several minutes of watching Vietnamese-dubbed anime (which I don’t obviously understand), I went out of the hotel, walked around the vicinity, bought a few beers and cigarettes, and resumed reading “A Cook’s Tour” in the room. I was just about to fall asleep when MC returned.

I wish I could have a chance to explore on my own in the morning, I thought.
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By the way, I found out the name of that anime I saw.  It was a Chinese cartoon called “Princess Cassee” or “Ori Princess.”

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Up next… A taste of Ho Chi Minh City’s classy lifestyle, and then some.

 

Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 2)

Day 1 – Oct. 5

I woke up at nine in the morning, GMT +7, feeling cold but surprisingly well-rested. Thankfully, the seafood meal last night did not make my foot ache.

MC had woken up earlier, and he was talking to my sister Tuesday, who was checking up on us to see how our vacation is going, on the phone.

From our room, I could see the Bitexco Financial Tower, and the Duxton Hotel Saigon’s swimming pool. It’s going to be a good day, I thought.

It felt strange to wake up in a strange room, on a strange bed, looking at an unfamiliar ceiling in an unfamiliar land. Not that I’m complaining.

We had breakfast at The Grill, Duxton’s restaurant. They serve a continental buffet, typical fare if you would describe it as such, except they had something I want: pho.

This bowl of pho was as simple as it gets: clear broth, rice noodles, chicken bits and leek, and a small amount of herbs for flavoring. It was served really hot and fresh out of the pot, a true soup lover’s dream.

MC, on the other hand, took note of the chef who worked the pho, waffle, and omelette stations by herself. Leave it to a hotelier to recognize a great worker.
We were supposed to eat light, knowing there’s a lot to do and see throughout the day, but after seeing the dimsum, meats, porridge, pastries, and whatnot at the breakfast buffet area, well… Let’s just say we overate.

It was a bright day when we went out of Duxton for a walk. It’s Friday, but from here, the city is quiet, except for the soft drum of traffic. What a peaceful morning.

There were coffee shops and pho stalls around the vicinity, some of them already filled with tourists, as well as, well, a lot of motorcycles parked everywhere.

Motorcycles are a main mode of transportation here, though I hear one costs just as much as a car in the Philippines. For a moment, I suddenly missed my motorcycle.

Iced coffee seems to be a favorite among locals, I also noticed. There are a few sidewalk stalls selling these drinks. It reminded me of the ambulant coffee vendors in the streets of Manila.

Kim fetched us at about noontime for our tour around Ho Chi Minh City. Our first stop was Ben Thanh Market, the most popular shopping complex in the city. The market felt close to home. I felt like I walked into a large ukay-ukay complex somewhere in Ortigas, except that everything’s written in Vietnamese.

Bags, dolls, and jewelry are sold in every stall. There are so many clothes and shoes to choose from. The toys and accessories were expensive, but of good quality. They also sold lacquered plates and decors, stuff I’ve never seen in large numbers at home.

MC bought a Matroshka doll to take home, while I… Well, I wanted to buy a wooden cane, but it looked expensive and awkward to carry around, much as I need it.

If there’s one thing I liked about Ben Thanh Market, it’s the food section. I now believe pho is to Vietnam what lugaw is to the Philippines – it’s sold everywhere. A lot of street delicacies are here, like spring rolls and noodles. I even saw what looks like the ingredients of halo-halo in one stall (I think it’s called “che bam au”.)

On another area, vendors sold different blends of coffee and tea leaves. Biscuits and candies are also everywhere. There’s a wet market on one corner, and stalls that sell pastries too.

I wanted to go around the food section, but I couldn’t. It’s impossible to leave my companions behind. For a while, I felt sorry for myself, not only because I couldn’t go around on my own as I wish, but because I can’t do as Anthony Bourdain did when he ventured into a market like this – eat everything in sight. I don’t have money anyway.

Our next stop was the Saigon Sky Deck. The Sky Deck is located at the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in HCMC, and one of the “Top 20 Iconic Buildings of the World,” according to CNNGO.

Visitors are greeted to a majestic, 360-degree view of HCMC from every corner of the floor. Telescopes are available at every corner for those who want to see parts of the city up close. One can learn about the city’s history, and seek out its monuments and tourism spots.
From where we were, though, I could see thick clouds and rainshowers. Whoops.
On one part of Bitexco, there is a passage that says, “The sky is the limit, the only barriers are in your mind, dream the impossible and make it a reality, you are capable of anything.” I guess this much embodies what the Vietnamese think when they see the building, and the city from the Sky Deck. It’s kinda inspiring.

We had lunch at Restaurant 13, a small restaurant several blocks near Duxton. By then, it had started to rain hard. We still had a long way to go.

First on the table were “tom hap nuoc dua,” prawns steamed in young coconut to give it a tender texture and a sweet aftertaste.

Next were “goi cuon” or summer rolls, shrimp rolls with pork and vegetable bits, wrapped in lettuce and what looked like crunchy rice paper. These were served with a tangy peanut sauce.

Also on the table was a bowl of soup with calabash (that’s “upo” for you), shrimp and vegetable salad, beef with watercress, and “ca loc kho tieu,” sweet-and-spicy fried fish in a clay pot. Again, the assorted dips make an appearance.

After lunch, we made a quick stop at another shopping center before going back to our hotel to freshen up. In a few hours, we’re going to see our father.
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Up next… A reunion over platefuls of seafood.

Episode 39: Two Days and Three Nights in Vietnam (Part 1)

Night 1 – Oct. 4

MC and I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City just before midnight, Vietnam time. (It’s one hour behind Manila time, GMT +8.) The trip took us about three hours, though we actually arrived quite early, notwithstanding the weather.
Kim, our host and a close acquaintance of our father, met us at the arrival area, along with her brother. She’s just as old as me, and owns a store outside the port area where our dad’s ship is docked. She helped arrange our accommodations and our itinerary for the next few days.

After several minutes of going around the city, we ended up at Dinky, one of the remaining open seafood restaurants in the city. It was late, after all. I was expecting a light meal of pho or banh mi, but I realized we were in for a real treat.

For dinner, we first had flower crabs, lightly fried and served with sautéed onions and fresh herbs. These were thinner and lighter than the usual crab, but they were bursting with fat and meat, and they were fresh, sweet, and just as tasty.

These were followed by a plate of roasted rice snails. The snails were tough and chewy and they tasted like a mix of freshwater fish and bland meat. They were easy to eat, though. How compelling.

Next was a big plate of shrimps, along with several bowls of thick soup with crab meat and seaweed. I rarely eat shrimp since they’re expensive, but it was quite surprising to find out that seafood is quite cheap in Vietnam.

What piqued my interest was the assortment of dips served along every dish. There’s vinegar and soy sauce mixed with herbs and spices like lemongrass. One of them was a mix of salt, lemon juice, and chili. The spicy-salty-sour mix was perfect.

“What would you like to drink?” Kim asked.Being the low-self-esteemed guy that I am, I ordered the cheapest drink in the menu – the one worth 15,000 dong.
“I’ll try ba-ba-ba.”

 

I didn’t expect Kim to look delighted that I know 333 Beer. “Ba-ba-ba is popular,” she said. It seems 333 is to Vietnam what San Miguel Beer is to the Philippines. SMB has a heavy aftertaste that suits the Filipino’s taste buds. 333 Beer tastes lighter but just as crisp and refreshing.

The Vietnamese love their seafood, I thought as I looked around. I was not able to read the whole menu, but I could see the place served a huge variety of fish, crabs, and other seafood. They also serve a lot of vegetable and noodle dishes, and the locals eat more of these than meat or rice. This could be why they look lean and energetic. Just what you can expect from a country rich in agriculture.

We were set to stay at the Duxton Hotel Saigon at District 1, Ho Chi Minh’s central urban district. MC said it was one of the best hotels in the city. From there, we would meet up with Kim and go sight-seeing in the next few days.

It was about three in the morning when we arrived to our rooms at Duxton. We were full, a bit buzzed but quite satisfied with our midnight feast. We only have a few hours to rest, but it didn’t matter. We’re going around the city in a while.

Wait, what was I supposed to avoid again when I have gout?
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Up next… A quick tour around Ho Chi Minh City.