Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Travel Tales

Back to the root.
This is the first of my entries for my one month in Vietnam. It will be an exciting month, I have been asked to return to my roots by Maison Chance, a wonderful Vietnamese charity that is home to numerous needy children as well as other disadvantaged people. It is described as a “springboard for the orphans, street children, disadvantaged people and physically handicapped in Vietnam.” 
My role will be in helping to make the kitchen functional and the restaurant profitable. I’m anticipating some hard and rewarding work ahead!


Saturday 19th March 2011 – Arriving
I am now in transit at Changi Airport in Singapore, after two hours waiting in Brisbane and six hours flying. I am on my way back to Ho Chi Minh City for a kitchen project for Maison Chance. 

The plane had quite a number of empty seats, probably a result of the many recent earth crises. People get a bit weary in being away from home in uncertain times, I guess.
Another 3 hours waiting, and I finally arrive in HCM City by 7pm.
Kim and David, both volunteers from Switzerland picked me up and we went to Village Chance via Maison Chance where Tim introduced me to her “children”, quite a few, most of them in wheel-chairs, I felt awkward and clumsy in responding, I offered them the gifts I brought from Australia.

Kim took me to the Village where my room is. The village accommodation and facilities are impressive, and the main gate is the most impressive.  The architecture reflects the Asian traditional style with curved tiled roofs. The main colours are in various shades of blue and cream.  Four multi storeys building blocks surrounding a tiled courtyard bordered by narrow garden beds.
Block A is for restaurant purpose (where I will spend most of my time I guess!)
Block B is for classrooms
Block C, D and E are for residents. Some has for singles some for family. The heated therapeutic pool is safely fenced .

My accommodation for my time here is Room D13, on the 1st floor of Block D. It is a large room with a desk, a single bed and a small wooden wardrobe and it is air conditioned as well as having a ceiling fan- and it’s a good thing too because it is very hot here at the moment. It is a good room for one person.

After unpacking and settling in, Tim, Kim and I went out for dinner at Quy Phuong restaurant whose owner is the local chief of police. As soon as they saw that Tim & Kim came in, the owner brought out a whole case of beer and set it next to our table and by the time we settled the bill over half of the bottles was empty.
The restaurant menu is huge and includes many exotic dishes like snake, & crocodile, goat, deer etc. However, we only ordered a few tamed and familiar dishes such as: Lotus root salad, crispy fried squid, Sichuan style tofu (Mapo tofu), Fried tofu with lemon grass and seafood fried noodle.

Here is my verdict : the food was not well prepared and cooked, the lotus roots were pretty old and tough, the tofu and lemon grass should be called lemon grass with tofu, since the tofu were buried under a mountain of lemongrass, the mapo tofu resembled the aftermath of a tsunami. Crispy fried squid was wilted and chewy. I did not eat the fried noodle so I can’t comment. Even though the food was unimpressive, it was a lovely first evening here.

 I got back to my room at 4am Brisbane time, (1am Saigon time). I had shower and read a bit then light off and woke up at dawn. I am enjoying Tim Winton’s  Cloud Street. He writes so beautifully and I admire his local expressions.

Sunday Morning – introduction to the kitchen
The room was heated up immediately as the sun moved higher above the horizon. The sound of the hose watering the courtyard brought my hot self some comfort. I went out to have a closer look at Block A that is reserved for “business” purposes.
The floor areas must be 20mx16m for each floor. There is a dumb waiter for the 3 floors.
The kitchen is far too small to service all the floors. 
It would be more logical to plan as follow:
Ground floor:   
Kitchen 1
Service area 1:

First floor:
Kitchen 2
Service area:
1.     Cafeteria to serve lunch for 120 school kids
2.     Seafood, salad & vegetarian buffet 

Second Floor
-       A la carte restaurant 60-70 seats
     Wine bar
-       Gallery shop: to sell products from the Centre.
 This restaurant aims for up market, trendy clientele who appreciate good food with a cultural background. The menu should include the best classic dishes from Vietnam as well as other countries, France, Italy, China, Japan, India and Middle East. (the classic taste of the world from Village Chance)

These are my suggested marketing strategies for Mason Chance to make their restaurant profitable:

Marketing strategies:
Due to the out of the way location, to attract clientele the Village restaurant has to be based on the following:

-       A true DESTINATION restaurant: clients come to the Village for food which they can’t get anywhere else
-       Cooperation with the tourist industry both in Vietnam and overseas (via inflight airline magazines & tourist guide as the must to experience.
-       Cooperation with KOTO, a vocational Training Center empowering street and disadvantaged youth www.koto.com.au : the restaurant will provide suitable employment for Koto graduates
-       Avoid unnecessary competition from the local.
-       Attract support from the large corporations where their visitors can feel safe eating clean food in a comfortable and interesting ambiance and at the same time feel good for helping the less advantages.
-       Introduction of arts and crafts from the Training Centre

At about 10 am Kim took me out for breakfast at Café Extra where they serve steak and egg on hot plate known as “Bo Ne”. I had iced Vietnamese coffee and a fresh passion fruit drink. 
Afterwards I caught up with my sleep amidst the laughter and shouting of children swimming and playing down in the pool.

When I woke up it was already dark Tim came to pick me up for dinner at another special restaurant “Linh Hoi” (Balded Linh) for special goat dishes with beer. Tim surprised me by her adventurous taste, she ordered her special dish of “Vu de Nuong”  (Grilled Goats’ nipples!) with fermented tofu sauce and grilled goat spare ribs. Tim reckons the goat nipples remind her of French “foie gras”. In fact, the owner ‘s wife told us they are really pig’s nipples. These dishes are typical drinking food. They need a strong alcoholic drink to wash them down. So, you can’t blame us for hanging around drinking and talking past midnight.  

Monday – markets and cooking
I went to the market this morning on my borrowed bicycle for ingredients to cook dinner at Tim’s house tonight.  The traffic was quite thick by 7.30am, but I managed to get to the market without falling off my bicycle and get enough ingredients to make prawn and pork rolls, snake bean stir fry with pork mince and prawn paste, tofu & tomato soup, green papaya salad.  Though, I did have a bit of trouble on the way back and with the handle full of heavy ingredients.

After I came back from the market Kim took me to breakfast of “Banh Cuon Nong” (Vietnamese styled steamed crepe” with meat filling. Then we went to visit the Training Center "Trung Tam Chap Canh"and to see how the Centre operates.
Besides the painting room, the woodworking room, the IT room,  the sewing room, there are a number of classrooms for primary school children, a health centre, an administration office, a library where volunteers work and a small conference room. The kitchen at the Training Centre (Trung Tam Chap Canh) provides about 150-200 meals every day for the students and the trainees. The lunch was served in a tray with a main dish, soup, rice and a piece of fruit. I admire the work of a few kitchen staff and volunteers who produce this enormous amount of food for the students and the trainees in such a basic kitchen. And for the 45 minutes lunch it is an absolute feeding frenzy. 

In the afternoon, I got a lift with David to the City to visit my cousin. I felt much better fulfilling my filial duty.
After 45 minutes on the back of the motorbike in the crazy traffic, I was glad to be in Tim's kitchen. Some of her children helped me with the preparation for dinner. They are surprisingly skilful in the kitchen considering they are mostly adolescent boys! 
When Tim came home from work, the whole family of 12 sat down happily enjoying a home cooked meal, I felt just like when I was with my own family 50 years ago. 


We were working on the kitchen design at the Training Centre today, and someone was coming to pick me up. However...
Waiting to be picked up was like waiting for God. At Maison Chance there are two kinds of time: the precise Swiss time and the rubber Vietnamese time. So depending on who gives the lift.
I decided the best policy is to be independent, so I rode the bicycle with my computer on my back. It was a bit heavy but it is bearable and I finally got the road right.
 Kim was waiting on the road to make sure I got there and we could have breakfast. 
 So we started the day with “Bun Cha gio thit nuong” (rice vermicelli with chopped up spring roll and grilled pork) with chopped up oak lettuce and mainly fish mint and “nuoc cham”. It was simply a bowl of cheap street food, which provides enough nutrition. We sat under a beautiful shade of "cay trung ca"
(fish roe tree)

We spent the rest of the day in the office working out the list for Block A Project.
I took the opportunity to check mail but no Facebook is allowed in VN. It could be done via some software program but it could ruin other programs. So I decided not to risk it with my limited skill in computer. I also managed to finished my post and sent to Emmie.
Tim turned up with news from Koto: Ruth Byham, the kitchen supervisor and teacher will contact me and she did. We made arrangement to meet tomorrow and I would sit in for 1 hour at her class. She expect me to run one class, may be. But Tim was not happy with the arrangement she thought there is a miscommunication among them.  We will have it rectified at the meeting tomorrow.
After work, Cuong, Tim, Kim and I went to Pho Phu for dinner. According to Cuong it is the most traditional pho in this area and also there are stewed beef and steak and egg on the menu as well.
It is a typical pho shop with a few tables behind the “kitchen counter” where we could see the food being prepared.
Kim and I ordered pho tai, Tim and Cuong ordered steak and eggs with bread rolls.
The pho soup was tasty with clear stock sprinkled with just green shallot. There were more variety of herbs to add to pho including eringo, cinnamon basil, peppermint, and Vietnamese celery. But the strong flavour of the Vietnamese celery change the taste of pho stock completely, a pity. The steak and egg with salami and pate was served on a hot plate, Cuong and Tim enjoyed it thoroughly.  
David joined us later so we order, poached eggs in pho stock and stewed beef with more bread rolls. The Vietnamese food repertoire is richer everyday.
The stewed beef is a bit watery and lacks of red wine in  the sauce.

Kim and I walked back to Maison Chance so Kim could look at the shops to furbish his new apartment at the Village. But we did not find anything suitable.
After dinner, I was invited to a drinking and singing party held in one of the apartment at the Village. Two guitar players accompanying a singer, whose voice is amazingly expressive. By 10.30, a high-rise building constructed solely by empty beer cans stood out among the food debris. It was about time for me to leave. We have to go to Koto in the morning and apparently it is at the opposite end of where we live, and  we have to be on time to get a lift with the Centre car which will take David to town for musical instruments.

We must have met a black dog this morning when we left home, according to some superstition it is not a very lucky sign. First, on the way to the Training Center, we came by Pho Phu for breakfast after dropping the oily jar of chili oil, I spilled tea all over my clothing, then the van broke down. We ended up getting a taxi, which will cost us a fortune. Quan Binh Tan, where we are and District 7 where Koto is seemed like one end of the world to another. From the crowded narrow traffic choked roads we passed through a lesser crowded district 4 then to the cleaned tree lined boulevard of district 7 where new block of high rise apartments occupied mostly by foreigners with French and English named shops of every description. It was like entering another country.
Koto stands out at the end of the district in a more Vietnamese looking area. An imposing 4 storey building in cream colour, behind the reception area is the teaching bar and restaurant, one wall is a glass case shelved small glass jars containing trainees’ dreams to be reopened at graduation, there are some broken dreams in unopened jars.  Ruth Byham, the teaching chef took us to the kitchen, it is an amazing training kitchen for  about 14 apprentices,  each has their own cooking station. The kitchen is equipped to the current international standard in gleaming stainless steel. It provides for both European and Asian cuisine, even a combi oven. It is a bit daunting thinking about the small low ceiling space reserved for kitchen in Block A at Village Chance.
This morning Ruth Byham taught the students all about potato, when we came in most of the students had finished reproducing the lesson and waiting to be checked.
We met the two students sent there from Maison Chance. Apparently one of them is a first class student but his health is not the best, as soon as his broken leg is healed he had appendicitis. He was indeed very attentive.
The students presented plates looked very modern.
When the class finished, the deputy director came to the kitchen to chat to us and suggested that I run a class in Vietnamese cooking.
We toured the whole centre visiting their offices, classrooms, supplement kitchen, where they were serving out lunch for staff on stainless steel trays.
They teach hospitality theory, life style management and first aid as well as offering accommodation to a large numbers of street kids. The director David Loader join us at the discussion on the possibilities of cooperation between the two organizations.

By now we were both hungry, Kim fancied some vegetarian food, so the taxi driver suggested that we went back via Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street for it. 
It was a very simple and popular place. We ordered “canh chua” (Sour soup), “dau hu kho”  (braised tofu), “nam rom xao” (stir -fry straw mushroom), “ chao hap” (Steamed fermented tofu), “muc kho” (squid flavoured gluten loaf) mustard green pickle and rice.  The food was tasty, Kim loved the mushroom , I like the sour soup.

Kim was looking for rolling paper, the driver thought he knew where we could find it, but after driving round and round unsuccessfully we gave up. Not many Vietnamese shop keepers wished to know us, they either ignored our question or they shooed us out of their shops. Rolling paper is associated purely with weed smoking. Finally we got some in Cho Lon for Kim, who does not like smoking tailor made, its paper smells of chemicals, he said.
I was exhausted when we got home. I had shower and went to bed, listening to the heavy rain pelting down.
This morning we have meeting with Mr Duy, the director of a commercial kitchen manufacturer and Mrs Trang, the interior designer of Village Chance over the kichen for Block A.
Structurally it may be difficult but Tim is always optimistic.
We think we need a dishwashing machine, Tim still think hand washing is OK. She lives in Vietnamese standard for 20 years. 
However Kim worried about the hygiene side of the kitchen.
Mrs Trang discussed with Tim over a few problems associated with the building, water leaks, shower- heads etc.
After the meeting,Mrs Trang invited us out for special lunch “Dac San” (special dishes) at Dong Xanh Restautant,. On the menu, there are wild boar, farmed lang fish, goat, deer, ostrich.  Mrs Trang ordered for us. And we had whole prawns baked in salt, Dong Xanh spring rolls in triangular shapes, fish in clay pot and sour fish soup. The owner asked for our comments on her food Tim said the salt used for the prawn smelt like soap and the vegetables has dirt on it. Mrs Trang took me back to the Village.

I wrote up the notes, read Cloud Street, slept a little and getting ready to go to town for a function at the Rex Hotel.
My cousin Tu from Hanoi is the general secretary of the Phan Chu Trinh Cultural Funds. They are giving out the prizes to outstanding, writers, translators, historians and philosophers, including two foreigners.
The speeches went on and on. The first speaker was very interesting talking about the education and writing in modern Vietnam. The Czech historian spoke in Vietnamese quite well. He studied Vietnamese for the last 50 years and studied Vietnamese history and literature and was very well respected by the Vietnamese community settled in Czechoslovakia. Kevin Bowen is an ex American soldier fighting in Vietnam and now a poet and professor in literature. He entertained many visiting Vietnamese poets and writer in his home including Do Luu and Pham Tien Duat, a well known poet during the war who died a few years ago. After the speeches we hang around for a few drinks and finger food, which did not appeal to me, the food were mostly frozen deep fried food. The French wines were from the cask.
We chat with a retired film- maker who told us about another charitable organization for blind children run by an ex street kid. Later I mentioned it to Tim, she was not very impressed with this organization. I don’t know this personally so I cannot judge.

An early meeting with Mr Quang, from Quang Minh another kitchen design company this morning. The marketing manager is Miss Ngoc, a 30years old who can speak English. She looked as if she knows what she is doing. They confirmed there will be a few structural problems.
Later in the morning Ruth Byham, Hung and Jemma from Koto came to look at the Village complex. They were very impressed with the organization of the resident accommodation but they were a bit doubtful about the restaurant business, especially Ruth, it is in the wrong spot for what we want to achieve.
Tim was not well for the last few days, she could not attend these meeting today.
At 6 oclock she asked me to take photos of the 1st Residents meeting of Village Chance. The meeting was at 6pm but it did not start until 6.45 when some of the residents turned up. Cuong, Tung, Chi and Tuong Dung chaired the meeting. Cuong read out the Village rules and regulations. There were hot discussion re noise and cleanliness, swimming pool safety etc… I sent the photos to Tim, she was disappointed about the number attending.

Friday a week later
Another week went by and my head is clouded with so many conflicting thoughts.
Last Saturday morning I went shopping with Loan and Yen, the kitchen staff at the Training Centre, I bought ingredients for laksa to cook at Lien’s. She was the former kitchen head  who is too sick to continue working in the heat. She just came home after spending 10 days at the hospital due to one of her lungs collapsed.
After coming back from the market I helped in the kitchen until 11am. They used a lot of MSG and Knorr powder to cook so I could not eat their food. If I do my high blood pressure would shot up sky high.

No candle nuts to be found anywhere in the local market so I risked using peanuts for the laksa paste instead. Lien & her mother helped me making the paste. It was a lot of hard work pounding all the ingredients in a small wooden mortar & pestle. The result was not the best of my laksa, but the residents enjoyed it because it is something new for them.
Later on, Tim turned up at the Village and we went to join the drinking party to welcome a new volunteer from France and a couple of travellers coming from Australia at “Tuan Map”. It is one of the large "drinking food" restaurant, where I saw so much cruelty to animals, live rabbit, turtles, frogs, eels, fishes all waiting for order to be killed. Later that night we witnessed the execution of a poor turtle, whose blood was collected to be mixed with rice wine and passed around the table. I decided to be a vegetarian there and then.

On Sunday I took a “xe om” (motobike taxi) to my cousin Nhan at 10am for lunch. A few of my cousins visiting from Hanoi as well as most my relatives living in HCM City, 18 of us altogether. The atmosphere reminded me of anniversary day a long time ago, all the women in the kitchen preparing “bun thang” (rice vermicelli soup with 4 different toppings) “nom sua” (jelly fish salad with green mango) and “ca keo ran ron” (crispy small sword fish with tamarind dipping sauce). We polished up two bottled of Chivas Regal, I did not feel good on the way home lucky Nguyen & Hung drove me home in their comfortable car.

 I could not join in another drinking party later that night, it also rained heavily.
I definely did not feel very well after a few nights drinking alcohol so I stayed in reading Tim Winton.
On Tuesday Kim and I went shopping at Metro Cash and Carry in District 6, I bought a “Magic Bullet” (Food processor) for Lien, she need more easily digestible nutrition to build up her strength and her cheap machine broke down. Kim bought enough things for his kitchen and two fish heads for soup. That nigh, David the music teacher took the band for a gig at the Hyatt Hotel. They were given D5 millions tip, the band donated 4M to Maison Chance and used 1M to buy food and beer for the band, we joined in with our fish head soup. We were all very happy with our achievement of the day!.
I spent Wednesday and Thursday teaching at KOTO. I enjoyed teaching "cha ca La Vong" to both classes. The students were enthusiastic and fascinated with the stories on Vietnamese food and Ruth was happy with the result; she promised to help looking for volunteers for the future Village Chance Restaurant.

On the way back from Koto we dropped by Cho Lon to get roasted duck for Song and roasted pork for our dinner. We can cook in Kim's kitchen now.
Today, my adopted brother came to take me out for breakfast in the City. It is a very posh place which again gave me the feeling of being in another country. I had Bun Moc carrot juice and proper coffee. We talked about many things I had not seen him for almost 50 years. He is a shrewd businessman. I told him about Village Chance Project, and he felt the location is not really suitable for our objectives. He reminded me of my brother old house in Quan 1 and if we can persuade my brother to donate the house to Maison Chance for the restaurant project would be more suitable. This was reconfirmed by all my old GP staff later on when we met for lunch that day, as well as my 
nephew who is the regional manager for Carlsberg beer. I felt depressed!

I took a taxi back from Dong khoi Street after meeting my nephew and his girlfriend for coffee in Mojo.

Later on after dinner at Kim’s, my brother came to meet Tim. We talked over this pessimistic thoughts about the project with Tim, but she disagreed about having a restaurant in Quan 1 because it is not really related to the whole complex in Binh Tan, and she is certain that with proper advertisements with airlines and tourist companies as well as international tourist guides, guests could come directly from Tan Son Nhat Airport, they can stay at the Village guest rooms, having dinner at the restaurant and refreshing in the swimming pool. She convinced my brother Viet with her logic. So we are going on with the plan.  She asked me to draft the flyer to look for volunteers. Barbara reedited the following flyer:

Đường 18B, Khu Ph 22
Phường Bình Hung Hoà A, Qun Bình Tân
Thành Ph H Chí Minh , Vit-Nam
Tel. + 84 8 6265 9566

Block A – Village Chance

Maison Chance is calling for volunteer help from experienced chefs, Maitre D’s and other workers in the hospitality industry to pass on their valuable knowledge and expertise to young disadvantaged persons, giving them an opportunity for a brighter future.

Working as a volunteer is a great opportunity to live in another interesting culture and also to contribute to the future of the next generation of Vietnamese who are still recovering from the devastating chemical war of the last century.

Lien Yeomans, ex chef owner and founder of the first Green Papaya Restaurant in Brisbane, Australia, is our fist volunteer.  Lien Yeomans will design the menu and train staff for the new Bistro, Café, Wine Bar and Restaurant.

Later on, the bars and restaurant will provide suitable employment for graduates from KOTO, a non-profit social enterprise to help the street kids of Vietnam. At the moment, three young persons from Maison Chance are studying hospitality industry with KOTO (Know One Teach One), and when they graduate they will be the key people looking after this new exciting venture.

But, their future career depends a great deal on working with experienced professional hospitality practitioners.

Our goal is to offer clean and healthy Vietnamese and international food of excellent quality.

Share your knowledge of food, hospitality and fine dining.  Join the newest of Maison Chance’s initiatives at Trung Bistro Bar, Tim’s Canteen & Buffet, Blue Lotus Restaurant and Wine Bar.

Please help us.

Thuong and Hau, Tim's two children who study at Koto turned up this morning, they came to talk to me briefly over the planning of the kitchens. Then we arranged to go shopping for ingredients to cook dinner for 50 people at Maison Chance. After a few changes in planning, due to the transport problems. Thuong, Hau and I went to Max Supermart on motor bikes. The seafood there is very limited and even the vegetables looked wilted and tired. We grabbed a few dry ingredients and rode back to Maison Chance and walked to the market. We prepared stuffed squids, spicy beef and vegetarian stir fry. Thuong practiced his newly acquired skill in making gnocci; all the resident diners enjoyed the new taste.

Today Yen took me to Hue Nghiem Pagoda opposite the Western Provinces Bus Terminal.  My mother’s ash is kept in a ceramic urn on the third floor of the pagoda’s “Ash Tower”. Before leaving for Canada, my uncle constructed the small wooden box with slide glass door holding some of the members of the Trinh family, my mother was with her father and some of his brothers.
I had to borrow a step stool to climb up to see her. There is a sadness in her face in her photo printed on the urn, I burned some incense and prayed for her, I told her about the meeting of all her children in the US and my visit to see my father and my little sister at the lawn cemetery Rose Hill. I remembered how she longed to visit my brother in France and to travel the world but her life was cut short. Tears oozed out of my eyes…
We left the sad place and rode a long way to Ben Thanh Market. On the way we dropped by our old house in Ho Hao Hon Street, which is now a Coffee shop called Tuong Vi, but the green steel gate is shut and no sign of anybody. I rang next door but our old neighbour had moved away, the other neighbour now is occupied by a Vietnam Airline branch.
Ben Thanh market was full of Westerners, the Vietnamese shopkeepers prefer them to the poorer Vietnamese. We struggled to get pass the crowd to get to the inner sanctum of the “food court”, here we were grabbed by various restaurant owners to try their food. We decided on “Banh Xeo” (crispy pancake wrapped in lettuce and herbs dipped in “nuoc cham” (dipping sauce). I ordered freshly squeezed orange juice. The pan cake is tasty but my tongue was numbed by the loaded MSG in the dipping sauce.

There is a large number of Muslim tourists in Vietnam, which is a complete surprise for me and they seem to be buying huge quantity of fabrics, so at the traditional "ao dai" makers have models dressed in Muslim costume on display all around Ben Thanh Market.

When we returned to the Village, I watched Lien making “Banh Tai Vac”, a small boiled dumpling with prawn & pork filling and wrapped in arrowroot flour pastry. The sauce is made by reducing a mixture of water fish sauce and sugar. Fresh cut chili is added when served.

We tasted them at dinner time and they were delicious. 
When Kim came back from work we went to the local market where I bought prawns, egg plants and tomatoes. We invited Suzana, a Spanish physiotherapist volunteer  for dinner. She gave me a massage earlier on in the afternoon.
Suzana helped preparing the ingredients for braised prawns in the shell, egg plant with tomatoes , we also invited Thuong, his girl friend Kieu Anh and Hue came in for a little taste. Life in the village reflects a true community.

Another week.

Monday  4th April
Today I dressed up to ride to the centre, but when I took the bicycle out, the chain was broken and the tires were flat. I walked it to the main road to get it repaired. My job today is to help in the kitchen, to observe the new head cook and also attending the kitchen staff meeting in the afternoon. My initial reaction was not positive. Instead of paying attention in the cooking, she sat and chatted with Sau, another cook, picking over the  vegetables, I asked her to pay attention to how the kitchen operate in general and pay more attention to the process of getting the lunch ready for the school children and the trainees by 10.30. She seemed to be a bit uncertain about cooking for a large numbers.
Yen, the stand-in head cook, informed me that from tomorrow she stop her cooking duty. Both she and Loan, the other cook, are very small, Loan already hurt her back, she can’t carry heavy things; and yet they tried to move a giant wok full of tomato sauce and tofu from one stove to the next in full flame. They struggled to keep the balance, so I turned off the gas, thinking about accident at work and safety law. I brought this up later at the meeting. And suggested they should at least employ one stronger, healthy person to help with heavy duties in the kitchen. The woks they use for cooking measuring at least a meter in diameter.

At the meeting the representative of the management committee brought up all the issues relating to hygiene,  menu design, stock control,  uniform, kitchen utensils. In turn the kitchen staff brought up the issue of diners’ complaints, difficulties in keeping the kitchen clean due to the undisciplined behaviour of residences not following the time set for dinners and lunch….
Near the end of the meeting, my adopted brother rang to say that he was waiting for me at the Village. I rode home and had a quick change to go out with him. Even at 4pm, the traffic was crowded already. We rode through many suburbs to Da Thanh, the fashionable area for wealthy Vietnamese to entertain and to do business. It lies along the clean section of Saigon River, on the opposite side of the river is the newly developed Thu Duc Area where only rich people can afford to buy.
Thu Duc, in my time during the 60s was considered a far away place from Saigon and the only “well known” destination there was a Military College training future “high ranking” officers.
We went to a large restaurant complex “Song Trang” (Moon River) and my brother ordered some special dishes at the moment: “ Gio heo chien ron” (Crispy deep fried pig trotter) and “lau dieu ca Dieu Hong” ( River pink fish hot pot in the Northern style with only dill and green shallot). Both looked and tasted good. The pig trotter was steamed to tender then deep fried to crisp the skin, it was served with soy sauce and chili and Vietnamese style kimchi, my brother asked for Vietnamese dipping sauce as well.
The fish was prepared in the kitchen and then cooked in the hot pot at the table, where we added dill and shallot ourselves. The stock contained “me” (fermented rice), tomato and some carambola as well. It tasted like the old “rieu ca” we had in Hanoi in my time. I enjoyed the old flavour very much.

“Ca dieu hong” (Pink River Fish) to me seems to be a cross between the golden carp and red snapper.
After dinner on the way back we stopped at Phong Tra An Nam to listened to Vietnamese music. It is like a night club with beautiful hostesses and a live band with different singers performing “nhac tien chien” (songs before the revolution)
 The entrance fee is 114,000 Dong and all the drinks ranged from 140,000 dong to 200,000 Dong, alcoholic drinks seem to be cheaper than non-alcoholic drinks!
I tried  margarita and Viet order yogurt drink. They used cheap salt and too much of it on the rim for the margarita.  The band is average but some of the singers have very good strong voice, I enjoyed listening to some of the songs I knew.

I came back late waking up the concierge to let me in.

This morning felt a bit lazy and got up late just in time to go over to the Centre to check the work of the new cook. I had a chat with all the staff, the general opinion was she was new and a bit slow in her work. I found out from her that she has no previous cooking experience for large number. Her previous job was in a wedding reception place and she set up tables and arrange flowers!!!
We had the update quote for the restaurant kitchen from the first company, which seems to be better than the 2nd company who does not seem to be very interested in the job. We decided to go with the first company and Tim is arranging a meeting with the director for the contract.
Lien's mother gave me a piece of material to make a long dress, and a staff member of the Centre offer to  take me to a dress maker to have the dress made. But I made a mistake of wearing a real Vietnamese old costume of “ao ba ba” (a long sleeve loose fitting blouse) and “quan linh den” (black satin trousers), so the first dress maker refused to receive me as soon as I appeared on the pretext  that she was busy, we went to the second one, at first she was a bit reluctant but when she discovered that I had been in Australia for 50 years and I just like to wear traditional style clothing which is more suitable for the tropical climate, she accept to make the dress in the old style for me. Later she told me at first she thought I was a country bumpkin from North Vietnam! A a a arh the deception of appearance!!!.

1 comment:

  1. Love the detail of the everyday. What an adventure.