Thursday, 3 November 2011


Wednesday 5th October 2011:
Hello Hanoi:
My twelve days in Hanoi were exciting and enjoyable . I met so many interesting people and I managed to fit in over 24 memorable meals. Imagine my poor extended stomach by the time I came back to my trainees in Ho Chi Minh City.
Certainly travelling light was an advantage, when I left Ho Chi Minh City for Hanoi, my little case and myself fit snuggly on a motorbike; breezing through the pick hour traffic was much more pleasant than sitting in a taxi watching the meter ticking and worrying about missing the flight.
The then cyclone was still hovering over the Coast of Viet Nam causing a lot of rain and flooding over some regions of the country, but the flip side was it lowered the heat considerably.
Hanoi was misty under the rain on my arrival, and it kept on raining right through the week.
My first stop in Hanoi was at 5 Xuan Dieu street, the address for the well known Saint Honore Boulanger, Bistro and Coffee Bar. Once inside the front door, I thought I was back in Jocelyn’s Provisions in James Street, Brisbane.

Saint Honore on Xuan Dieu Street
Han my trusty kitchen manager of the original Green Papaya, is now the General Manager of Saint Honore Boulangerie in Hanoi. She exudes the same charm, confidence and efficiency as ever. She is married to Michel, a French architect, they have two sons, Felix and Nadal.  Over a much missed proper flat white we reminisced the good old days of Green Papaya, she introduced the French head baker who is responsible for most of the products in the shop, as she caught him walking through to the kitchen.
Han the manager of St Honore
A much missed proper flat white                                              
Mille feuilles and mousse cakes                 
Apple tarts

Chocolates, cookies & Danish pastries

A chocolate mousse Birthday cake

Imported cold meat

Imported cheese

The shop opens at 7am for breakfast when the locals come for regular freshly baked baguettes and petit pains, croissants, chocolate pains, muffins and Danish pastries and good cups of coffee.
For lunch, the choices are bread rolls with different fillings, Salad Nicoise, Caesar Salad or Greek salad or some pastas dishes. And for dinner the chef makes French classic dishes according to his mood.
Saint Honore buzzes at weekends, but Han does not have to be there.                                              
After coffee, we walked back to Han’s place where I will be staying. It is a fabulous 4 storeys house facing the West Lake Esplanade. From my room on the fourth floor I have a full view of the lake.
Sun set over West Lake from my 4th floor terrace

In the 1950s, this area used to be the secluded meeting places for young lovers. Guava thickets provide hideouts for discreet hand holdings and stolen kisses and some parts of the lake were favorite swimming holes for nearby high school students . On the opposite side of the lake were cherry blossom orchards and peaceful temples and pagodas. Now the whole area is crowded with luxurious villas, five star hotels beer gardens, restaurants, boutiques and shops. It has even a farmers market catering for the upper classed Vietnamese and foreigners. The villas are rented mainly to the ex pats, most of them married to Vietnamese and more or less settled permanently in Hanoi. The new Inter Continental Hotel occupied a large part of the lake, guests have to be transported through its sprawling buildings by buggies.
On the walk back I could not help noticing the plastic bags, take away food containers on the side of the road and the decaying smell of dead fish bobbing against the shoreline.  This must be one of the unchangeable habits of the Vietnamese. However I stopped myself thinking about it.

Michel & Han' house

The Intercontinental Hotel

Plastic bags and dead fish                                           
The reason for my Hanoi sojourn was to attend my friend Jeremy’s wedding, so after settling in my room, I was ready to go out for lunch with his family and friends who came a week earlier for the engagement party.
I told the taxi driver that the address was in Van Cao Street but I had no idea where this new street was, because Van Cao was a well-known composer who wrote the National anthem “Tien Quan Ca” and he died in 1995, so the street must be named in his honor sometimes after his death. As he drove on,  I recognized the road from West Lake along the Dike Yen Phu which is no longer a simple green dike as I knew but lined wall to wall on both sides with multi storey houses, shops, hotels, luxury cars showrooms and the road between the Truc Bach Lake and West Lake and other roads led to Van Cao Street. In fact it is only a stone throw from where I was born.
Van Cao Street is an elegant street with palm trees in the middle strip separating imposing buildings on one side and on the other side, rows of special Southern style restaurants. And in one of these, we had our lunch.

Large public buildings
Van Cao Street                              
The land value in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is expensive, most of the buildings have very narrow frontage and the only way to enlarge the floor space is extending upward, these tall skinny buildings  are known as “Tube houses” in the South.
Our restaurant is one of these, so after entering the restaurant we climbed up 3 sets of stairscase to our dining room,  we sat on low benches around two low long tables, Japanese style minus the foot hole underneath which was a bit awkward for  the Australians tried to find room for their long legs. The food was ordered by Thu, Jeremy fiancee, because she eats at this restaurant often.
We started with a special dish from the western part of South Viet Nam known as "Banh Trang Trang Bang".

All the ingredients on the rice paper
This is simply another kind fresh rice paper roll, but the rice paper is left overnight to be soften by the dew, and the mix herbs are specially from the region of Trang Bang which include : la bang lang, non soai (mango tips), non coc, la boi loi, que vi (cinnamon basil), hung lui (mint), can nuoc (water celery), Tia to (perilla), diep ca (fish mint), he (Chinese chive),  ngo (coriander), rau ngu vi (five spices herb), dot tram, dot oi (guava tips), la nhai, la lua, dot vung, dot la xop, dot dua, dot kim cang
La mat trang…. However in Hanoi they only have the ordinary herbs, so to make up the missing flavours of the dish, they used thin slices of green banana, five star fruit, sticks of vinegared carrot, bean sprouts and slivers of ginger. The meat used for the roll is the front pork leg, steamed in coconut juice, sliced into very thin rounds.
The sauce is made with shrimp paste. In the South the sauce is the clear dipping sauce.
When I first tasted this roll in Ho chi Minh City, I immediately labeled it the roll of life experiences: the Trang Bang herbs provide the complete range of life tastes: bitterness, sweetness, sourness, spiciness, and a complex rich aroma when they are together in a roll.
The complete roll                                                             
The next dish served was interesting, it was a mixture of silken tofu and egg rolled in flour and bread- crumb and deep -fried. The texture is very similar to egg custard, the taste is both sweet and rich.

Crispy Fried tofu roll

The food seemed to be endless:
Grilled pork ribs

Crispy Fresh water crab

Pumpkin tips stir fry

Pumpkin tip stir-fry is another popular dishes. It is on the menu of almost every eatery throughout the country.
When the last dish of hot pot of baby cat fish with tofu and egg plant was brought out, we were so full that it was left untouched. I am always have a suspicion of Vietnamese cat fish. When I was a child I was told that the cat fish like feeding on other dead animals, so I never want to eat it. But they assured me that these cat fishes nowadays are farmed.  This dish traditionally is cooked with snail and known as “Oc gia ba ba” (snails pretented to be turtle) and it has a combination flavor of galangal, turmeric, fermented rice and shrimp paste, the tofu and the eggplant absorbed all the liquid and the sauce is thickened by the fermented rice. However, the new style is cooked and presented as a “hot pot”,
In fact I am a bit tired of hot pots (lau). It seems to be the “in thing” at the moment, its present is at every wedding feast, every dinner party. Every where there is a lau shop, it could be “ lau de” (goat hot pot) “lau bo” (beef hot pot) “ lau hai san” (sea food hot pot) “lau thap cam” (combination hot pot),  “lau Thai” (Thai Style hot pot), “lau nhai” (frog hot pot), “lau trau” (buffalo hot pot), “lau Mam” (pickled fish hot pot) and for the vegetarian there is “lau nam” (mushroom and tofu hot pot).
This dish is popular because it is simple to prepare, it is easy to serve and it is suitable for group entertaining.
Depending on the number of guests, portable burners are placed on the table with large pots filled with appropriate stock flavored with a large quantity of MSG or flavor enhancer powder, or mushroom powder, a large platter of raw main ingredients, depending on whatever “lau” offered, a large platter of  mixed vegetables and different dipping sauces. The diners cook as they eat accompanied by a large quantity of beer and noisy toast every few minutes: “one two three DZO, one two DZO and one two three Drink!”.
Hot pot raw ingredients

Vietnamese spinach, instant noodle & prawn sate

"hot pot" stock

Thursday 6th October 2011:
Cooking class preparation
Jeremy’s Australian relatives really enjoyed their experiences of Vietnamese food, they all wanted to learn how to cook. So I instantly grabbed the golden opportunity to fulfill my promise I made to a disabled  artist, who needed a grafting operation, that I would find a way to raise the money for his operation cost. I took a risk to offer them a cooking class. I had to find a venue though. I was relieved when I asked Han and her husband if I can hold a class in their courtyard, they agreed and Han helped me to hire tables, stools, crockery and a tarpaulin in case it kept on raining, and it did.

Friday 7th October 2011:
The Cooking class under the tarpaulin
Late Friday night before the wedding, I run the class under the tarpaulin with the rain pelting down, but we managed to stay dry and all my students enjoyed the hands-on lesson they ate what they made and I raised almost the amount I needed for the operation cost.
Tasting "stuffed vegetarian tofu"

Ingredients for the class

Frying "beef in wild pepper leaves"

"Beef in wild pepper leaves" ready for tasting

After my cooking lesson, Michel, Han and I were invited to have dinner at Francois', their neighbour.
He is a French architect, who has lived in Hanoi for over 20 years, he was married to a Vietnamese but now divorced, he rented a three storey villa and has two housekeepers to cook and to look after his children when they come to stay. He has a nice collection of Vietnamese pottery and other interesting artifacts.

Pottery collection

Silk lamp shade

Old writing panel

The other guests were also architects so we had a good discussion about the close relationship between food and architecture both aim to satisfy human needs and pleasures over many bottle of Chilean and French reds. We did not get home until the early hour of the morning.

Saturday 8th October 2011
The Wedding
"Double Happiness": a symbol for marriage
On the wedding day, Jeremy invited all the helpers to come for lunch before the “welcoming the bride” ceremony, and also to get the tea party ready to welcome the bride family. The house was transformed completely with all the bright coloured wedding decorations.
At midday I went with Jeremy mother, his aunt and his sister to the bride’s house to ask them permission for Jeremy to come to pick up the bride, this was the final confirmation that the wedding was still on.
At three o'clock Jeremy went off with his retinue to pick up his bride. Soon after he came back with the Bride and her relatives in a white convertible car and two busses. soon after the tea and the talks were over, we all piled onto the two busses following the bridal car to West Lake for the wedding feast. The ceremonial procedures were conducted on the covered wharf, where the bridal party was introduced, the toast to the newly wedded made and the cutting of the cake done, then we went on to the boat “The Potomac” for the wedding feast. The boat made a short trip while we were eating and it returned to the wharf again when the band started playing.
Wedding food generally is not very interesting, it is mostly a kind of cooking for the mass, so even an exotic dish like ostrich stir fry with chilli and lemon grass was not appealing.

The open bridal car, luckily it stopped raining

"The Potomac" on West Lake

The rest of the time in Hanoi, I was on an eating roller coaster. I met many different peoples and experienced many Hanoi life styles.
Sunday 9th October 2011
Lunch with my ex staff at Quan Tre

Quan Tre (Bamboo Inn)
                                                                                On Sunday after the wedding, my ex Green Papaya staff took me to a gigantic restaurant,  “The Bamboo Inn”  (Quan Tre) on the bank of the Red River. We enjoyed our own little hut with full river view and guess what we had another fish hot pot and roasted chicken with sticky rice.

Ex Green Papaya Staff with their children

 It was a great pleasure for me to see all those young students now graduated,  successful and all married with beautiful children. There was in depth discussions about child rearing and comparison of education systems for young kids in Hanoi. I did feel a bit out of place since my only son is still a bachelor hopping around the world.

Drink at the Metropole & Dinner at Ngo Hue
That evening Athol took me to have a drink at the Bamboo Lounge with Tom at the  Metropole Bamboo Lounge next to a crystal clear blue swimming pool connected the old wing to the new wing of the hotel. We settled onto the comfortable lounge chairs sipping our martinis feeling luxuriously relaxed under the modern design wooden ceiling fan. Amazing beautiful fresh floral arrangements added brilliant colours to the dark wood features throughout the hotel.
The reception desk
White lilly arrangement

Dark wood features

After our martinis we headed off to Ngo Hue to try out a recommended restaurant owned by a foreigner.
Apparently many ex patriots living in Hanoi felt the need of something different from the “same same" type of restaurants found all over Vietnam. Therefore in the last dozen years a few of these foreign owned eateries have appeared on the scene. Most are in refurbished French villas minimally decorated and on the menu are popular classic Vietnamese and Western dishes. The chefs are mostly Vietnamese and the food are usually without MSG but often with Knorr powder.

Crispy quail with mesclun salad

We also ordered a beef hot pot which my friend recommended, but as I am not a hot pot fan, my memory of this dish faded with the sprinkle of rain on the way home..

Monday 10th October 2011:
Lunch at Hang Tre Street
The next day we tried out another of those foreign owned restaurant. We had green papaya salad with dried beef, the icon dish of high school students of my time in Hanoi. This is a simple dish with fresh shredded green papaya in the classic Vietnamese dressing and thin slices of dry roasted marinated beef. Its appeal is the heat of the chilli, the sourness of the dressing and the sweetness of the beef.
The roasted duck and crispy fried “la moc mat” was served with fried dumpling and soy sauce dipping vaguely reminded me of some Chinese influence. “La Moc Mat”, which some translated it as curry leaves, but they are not the same as the normal curry leaves. The leaf is longer and thicker and it has a different flavor. Apparently this tree is of the citrus family, and grows mainly in the mountain area, it is another new ingredient in vogue in Hanoi restaurants, it is mostly deep fried to crispiness and usually serve with roasted poultry.

Green papaya salad
Roasted duck with dumpling & soy sauce

That night I felt the need to stay home to have dinner with Han and Michel, so Han gleefully pulled out from the freezer a rack of lamb for me to cook. We went up to the boutique delicatessen and bought fresh rosemary to marinade the lamb, and I made vichyssoise soup, shallow fried potatoes, pumpkin mash, green bean salad and I stir fried choko with the lamb trimmings. Both Felix and Nadal enjoyed the "exotic" mash and the potato soup a great deal. After dinner Michel presented some rare non pasteurized cheese which he brought back from France in his last visit there. Such a pleasant change from hot pots!
Dinner at home
Tuesday 11th October 2011
Lunch at Dieu Restaurant                                                        
The next lunch with Han and Athol was at a modern Vietnamese restaurant on the Lake Esplanade. It was a very small restaurant with only four Japanese style table setting upstairs and a bar bench downstairs. We ordered fried tofu dipped in fish sauce and green shallot, grilled chicken, and sweet and sour pork ribs and  a bottle of Da Lat red. When the tofu was brought out, I nearly fell off the cushion, the fried tofu were floating in a bowl of clear water and green shallot, surprisingly I told the waitress that this dish was not the dish I thought it was, I had never seen it done like this., she said but now this is the way they make it. The grilled chicken was again with deep fried “la moc mat”, and Han returned the sweet and sour ribs because the meat was still raw inside and as for the red wine, we gave up after the first few sips. However we enjoyed the peaceful view of the lake and the quiet dining room, there was only one other customer and she left before we started our lunch.

Floating fried tofu!

Traditional fried tofu and green shallot

Wednesday 12th October 2011
Xuan Mai: alternative life style
We went for a trip to the country to visit one of my cousin whom I haven’t seen for a long time, she is a painter and her husband is a composer. They bought 2000m2 land about 40km from Hanoi 15 years ago. Their son, an architect trained in Germany built the family house with separate area for each member of the family including a painting studio gallery for his mother, a music room for his father, his own space where he housed an extensive collection of artifacts he collected on his travels.
He is an environmentalist, he does not use car and prefers walking to the local market to buy food. At the entrance of the house stands a recycled “garbage monster” sculpture which he bought from an exhibition at the Goethe Institute.
He just finished building a wooden pavilion in front of the lake based on the design of the northern minority people. It is a perfect serene place for meditation or a quiet cup of tea with friends.
They large garden with most of the native trees where pigs, pigeons, ducks , chickens roam freely; my cousin in law distils his own rice wine.
Their daughter is a concert pianist her latest performance was called “Reflection”. It was a fusion work of classical piano and the trational Vietnamese religious musical “chau van”. Her daughter prefers the peaceful life with her grand parents in the country to the busy life of her mother in Hanoi. My friend Athol agreed with her choice, he would like to stay on.

The "garbage giant"
The new pavillion
Mask & basket
Modern painting & primitive sculpture

Sky light and ceiling detail

Chair designed by the architect

Rice wine distillery

They killed one of the duck for lunch we had too many cups of rice wine and I paid for it afterward
Duck lunch

When we got home I had a call from Trung, one of my Green Papaya ex staff to go out for dinner with Han. So we tried out a Japanese restaurant nearby, the sashimi of salmon, tuna and bream was reasonably good but the tempura was soggy and oily.
I could not even think of the sake after the rice wine experience earlier.

Sashimi in Hanoi
Thursday 13th october 2011
La Badiane                                                  
The next dinner was at La Badiane, a French Vietnamese restaurant, whose chef owner is a friend of Han and Michel. His menu offers modern French and Vietnamese cuisine with set menu, a la carte menu and degustation menu. The wine list is extensively French with a few South American, South African, Californian and Australian labels. The table setting was elegant and the waiter was exceptionally attentive and well spoken. We had a great time tasting one another dishes.
Table setting at La Badiane

Entree: Crab mousse

Main: Steak au poivre

Dessert: 3flavours creme brulee

Friday 14th October 2011
Lunch at Hang Voi Street & Dinner at KOTO
Due to the fact that Jeremy had to go back to work and Thu was working on her entry for the 48 hour international film competition, they would not be playing with us at the weekend, so to catch up we were to meet them for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant  at Hang Voi Street when we finished with our visits to the Museum of Arts and the Temple of Literature.
We were a bit late and Thu was hungry, so as soon as got there, she ordered lotus stems salad, special earthen jar roasted chicken, stir fried eel with chili and lemon grass and braised carp with pickled mustard green.
The food in general is tasty, however the braised carp was presented as a hot pot again and the roasted chicken also served with crispy fried “la Moc Mat” however the earthenware jar oven rendered the flesh moist and the skin crispy.

Roasted chicken
Earthenware jar oven on the footpath

We met the Catering Manager of KOTO, an Australian sponsored social enterprise at Jeremy’s wedding and she invited us to attend a fund raising dinner prepared by an Australian visiting chef. The guests were mainly Australians working in Hanoi. We had pre dinner drinks on the roof top terrace, where trays of “galloping horses” on watermelon were passed around.  The first time I had this canapé was at a David Thompson dinner at the Zen Bar in Brisbane, the minced prawn, poultry and meat heavily caramelized in palm sugar and fish sauce, fried golden shallot, garlic and crushed peanut and served on split segments of mandarin. This canape was made with duck and prawn and on watermelon instead.
Dinner was on the floor below. The table setting was inspired by the theme of spice road, strewn with cinnamon sticks, star anises, big cloves (thao qua) and bouquet of red chilies. I sat at the same table with a few interesting guests, one of them is an Australian chef who now runs a cooking school in Hanoi the others were a RMIT lecturer, a KOTO English teacher and an American who works in a community development project, we had  sardine  and crab salad for entrée, twice cooked pork and massaman beef curry for main course and panna cotta for dessert. There was more talking than eating and no one listened to the classical instrumental music performed by a Vietnamese musician at the end of the room.

Thao qua, cinnamon stick & star anise
The crab came from Australia and drown in spiky coriander

Sugary Twice cooked pork

Sign on the entrance step

The forgotten musician

Saturday 15th October 2011
Farmers Market & Farewell dinner
On Saturday morning, Han took me for a tour of the West Lake area, we visit the farmers market where local organic wines and liqueurs, honey, cheese, baked goods and hand made handicrafts were on the offer. The shoppers were mainly local foreigners and upper middle classed Vietnamese.
Organic wines & liqueurs at Quang Ba Farmers Market

After we left Quang Ba Farmers Market we went shopping at a local wet market for my special farewell dinner that night. Later on Han and I met up with Michel and Felix for breakfast at a small eating place near his office in town. We ordered Vietnamese crepe (Banh cuon)for me, eel and mung bean vermicelli soup (Mien Luon) for Han, short and long soup (My hoanh thanh) for Michel and pho for Felix. We all enjoyed our hearty delicious breakfast, for coffee and chocolate cake we moved on to the Hanoi Club.
Mien luon

Hanoi Club
Hanoi Club is run by a few Vietnamese young people, it is set up as a cultural information centre for visitors and also a meeting place of the intellectual set. Customers can take their time over good cups of coffee.
Farewell Dinner at home                                                                    
For memory sake Han asked me to cook a few of my dishes, which we used to served at Green Papaya Restaurant for our farewell dinner. So we made all the old popular dishes for the menu : prawn and pork fresh rice paper roll with yellow bean sauce, Emperor pork, stuffed tofu with lotus seeds, green papaya salad and black rice pudding Our guests were Michel and Han’s close friends who are food and wine connoisseurs. Marcus, the Swiss owner of Highway 4 married a Vietnamese rice wine maker now becomes well known for producing rice wines in the traditional method with a twist, his “Son Tinh” wine label is available in some European countries and at Vietnamese International airports. Sylvan, a wine merchant also has a Vietnamese wife and they own The Red Apron wine shops around Hanoi. They all enjoy the clean taste of my food and Michel kept on urging Han and I to open a restaurant in Hanoi. But we both know what restaurant work is like and we were not tempted by their compliments. We had delicious French wines from Sylvan’s shop.
We chatted on until late, luckily we did not have to clean up, Athol and I were to be in Jeremy's spooky short film as extras, so we bid farewell to our hosts and guests and disappeared into the rainy night.

Prawn & pork roll

Black rice pudding with mango

We hang around this dark lane

Fishing on West Lake
Riding round West Lake

Sunday 16th October 2011
Goat lunch & Wine tasting
I got up early the next morning, from my fourth floor terrace I watched the local activities on their day off, peoples walking their dogs, couples bicycle riding around the lake, fishermen trying their luck from the rickety wharves and from the little dinghy  bobbing on the water

Marcus invited us to his wine factory in Gia Lam, an outer suburb in Hanoi, for a special lunch and wine tasting.
The road leading to his factory is still lined with small rice fields and vegetable patches. He built this factory about ten years ago and he employed 13 Vietnamese to take care of the production. Most of his employees are from the mountain regions of Vietnam.

Rice field & vegetable patch
Entrance to Son Tinh Wine Factory

One of Marcus employer brought a 47kg mountain goat for lunch and the head chef of Highway 4 restaurants and wine bars prepared the goat in numerous dishes.
To start with we had coagulated blood mixed with special herbs and crushed roasted peanut (tiet canh de), followed by rare goat salad (de tai chanh), roasted leg of goat (dui de nuong), stir fry offal with la moc mat (long de xao), braised goat, chilli and lemon grass goat stir fry and finished with  goat hot pot (lau de).
I asked Michel about a big scar on Marcus’ face and Michel told me the life story of his friend:
"Marcus came to Vietnam a long time ago to explore the remote country sites. On one of these lone motor bike trips along the Ho chi Minh Trail, he hit something and got thrown off his bike, lying unconscious on the road. A couple of Vietnamese found him with half of his face open covered in blood but he was still breathing, so they strapped him across the back of their bike and took him to the nearest hospital, they could not identify him so they flew him to Saigon where the Swiss consulate recognized him, and Marcus woke up in a hospital in Switzerland. He came back to Vietnam with a big scar on his face and some toes missing, which were not the result of the accident but due to being strapped like a pig at the back of the motorbike  and dragged  along the stony mountain road by the rescuers".
Besides the wine factory Marcus and his wife now own 4 restaurants and bars, one in Ho Chi Minh City, all his chefs and waiters are Vietnamese and Marcus personally trained and advised them on menu designs and services. Inspite of his success, Marcus is a truly nice person and totally melted in the Vietnamese cooking pot!
Tiet canh de

Goat dishes

La Moc Mat

Rose apple wine
Traditional Vietnamese kitchen

Marcus & the distill
Son Tinh wine boxed

Gold flakes wine for the celebration of  1000th years of Hanoi

We came back to Hanoi late in the afternoon just in time for the taylor's appointment, and to make a quick visit to my cousins where we were offered tea and green rice. I was so glad I had not eaten this sweet and aromatic rice for a long time.                                                                  
Green new rice (Com) wrapped in lotus leaf is the first sign of Autumn for the Hanoians. Every year for a few weeks it brings to Hanoi the essence of the country life, the cooler weather and the busy time of the wedding season. Symbolically it was the last thing I tasted before my departure for Ho Chi Minh City at 4 am the next morning
Adieu Hanoi, my beautiful birth place.
Green rice