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January 18, 2011

Vietnamese Coffee

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One of the delicacies I read about before heading to Vietnam was the local style of coffee brewing. It's sweet and milky and usually served on ice. I don't really drink coffee, but I do like to at least experience distinctive foods and drinks of a place, so I tried it a few times.

Most often we got it served already 'brewed,' but when we went to Pho 24, we received this brewing contraption that filtered the coffee out at the table into a cup with condensed milk.


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January 12, 2011

Vietnam: Pho 24

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When planning to go to Vietnam, I had two major foods I wanted to eat as much of as possible: pho and banh mi sandwiches. Our trip to Cambodia didn't leave us as much time to explore as I'd hoped, so my pho exploration was limited to a couple visits to Pho 24, one of the local pho chains around Saigon.

I'm sure there are a million varieties of pho to be had around Vietnam, much of which may be better than what I had here, but I can say honestly that this was the best I've ever had.

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December 31, 2010

Vietnam: Tricia and Verona

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When I told friends that we were going to Vietnam, more than a few of them suggested that I look into getting a suit there. In Hoi An in particular, but throughout the country, it seems, there are many accomplished tailor shops that can put together bespoke clothing within a day or two.

I don't get dressed up very often, but having just lost a suit due to a tear while shooting a wedding, I found myself in the market. So, our first destination in Saigon was to Tricia & Verona

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December 30, 2010

Vietnam: The Cu Chi Tunnels

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As an American traveling to Vietnam, the elephant in the room is clear. We sort of had a war here. And we sort of lost. And we've sort of been arguing about it ever since.

When Tammi told my father in law about out trip, he was baffled. "You're going to 'Nam?" he asked. He's just young enough to have missed the draft, so the idea of spending a couple days visiting scenic Saigon probably didn't make any damn sense to him. I expect that my little godson, only a few months old will go somewhere like Afghanistan or Iraq in decades to come and that I'll be equally perplexed.

To see more about the local perspective of the war, we went to the Cu chi tunnels. A network of what amount to crawl spaces spread miles around the town of cu chi and as far as Saigon. Built to fend off the French, the US went and built a base right on top of it, having no idea that the enemy was literally under their noses.

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Vietnam: Barbecue Beef at 3T Quan Nuong

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We found 3T Quan Nuong while rummaging through our guidebook for restaurants near the Dong Khoi area where we spent most of our time in Saigon. It doesn't take a lot to sell me on barbecue of any kind, but cook at your table barbecue in a roof garden pretty much demanded my attention. How could we go anywhere else? See the food after the jump.

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Vietnam: Sidewalk Culture

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I risk losing any credibility I might have by gushing over and over about how 'fascinated' I am by one aspect or another of Vietnamese culture, but I can't help it. The scooters zipping around Saigon clearly got my attention. And how could I not be obsessed with the myriad banh mi carts serving up any number of variations of pork on pork deliciousness?

Similarly, how could I not be fascinated by the sidewalk culture we saw there. Day and night, people sat out on little plastic stools talking, eating and generally gathering with their communities.


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December 29, 2010

Vietnam: Scooter Cabs

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When getting around Saigon, Tammi and I didn't really think much of hopping a cab to get around. Considering a ride rarely cost more than a dollar (except when the driver is ripping you off - which happened coming from the airport).

For locals though, the cheapest and easiest way to get around is to hop on the back of someone's scooter. Guys like this hung out on nearly every corner waiting for a 'fare' to come by looking for a ride.

Vietnam: Com Tam Moc

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Having spent most of my eating time in Saigon obsessing over banh mi sandwiches, I didn't really get a chance to explore too many of the other culinary stylings of Vietnam. But on our first morning, we grabbed breakfast/lunch at Com Tam Moc, down the block from our hotel. Cơm tấm apparently refers to the leftover fragments of rice grains which are sorted out and sold cheaper.

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December 28, 2010

Vietnam: Hotel Bars

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At the end of our first day in Saigon, Tammi and I decided to get a little western hospitality at the roof bar at the Sheraton Saigon. The view was gorgeous and the wine list wasn't bad. What we didn't really realize until we got the check was that the prices were also quite western. The typically high hotel mark up is dramatically higher here compared to the wine bar across the street we discovered later, which stocked plenty of good wine for as low as $5-8 a glass.

Whoops.

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December 23, 2010

Vietnam: Crossing The Street

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Before going to Vietnam, a friend who'd been there had one piece of advice about crossing the street through the swarm of scooters: Don't hesitate, don't run, don't panic.

Just as the scooters manage to (seemingly safely) zip this way and that without and sort of rules or order, they can ride around you as long as it's clear where you're going and how fast you're going. Adjust your pace as necessary, but don't break out into sprint unless you want to get run over.

Vietnam: Bier Garden

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Bier Garden ended up being our central spot while we were in Saigon. After a week or so of pretty much exclusively drinking those sweet, fizzy Asian beers like Tsingtao, Tiger and San Miguel, the option of having an international selection available was really appealing to me.

The more 'exotic' selections available mostly came from Western Europe from Belgian and German wheats along with English and Irish ales. They also had Cooper's, an Aussie beer I've been fond of for some time. Yet, interestingly, I found little relief in these western brews. Despite differences in styles and country of origin, I soon came to find that nearly all of the beers available had similar tasting points. All were lighter in body and sweeter in flavor without much in the way oh hops or sharpness to balance the experience.

The crowd, clearly, was made up entirely of tourists enjoying a pint or three of their home town brew. Sadly there was no such nostalgia for me. Remarkably there weren't any American beers available that I recall.

December 22, 2010

Vietnam: Controlled Chaos

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As I've said, the scooters of Vietnam really fascinated me. Traffic rules are out the window and everyone just gets in where they fit.

Vietnam: Colonial Decay

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Walking around Saigon, it was interesting to see all the old deco-era buildings that have fallen into disuse and decay. The scenes around town were so vibrant and active, yet many of these old buildings looked as if they hadn't been touched in decades.

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December 21, 2010

Vietnam: Scooter Helmets

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While we were in Vietnam, Tammi coveted these helmets, fashioned after baseball caps. She'd hoped to buy one but couldn't find one while we were there.

December 20, 2010

Five Tips for Eating Banh Mi in Saigon

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Going to Vietnam, I was excited more than anything else for the street food. I mean, obviously. After all, I even made a lunch expedition to Chinatown ahead of the trip just to pre-game it at Banh Mi Saigon.

So, while in Ho Chi Minh City - which everyone we spoke to continues to call Saigon - I made a point of seeking out as many of these sandwiches as I could find. In the process, I came up with a few tips for the hungry traveler seeking out this particular deliciousness while in Vietnam.


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Vietnam: Scooter Madness


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My first view of the streets of Saigon were dark, blurry and in constant motion. I'd heard that nearly everyone in Vietnam gets around on scooters and motorcycles, but I didn't really 'get' it until we were surrounded by them.

Apparently, government taxes and restrictions make buying a car prohibitively expensive, so pretty much everyone gets around on two wheels.

I have to say, it fascinated me. As much disdain as I may have for cars, I don't think I could ride around the way they do out there. It definitely captured my attention though, I couldn't stop taking pictures of them. See more after the jump.

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December 13, 2010

Hong Kong: 13 Hours

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When Tammi and I went to Japan three years ago, the huge time difference was significant. It took us a few days of waking up at 3am before we finally adjusted. This time around in Hong Kong, it's been more challenging.

I think what's made it harder this time around is social media. Back in 2007, we'd check email once or twice a day but otherwise be pretty disconnected from the world at home. Now, we're so wired to Twitter, Facebook, tumblr and everything else that make us constantly aware that we're not on our usual schedule. Every evening we'd get back to our room and as we were winding down, a slew of posts and tweets and updates would start flowing in. It could be a little disorienting.

I also put together a couple Midtown Lunch posts while away and had to keep in mind what time it was at home - and when communicating with Zach, what time it is in California as well. That's not including the changes between Hong Kong and our stops in Vietnam and Cambodia to the west and The Philippines to the east.

I'm not complaining or lamenting, I think it's been really interesting to have to juggle multiple time zones like this. Now that I'm back on EST, I'm of course jetlagged and sitting here writing this at 4am and getting updates in the middle of the night when you can't sleep suddenly seems much more appealing.

December 3, 2010

And on to the next one

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It's 5am and Tammi and I are getting ready for a flight to Cambodia for the weekend. Vietnam has been quick, but fascinating. We'll have another evening here before we head back to Hong Kong and then The Philippines, so I hope to get a chance to gorge myself further on pho and street banh mi.

I can't promise updates for another couple days, so follow me on Twitter for more up to the minute posts (12 hours ahead).

November 19, 2010

Lunch: Banh Mi Saigon

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Even though I still have five days left before our trip to Asia starts, my mind has been 8,000 miles away for days. It's pretty much all I can think about.

Yesterday, my mental wandering took me on a trip far out of my usual bounds down to Chinatown to get a Vietnamese sandwich from Banh Mi Saigon, one of the old favorites in the banh mi craze. I'd never been there, but happened upon it a few nights ago and decided I had to return. Having rated first place in the Midtown Lunch Banh mi-palooza in the spring was definitely a good enough reference for me. Read on for the porky goodness.

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September 8, 2010

Looking To The East

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Pretty much as soon as we got back from Hawai'i last year, Tammi and I were already thinking about where we would go for our annual trip this fall. We had been all over the place, but hadn't really centered on anything specific until we were invited to a wedding in The Philippines two weeks after Thanksgiving.

After a good deal of budget consideration and some awesome finagling with frequent flyer miles, we managed to get everything arranged. We will be spending a week each in Hong Kong and Vietnam this fall, plus a couple days in The Philippines for the wedding.

Right now we are in the information gathering part of planning, so if you've been to the area and have recommendations, please chime in.

In the meantime, I expect to do as much research on Cantonese, Vietnamese and Filipino food in New York as I can. More to come.


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