Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weekend Dinner #06 : Celebrating Kids' Milestones over Good Food

The school year 2012 has just officially ended. It's been a relatively good year for both my K2 and P1 students. However, it goes without saying that we had a couple of challenges along the way (read: a love and hate relationship with their Chinese class). Nevertheless, they managed to pull the school year through, thank God! So to celebrate this wonderful milestone, I prepared a special dinner at home.
We had this food repertoire for the night... Shrimps Portobello Mushroom Spaghetti
Garlic Crabs

Baked Sausages with Apples & Onions

Shredded Chicken & Celery Salad

 Pepperoni Bruschetta

Chocolate Fondue for dessert

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Tale of Beef Noodles - Pho

Instead of the typical flowers, sweet goodies or other crafts that hotels normally provide as a welcome note to its guests, Rex Hotel surprised me with this Card sitting on my bed. It's not just an ordinary card because it narrates the tale of the world famous Vietnamese dish - Pho. It also describes how a Pho is usually prepared (see recipe below). But what caught me from everything that's written was this:
"To appreciate Pho propersly, it should be eaten in restaurants with the atmosphere of people going in and out, the sound of bowls, chop sticks and knives, and the passionate faces."

200g ox's bone
50g ox's tendon
100g pork's bone
50g ginger, unpeeled
1 large onion, halved and unpeeled
4 pcs star anise, 2 pcs cloves, a pc of cinnamon

100g rice noodles
2 bunches spring onions, sliced thinly
10g bean sprouts
3 large limes, cut into wedges
fresh hot chillies
100g fillet mignon, fat trimmed & sliced very thinly

1. Put the ox's bone, tendon and pork's bone into a large pot with 300ml boiling water. Simmer the stock at low heat. Skim the scum on the surface of the stock.
2. Add grilled ginger, onion and star anise along with cloves and cinnamon and 1 tbsp of salt into the boiling stock.
3. After 4 hrs, remove all ingredients and set aside. Let the broth continue to simmer, until the broth is rich and flavorful; about 1 hr.
4. Taste the broth and add more salt or fish sauce to taste.
5. Arrange the slices of raw fillet over the noodles in the bowl. Carefully ladle the boiling broth all over; the raw beef should be submerged in the broth.
6. Serve immediately along with the platter of garnish.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Enchanting Ho Chi Minh City (Formerly Saigon) - The Culinary Treats (2 of 2 Parts)

If there's one country to vote as one of the best culinary havens (if not the best) in South East Asia, Vietnam will definitely be it! Compared to its other Asian neighbors that are increasingly invading the global culinary scene, Vietnam offers no restriction to its cuisine. It is here where you can devour the foods with so much freshness and much gusto without aversion to other taste sensation like chili or hot & spicy (unlike Korea and Thailand). Vietnamese food is recognized as one of the healthiest cusines in the world. The dining table is always generously adorned with fresh herbs and vegetables. The most common ones are basil, mint, spring onions, long leaf coriander and lemongrass. Likewise, condiments are also very popular. Foods are typically accompanied with fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp paste and other home made concoctions.  
On my first day in Ho Chi Minh, we went to the Vietnamese restaurant - Mon Hue in District 7. The restaurant features dishes from Central Vietnam and these are some of the best sellers..
Steamed Minced Pork - the flavor from the banana leaf blended well with the meat and gave a characteristic taste that's pleasing to the palate

 Bánh bèo (Steamed Rice Cake with Shrimps and Pork Crackling) - best served with sweet fish sauce

Grilled Minced Pork - sweet, caramelic with a hint of grilled note. It's so yummy, one stick is not enough. It's perfect with a peanut sauce (below).

There are lots and lots of herbs and vegetables available to either top on your soup or roll in rice papers for a fresh spring roll.
Jackfruit Salad served with crispy rice crackers, this is my favorite! By far, one of the best salads I've tasted.
Shrimp Pancake - to be eaten rolled in a rice paper combined with herbs and vegetables.

 Beef Noodles - a classic example of umami rich broth

Even at the hotel, I simply can't resist a serving of hot, steaming noodle soup for breakfast just like this one - Prawn Noodle Soup

Vietnamese cuisine will not be complete without the popular soup or broth based dish called Pho. History had it that the Pho Noodle Soup first appeared in the 1920s. That makes the dish less than 100 years old! First, there was only Beef Noodle soup and it was being sold around the streets. When there was a shortage of beef, people started making Pho with Chicken and eventually became popular as well. Now, so famous is the dish that almost no street in Ho Chi Minh City is without a Pho Restaurant. But the must go to place is the one located along Pasteur street in District 1 - PHO HOA PASTEUR. 

Inside the restaurant, you'll see this bold warning to customers regarding "me-too" Pho Hoa Pasteur. So make sure you visit the right one.

A generous servings of long leaf coriander, the defining taste and character to an authentic Pho together with lime and chili. The addition of garnishes such as these including bean sprouts and culantro are believed to be introduced in the south of Vietnam where HCMC is.

This was my bowl of Beef Pho (I preferred the one with cooked beef brisket) - truly nothing tastes better than an authentic one! The balance of umami-sweetness is just second to none!
Gio Chao Quay (Chinese fried dough sticks) - apparently this bread is served together with the noodle soup. Initially, I had some reservations of dipping it into the soup due to its high oil content but eventually, I yielded and it tasted good together with it.

Another famous Vietnamese dish - Fresh Spring Rolls served with sweet bean sauce
Hot Pot / Steam Boat is surprisingly very cheap in Ho Chi Minh. We visited one restaurant in District 4 serving hot pot dishes and as expected it was an experience to remember.
Boiled young beef (calf) with some wild leaves to go with the spring rolls. This served as appetizer to our Hot Pot dish.

Roasted Sticky Rice with Fried Salted-Dried Fish 

Seafood Steamboat - the flowers make the dish even more healthy.

To simply put; with all these types of foods,  to appreciate Vietnamese Cuisine is to come with a big appetite and an adventurous taste buds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Enchanting Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon); 1 of 2 parts

Enchanting city is a fitting description for Ho Chi Minh. Named as Paris of the East, this is a place that's so rich in history and culture. It's not surprising then why foreigners are enticed to visit the place. Going around, you'll see distinct French influences through architectures, foods and other establishments. These are just some of the famous landmarks that you must see.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

City Hall

Ben Thanh Market - a popular market place in District 1.This is the place to be for souvenir items.

Statue Tran Nguyen Han

The streets are always bustling with motorbikes. Almost everyone knows how to ride on it since it's the usual and more affordable form of transportation. However, the toughest challenge to face in Vietnam is to cross the street amidst a crazy throng of this type of vehicle. Albeit dangerous, I'm amazed how one motor bike can fit in as many people as possible. It can even shuttle a whole family!

I stayed in Rex Hotel. It's a five star luxury hotel situated at the heart of the busy District 1. It's a nice hotel to stay. The ambiance and service are generally good. Although, the breakfast spread is a bit limited in terms of choices. Nonetheless, it's a fitting choice if location is of prime importance.

The roof top deck of the hotel. It's more popular at night when it's transformed into a garden bar.

This is the view in the morning from the roof top of the hotel.

Hoa Mai Restaurant where breakfast is served.

Rooms are spacious, spotless and clean

as well as the bathroom.

In terms of shopping, there's so much more to grab in Ho Chi Minh. However, if you're eyeing for designer goods and high end labels, this is not the best place for that. They are way too expensive compared to other countries at least in Asia. 
The only Louis Vuitton shop in the city, located in District 1.

Night markets, bazaars and outlet stores are your best bet for shopping here. Since Vietnam houses factories of some popular brands, you can find stuffs that are priced relatively cheaper. Here are my top picks for shopping in HCMC:
1. Saigon Square - it offers mostly clothes / apparels, shoes, bags, accesories etc. Bargaining here is a must.
2. Ben Thanh Market - a large market place for souvenirs, clothes, shoes, slippers etc. Bargaining is also a must.
3. Parkson - a relatively big department store that offers a wide array of goods. Retail prices are less expensive here compared to Vincom Center
4. Saigon Tax Trade Center (Thuong Xa Tax) - it might look already old for a shopping center but it has an interesting mix of merchandise. You can find good souvenir items at level 4.
5. Diamond Plaza - A typical shopping center
6. Vincom Center - A high end shopping center where the typical designer labels can be found.
7. Outlet Stores - Sports goods & apparels such as Adidas, Puma, Nike etc. I even saw a ZARA outlet but I forgot its exact location.
8. An Dong Shopping Center (beside Windsor Plaza Hotel) - it offers clothes, jewelries, purses etc. It reminds me of Platinum Mall in Bangkok but smaller in size.

With such a wide array of choices, it's inevitable not to fill your luggage with good finds in Ho Chi Minh City. It's certainly a place where value shopping is love!