Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hanoi street food - Chicken Street

Hanoi is famous for its street food, and one of my favourite dinner options in Hanoi is Chicken Street. I love chicken. I love it so much that I could probably quite happily eat it every day, and here there's a whole street dedicated to barbecued chicken! What could be better?

The whole street is full of barbecued chicken restaurants, but my favourite is the first one on the left. It has proper chairs (as opposed to teeny tiny plastic stools) and the best tasting chicken!

This guy is constantly outside, manning the grill, performing a carefully timed dance of raw chicken to delicious sauce to cooked chicken to potatoes, and sending out a steady stream of tasty treats!

You can choose from a fairly comprehensive menu of all things chicken, and don't forget the beer!

Then they take the raw chicken parts from their large pile....

...grill them up...

....and deliver them to your table cooked perfectly on skewers, complete with crispy, delicious skin.

You can also have some yummy potatoes...

...and some banh my. This is honey bread - it's a very light baguette that gets toasted until it's crispy, squashed flat, then coated in honey. Amazing.

They automatically bring you these delicious cucumbers that are marinated in a sweet vinegary sauce with a hint of chili.

Of course these are the only vegetables you get aside from the potatoes, so this place is really meant for true carnivores!

And if you like it spicy, you can dip it all in chili sauce!

See? Everybody loves chicken street!

Oh yeah, and there's this adorable cat that you could feed your scraps to...if it wasn't tied up!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fruity Fridays - Roselle

This week's fruit: Roselle, a member of the hibiscus family

Also known as: rosella, Jamaica flower, and a hundred other names in various parts of the world

Vietnamese name: Bụp giấm

Cost in the market outside my house: 20,000 dong (roughly $1) per kilo

Season in Northern Vietnam: I bought these around the end of October, so maybe October - November

Interesting facts: This plant seems to be used for everything. It's often used to treat cough, urinary tract infections, cardiac and nerve diseases, cancer, and several other things I've never heard of. It's used as a laxative and a mild diuretic. It's a food colouring, and the fibres from the stalks can be used as a substitute for jute. The leaves are used in cooking and to make lotion to heal wounds. The seed oil is used to treat sores on camels. It's used to make juice and tea that is high in Vitamin C and is believed to reduce cholesterol, and is also occasionally made into wine. I'm reasonably certain that when I drank "hibiscus tea" in the Middle East, it was probably made from Roselle.

 These weird shaped fruits look like soft little flowers, but those "petals" are actually called calyces and are hard and crunchy, and taste quite sour! I tried one but it turned out that I wasn't interested in eating it raw and by itself!

When you break the calyces off, you find this seed pod inside.

The first and easiest thing I made with this was iced roselle tea (or juice!). I found this website that has a few recipes for roselle and just followed the instructions on it. All it involved was separating the calyces from the seed pods....

...boiling them down with some water...

....then straining out the syrup, adding sugar and stirring until it's dissolved, and then topping it up with ice.

It was tasty, but not something I'd want all the time.

Next, I made jam using a recipe on the same website. Normally for jam you need pectin, but the seed pods of the roselle have a lot of pectin in them already, so it was a simple matter of extracting it without getting all the seeds in the jam!

To do that, I separated the seed pods from the calyces, put the pods in a pot with some water and boiled them for about 15 minutes. The recipe said that after 10 minutes they should be soft and translucent, but mine never got very soft! They were just a bit slimy on the outside.

Then I strained the seed pods out and threw them away. I put the liquid (now full of pectin) back into the pot and added the calyces, including the leftover already-boiled ones from my juice.

I then boiled this all down for half an hour or so until it was all very soft, then measured it carefully to find that I had about 2 cups. The recipe said to add the same amount of sugar, but that seemed like a lot, (Yeah, I know, jam has a lot of sugar in it) so I added about a cup and a half and then tasted it. It seemed alright, but then as I cooked it more and tasted it more I ended up adding that extra half cup anyway!

The recipe said the jam would froth right up but mine never did. It only got this bit of foam on the top which I carefully scraped off.

I ended up with this lovely dark red jam. Apparently one way to know it's reached its setting point is to watch for it to stop frothing, but since mine never frothed, I had to use a different way. The recipe also suggested putting a saucer in the freezer, then testing a teaspoon of jam on it to see if it sets. I did this and I still wasn't entirely sure if it was at setting point, but it seemed ok!

Then it was time to put it in jars. I have a few that I brought from home with proper canning lids, and the amount of jam I had filled two of them perfectly! As you may remember from when I made Grandma's Dill Pickles, I have some difficulty with the actual jar processing part because I really don't have proper canning equipment. To have my jars of jam standing up in the pot with water covering the tops, I had to have water RIGHT up to the brim of my biggest pot.

But it worked! Both of these jars sealed, and I had a tiny bit of jam left over to eat with some fresh bread I bought the next day. It's a bit like a berry jam, with the deep red colour but despite all the sugar, it has a bit of a tartness to it. It's pretty yummy!

This was my first-ever jam-making attempt, aside from when I was a kid and we had a family strawberry jam-making day every year, which I really don't remember enough of for it to have had any effect. I'm pretty proud that my first time turned out so well! The only problem is that I don't eat very much jam. My "toaster oven" is really more oven than toaster, so it really just kind of bakes any slice of bread that I'm trying to toast. Thus, I rarely eat toast. However, my friend Jacqui from Fashion & Pho mentioned today that she's looking forward to eating crumpets when she goes home for Christmas, which reminded me that I have a recipe for crumpets that I've been meaning to try, so maybe soon I'll have fresh crumpets with roselle jam! Yum!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - the Recap

It's already been a couple of weeks since my Hanoi Food Challenge, and despite the difficulties I encountered, I'm looking back at it with nostalgia and looking forward to doing it again!

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngDuring my week I had a wide range of feelings about the restaurants I visited, so I'm going to do a simple recap of places that I will definitely go to again, places I'll probably give a second chance to, and places that I'll only go back to if I get dragged there for someone's birthday or something!

I'll definitely go back to:
1. Jade restaurant (Day 6) - while the setting could have been slightly better, the food was fantastic!

2. Hanoi Panic (Day 7) - the best Thai food in Hanoi

3. The Bun Dau place near work (Day 3) - a tasty, cheap lunch, and in fact I've already been back a few times!

4. Linh & Ben (Day 3) - rich and delicious sandwiches and paninis, and again, I've already been back!

5. The bánh mỳ trứng from the lady outside of work (Day 5) - on those mornings when I've forgotten to buy yogurt for my usual muesli, fruit and yogurt combo!

6. The pho place around the corner from home (Day 4) - simple, tasty, and ridiculously convenient.

7. The che place around the corner from home (Day 4) - there was so much on the menu to try, and makes a nice post-pho treat!

8. Sushi Aozora (Day 2) - I'm still not a sushi lover, but this was good, it's close to home, and there was a teriyaki chicken rice bowl on the menu that I need to try.

9. Ha Noi cafe (Day 5) - for the cheap, delicious margaritas!

10. Commune (Day 7)- the food was only ok but the peaceful rooftop with a great view means it deserves another try for sure!

I'll probably try again, at some point:
1. Love Chocolate cafe (Day 7) - because I DO love chocolate, and I feel that the circumstances were just all wrong for it that day.

2. Khazaana (Day 1) - the food they delivered to me was tasty, so one day I'll have to go try the actual restaurant!

3. The vegetarian place Sam took me to near work (Day 6) - because I hang out with Sam a fair bit so sooner or later we'll end up back there, and the food was decent.

4. Buon Dua Le Cafe (Day 1) - because I like the balcony seating and while I wasn't too impressed with the falafel, I feel the place deserves another chance.

I'll probably skip:
1. The bún chả restaurant near work (Day 5) - why would I go there, when I know Celebrity Bún Chả is better and just as close?

2. Espanol (Day 5) - I wasn't impressed with the food, so I'd only go back for the Sangria. However, I think I can get Sangria much cheaper elsewhere!

3. The Middle Eastern Beef sandwich from the Deli (Day 4) - The Deli has a pretty decent Philly cheesesteak, and the Tandoori chicken sandwich is quite tasty too, so they haven't lost all my business! I just won't be ordering that one again!

That's 16 new places and one new dish from an old place that I tried within a week! Considering the number of places I found that I really enjoyed, I'm going to say mission accomplished! It was surprisingly difficult at times, and I have to say, having to stop and take pictures of everything and everywhere that I ate got old pretty quickly, and I really felt like quite a tourist at times. However, I did enjoy doing this and it was amazing how much, when I told them what I was up to, people would start opening up  and sharing their own favourite places to eat in Hanoi.

My original thought was that I would do this again at some point in the future, maybe once a month or something. Then I thought that the danger of that would be that I might "save" new restaurants for my next Food Challenge instead of going and trying them immediately, and that goes against the whole reason I did it in the first place! I decided instead to make myself try at least one new place per week. So far, I've failed miserably at that, so there's a good chance you'll see another Hanoi Food Challenge in the future!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - The Final Day

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngIt's taken me a while to get around to writing this - sorry! Better late than never, right?

The final day of my Hanoi Food Challenge was pretty good! I started the day by riding my bike over to Commune, a small cafe not too far from my apartment with a fabulous rooftop overlooking Tay Ho (West Lake).

It's a bit hard to find, due to the fact that the same street seems to start over a few times, so there are at least three of the same address. The directions given on the New Hanoian website (see the link) helped me find it. If you're looking, it may help to know that it's next to a vegetarian restaurant.

I went up to sit on the balcony, at a bench looking straight out at the lake. I ordered lemon juice, tea, and baked eggs with roasted peppers, salami, and goat's cheese. It took a while, and I sat there in the warm sunshine (I actually got quite a tan on the sunny side of me that day!) and stared at the view, trying to ignore the Viet couple next to me who were obviously having some kind of issues!

When my food came, my eggs were not really baked at all, but seemed to have been scrambled in a pan, then put in the clay pot on top of the other ingredients. Maybe this is my fault, because I don't like egg yolks so I'd asked for the eggs to be mixed up, but they could've still baked them. They were pretty yummy, no matter how the eggs were cooked, but there were very few peppers in it, and they seemed to have been replaced by tomatoes. Luckily, I like tomatoes and it all still went together quite well.

I made a similar dish myself last weekend, but actually baked the eggs and it was yum!

After that I got back on my bike and rode around to the far side of the lake, exploring a few side roads that I hadn't been down before, and ended up at Love Chocolate Cafe. This place has been on my radar for a while but for some reason I just hadn't made it there!

By this time it was mid-afternoon on a GORGEOUS Saturday afternoon, and I didn't really feel like sitting inside a dark cafe, but I did anyway. I guess I'm the only one, because the place was completely empty! It has a cozy, sweetly decorated interior with comfy chairs and vintage decor, but would be much more atmospheric on one of those rainy, grey Hanoi days when you just don't want to be outside.

The menu is quite extensive, and has pictures so you really know exactly what you're getting. I spent a while with it! I asked for the warm chocolate cake, but the girl said they didn't have any. I hadn't made a second choice, so I asked what was fresh today and her response was, "Fresh?....No." I guess because they are closed on Sundays, they don't bother baking anything on Saturdays. Fair enough, but it was still disappointing. And why would a cafe in Hanoi be closed on SUNDAYS anyway?

I ordered the frozen chocolate pudding, which seemed like a safe bet when nothing baked would be fresh! It comes in a wine glass, and is very rich. It was almost like a glass full of chocolate ganache. I took a good long time for me to eat it, and I probably should've asked for a glass of milk to go with it. I did finish it, but spent the next few hours feeling slightly disgusted with myself for having eaten all of it!

That evening I once more convinced Sam and Ha to go eat with me. We went to Hanoi Panic, a Thai street food place that has been on my list of places to try since I first heard about it. It's only been open for a few months, down a little alley off Trang Thi and this little sign was the only signal so look carefully! When we arrived, there was no space for us to sit in the alley, so they carried the usual plastic table and three stools onto the street and we sat out there.

Have you ever seen two happier people than this?

And then Sam got silly trying to style his long hair...

...and sillier!

The server recommended two specials, a glass noodle salad with prawns, and chicken with ginger, so we ordered both of those as well as some fish cakes and mango with coconut sticky rice. As the food came out, we all devoured it immediately. It was absolutely delicious! The fish cakes were soft and tasty and served with a sweet chili sauce.

The glass noodle salad was fantastic with prawns that had been marinated in something that was outstanding, and the chicken with ginger was packed full of flavour and fresh veggies!

The mango and sticky rice was delicious, and I think Ha was in love.

It was all so good that we then ordered a beef salad as well, which Sam and Ha were fighting over. It had just about the most tender chunks of beef I've ever had. Yum!

Mon, the Thai-American owner and chef, said that he might try to move to an inside location soon, so if you miss trying his food before then, keep an eye out for Hanoi Panic. I'll be going back on a regular basis!

So that was my week of exploring new places in Hanoi! I'll follow up with a recap in the next day or two, so if you need a handy reference list of places I recommend from my eating adventures, it'll be here soon!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hanoi Food Challenge - Day 6

Friday was day 6 of my Hanoi Food Challenge...almost done!

 photo HanoiFoodChallengeButton.pngOn Friday I convinced Sam to go out for lunch with me, and to entice him I suggested the vegetarian restaurant just around the lake from work (that boy loves his vegetarian food). However, he said he didn't think it was very good, but he knew a different one a short walk down Kim Ma street, so we went there instead.

The inside of the restaurant had rather uncomfortable chairs that didn't fit under the tables, which was awkward. It also came with a little kid who wouldn't shut up.

This is one of those places that serves tofu and bean curd products made into meat-like substances. On the menu it's listed as "chicken" or "beef".
Sam convinced me to order this corn milk, which is thick, creamy, and sweet. I was skeptical but it's better than it sounds!

We also ordered these spring rolls but I'm not sure what was in them,

 this green vegetable, which I think was white basil leaves, fried with garlic,

 and this "beef" with lemongrass and chili.

It was all pretty tasty, as long as you didn't expect the "beef" to taste like beef. It was more like slightly crunchy/chewy fried tofu. Sam said it used to be different, and much better!

After work on Friday I went to Eté as usual, but resisted the urge to eat there (although I confess I stole more than a few of Ian's chips). Instead, I went with Sam and his new wife Ha to Jade Restaurant, just down the street.

Jade serves Singaporean food, and had been highly recommended both by other friends and on the New Hanoian website, so it was near the top of my list of places to try.

It's located in a big theatre on a very busy road, but is a bit set back from the street so the noise isn't too intrusive. There are tables and chairs outside on the patio, so although there's some street noise, it's a pretty decent environment.

The happy newlyweds!

A sample page of the menu.
 We ordered xu xu (chayote, pronounced su-su) greens fried with garlic, which is a vegetable that seems to be offered when they're out of whatever you ask for, but is probably the best green veg to have!

These clams in coconut sauce with chili were absolutely delicious!

We also ordered deep fried frog, which is a meat that somehow I'd never had before. It was very tender and white, and reminded me of fish more than chicken.

And we got Kung Poh Chicken, which was quite spicy but very very yummy!

I can see why Jade Restaurant comes so highly recommended. I'll definitely be going back!

I have one more day to report on, plus a recap of which places I'll definitely go back to, and which ones to skip!