Hoi an - a photo diary

River boat rides

River boat rides

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More boats!

More boats!

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The colours!

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A sad puppy stands guard out the front of a store selling ancient pottery.

Hoi An in my mind has a very specific colour palette. Rich yellows and oranges, deep reds and vibrant greens. It is a popular stop for most tourists offering a calming reprieve after the chaos from cities like Hanoi or HCMC. 

An exercise in market cooking

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I have found a one bedroom apartment with a little kitchen to call my own. I now live next door to a rooster who can't tell morning from evening so he compensates by crowing every five minutes.  I am enjoying my days walking the streets trying to figure this insane country out. It is Tet (lunar new year celebrations) this week so the streets are lined with people burning offerings. The streets smell like diesel, incense and ash.  There are markets set up all over the place. Tables full of dried fruits and candied coconut, chocolates, sticky rice cakes filled with mung beans, sweets and lucky money. 

I was trudging through some back streets in Hanoi the other afternoon, my feet cracked in a day's worth of crud and the ashes of hundreds of offerings. I was tired and feeling sideways - an unfortunate side effect from too much street food and was craving a chance to cook for myself. I hadn't really ventured beyond pasta or instant noodles in my little kitchen yet.  A lady across from me was set up with some bamboo baskets full of vegetables, prawns, ginger, chill and Chinese coriander, and a deep red basket full of pipis (a tiny clam).  Everything you could possibly want or need for soup! 

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Back in Hoi An I was constantly being fed a lemongrass broth full of tiny clams. It seemed to be a dish you would serve with bia hoi (fresh draught beer) but in our case it was usually part of a ten course seafood feast. The pipis I found to be pure soul food. The perfect cure for when you are feeling slightly off. Every time we ate this dish it tasted slightly different. The first time the broth was clear and the clams were sweet. The next time, the broth was muddier, darker and more peppery. The next, it was firey. I had no idea where to begin but I was determine. 

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I didn't have a recipe to go off but the smiley lady who sold me the clams gave me some instructions in broken English and after some miming and odd hand gestures  I think it worked.  

Vietnamese Clams in Lemongrass Broth

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500 grams small clams (pipis if you are in NZ or Australia)
  • 3 lemongrass stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 small birds eye chilli
  • small bunch of shallots, chopped roughly
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2cm knob of ginger, sliced thickly
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (more if desired) 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 lime cut into quarters
  • freshly ground black pepper

METHOD:

1. Rinse and scrub the clams. 

2. Heat some oil in a wok and sauté the lemongrass, chilli and shallots until tender. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further 2 minutes. 

3. Add three cups of water, fish sauce and small amount of sugar to the wok and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Add the clams and put a lid on. They will begin to open almost immediately. Take off the heat and steam for about 5 minutes (not too long or they will be tough and disappointing)

4. Taste broth and season accordingly with more fish sauce if needed, lime and pepper. Serve immediately. 

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A Day in Hanoi

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Hanoi. Chaotic, heaving and paradoxical at times.  This city is like a labyrinth and I feel like I need another ten eyes just to try and take everything in. There is a constant cacophony of car horns and street vendors yelling. The air is pungent with fuel and incense and ash. I am constantly checking for street names to orientate myself ,  constantly checking the sidewalks, sidestepping piles of rotting garbage and avoiding stepping onto oncoming motorcycles. Little weatherbeaten ladies under conical hats, holding deep wicker baskets, shove donuts rolled in honey and sugar under your nose, or try and hoist their yoke (the long strip of wood they use to carry baskets) onto your shoulders so they can charge you 15,000 đồng for a picture.  Whilst you are trying to take in all this it is so important to remember to look up and around at all the buildings. The architecture here is something else and you never know what you might see. 

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We have spent our days eating and walking, walking and eating. With a little sight seeing to keep things interesting.  Usually we begin with a visit to our favourite coffee spot, Oriberry, a pokey little cafe  under the shadow of a great gothic style cathedral. The walls are lined with beautiful pottery and celadon and the banana cake is light and fluffy. A decent cup of Coffee is something that is easily found in Hanoi now.  When my family first started traveling here 15 years ago the only coffee you could get was the instant kind or the thick gritty bitter vietnamese coffee that was lightened with condensed milk (actually quite delicious!). 

Temple offerings

Temple offerings

A graveyard for retired war craft. 

A graveyard for retired war craft. 

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Thap Rùa - Turtle Tower

Thap Rùa - Turtle Tower

Then it is onto the sights of the day. My favourite is Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake (the "Lake of the returned sword").  Partly because of the legend of a Golden turtle god who saved the day, partly because this is a spot where you can see Vietnamese society broken down into its many forms. Both tourists and locals gather here. University students gether here for lunch and coffee, at night they skate and play music. Old men play board games or sketch. Little ladies cook meat skewers over makeshift stoves. Its all happening here. Hanoi is full of places to explore. Temples, galleries, old war museums - it is very hard to be bored here. 

Makeshift fruit stall. 

Makeshift fruit stall. 

Street cooking at its finest. 

Street cooking at its finest. 

Cheap and delicious lunch of Banh Mi. 

Cheap and delicious lunch of Banh Mi. 

We are sometimes faced with choice paralysis at eating time. Where to eat What to eat? There are just so many choices and so many delicious things to try. A good rule of thumb is generally to avoid restaurants that cate specifically to westerners - their vietnamese dishes are often under spiced, over sugared and just blah. My go-to at the moment seems to be a banh mi off a street vendor for 20,000 ($1.25)  or minced beef wrapped in betel leaves.  Big bowls of pho or cha ca (tumeric and dill spiced fish soup). I have so many favourites. The food here is definitely the biggest draw card for Vietnam. 

Follow the woman with the glistening fish. 

Follow the woman with the glistening fish. 

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Little Plum Poppets

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Plums. Every summer our small unassuming trees are ladden with plums, We spend our days picking them, eating them, preserving, canning, stewing, baking and poaching. My hands at the end of summer bear tiny cuts from digging out seeds, and are stained with a reddish tinge from the ruby flesh.  I make jams, and chutneys, sauces and pies, cakes and preserves. I leave for Viet Nam in a couple of days which means my plums will be left to the birds. This may be my last chance to do some baking for a couple of months so I am holding onto one last tradition before I go. 

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Perhaps the easiest mini cake recipe in my cookbook but by far one of the tastiest. A friand is a buttery almond cake (similar to a French financier) punctuated with fruit. These are supposed to be made in an oval shaped friand pan but after the chaos of moving all I had to hand was an old muffin pan - it works just as well. 

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LITTLE PLUM POPPETS
PLUM FRIANDS

INGREDIENTS

  • 150g butter
  • 1 2/3  cup almond meal
  • 1 2/3 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 Tbsp heaped plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 egg whites
  • 5 plums sliced thinly
  • melted butter to grease

METHOD: 

1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Place butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook until melted completely. Remove from heat and set aside.

2.Combine almond meal, icing sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Stir to mix. Beat the egg whites until frothy (but not peaked). Add the egg whites to almond mix and stir gently with a wooden spoon to mix. Add butter and mix well.

3.Grease a friand or muffin tin with melted butter. Spoon two tablespoons of mixture into each cup and sprinkle with plum slices.

4.Bake in preheated oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until cooked, risen, golden and still moist in the centre.

5.Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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Meow Meow - Dinner at the Hello Kitty Diner {Review}

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I haven't ventured to Chatswood in years. Years and years. North Sydney just seems like such a long way away to an inner-west tragic like myself. My terrible internal geography of Sydney aside I decided to make the journey with my best girl K to try and experience the Hello Kitty Diner.  My expectations weren't exactly high but what greeted us was beyond fantastic. Three words; Cute As Fuck. 

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It is sort of secreted away above the train line. We set off in the opposite direction at first trying to find it. After much googling we spotted it next to Tim Ho Wan. The aesthetic is 1950's diner with neon lighting and bows. Bows everywhere. The genius behind the menu is Chur burgers Warren Turnbull which offers American style diner foods; burgers, fries, shakes, waffles and fried chicken all with delicious cheeky twists. 

Mysterious yet delicious Diner Soda $5.00

Mysterious yet delicious Diner Soda $5.00

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Pancake Freakshake $14.00 with the obligatory bow

Pancake Freakshake $14.00 with the obligatory bow

After we are done squealing with delight at everything we order drinks - K opted for the diner soda which tasted strangely delicious - i tasted apples and lemons and cinnamon. Maybe? I opted to get my Freakshake on. With three flavours to choose from I went with a Pancake flavoured Freakshake and holy mother of God did it taste like pancakes. Im not talking pancake batter - it tasted like actual pancakes. The Freakshake is a meal in itself and makes for some serious Instagram/food photography fodder.  

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Gee Gee Burger $14.00

Gee Gee Burger $14.00

The food was well beyond what I expected. Not wanting to miss anything we order a little bit of everything. The kimcheese fries were a little under seasoned and could probably have used more kimchi which is really the only fault I could find. The burger was served on a pillowy soft bun and was stuffed full of pickles and fried chicken. The fried chicken was served with double barrelled maple syrup and a thick kitty shaped waffle. This was our favourite thing by far! Maple syrup waffles and chicken is a bloody revelation. Dessert was a cinnamon waffle with apple pie ice cream. It was delicious and kitschy and satisfied all our Hello Kitty nostalgia. If you are ever in Chatswood I would highly recommend!!

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Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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It is December which means I can officially get excited by my favourite month of the year. Christmas Month! AS much as I adore this time of year, it is always chaotic – we all feel it. The endless parties and gatherings, family events, work functions, shopping trips, it can all sometimes leave you with this faint anxiety in the back of your mouth. If December is not busy enough, I have also decided that its a good idea to move out of my little inner Sydney house and back up to my parents house in the Blue mountains for the next two months.

Classic Ruby Timing. Life feels busy – throw moving house on top of that ever accumulating shit heap.

The next two weeks are going to be a haze of cleaning and packing and un-packing and more cleaning.  I am so tired by it all, i just want to go fetal under my duvet and watch Netflix and play star wars battlefront on the Xbox. Not a valid option unfortunately. So i get on with it.

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Today's recipe is a simple one and the recipe itself is probably redundant. Slow roasted tomatoes – I am in the need for a bit of slow at the moment - are a Christmas staple in our house. I add them into salads and just eat them. They are just so delicious. My aunt used to make them with big fat roma tomatoes and they would be the first thing to disappear off the Christmas platters ( my mother and I were the main offenders I believe). I can’t quite describe to you how sweet and salty and flavoursome they were without sounding like some verbally incontinent weirdo so believe me when I say they are the freaking bees knees. I used cherry tomatoes because we had a couple of punnets in the fridge and I am trying to use up everything we have before moving rather than buy anything new.

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SLOW ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Punnets of cherry tomatoes or a kilo of Roma Tomatoes sliced in half length wise
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Decent drizzle ofolive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • handful of basil leaves, bruised and torn
  • Sprigs of rosemary, bruised

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 110 C/ 230 F

2. Put the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking dish.

3. Drizzle well with Olive oil. Drizzle very very lightly with balsamic vinegar

4. Crush over garlic, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and throw in the basil leaves and rosemary. Shake the dish lightly to coat the tomatoes in everything well or use your hands to mix together.

5. Place in oven for 2-3 hours. Check 2 or 3 times during cooking to make sure they are not burning.

Lost Bread

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French toast has so many names.

French toast. Eggy Bread. Torrijas. Pain perdu. I like calling it pain perdu which when translated means something like “lost bread”. Doesn’t that just sound so sad and wistful? Clearly the phrase “lost bread” appeals to my inner angst and dramatic sensibilities but in reality pain perdu is anything but sad. It is delicious. Thick slabs of stale brioche or challah dunked in an eggy, milky vanillary mixture and fried in butter, served with lashings of maple syrup and berries and ice cream if you are feeling particularly deserving.

  I love baking my own bread, but if you don’t eat it within two days its not much good for anything really except pain perdu. Last post I had baked a Nutella swirl brioche which made for a really decadent and delicious version of French Toast but really you can use any old bread. Sourdough, challah, wonder-white whatever! I topped it with maple syrup, crushed pecans, fresh blueberries and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Again top it with whatever you like, whatever is in season or whatever you have on hand.  One of the blueberries landed smack bang in the middle of the ice cream, while i was eating I couldn't help thinking it looked like a little boob staring up at me.

 

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PAIN PERDU/FRENCH TOAST/EGGY BREAD

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Grand Marnier
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Milk
  • Four thick slices of stale (lost) brioche or challah (or whatever bread you have on hand - it really doesn't matter what kind)
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Oil
  • 2 Tbsp caster sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Handful of nuts
  • Fresh berries
  • Maple Syrup

METHOD:

1. Whisk together the eggs with the sugar, Grand Marnier, salt and milk until well combined.

2. Soak the bread, one slice at a time (roughly 30 seconds each side).

3. Heat the butter and oil in a fry pan or griddle pan and cook until golden and crispy. Turn during cooking to ensure it doesn't burn on each side.

4. Transfer to serving plate, sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar and top with blueberries, nuts and ice cream or whatever the fuck your heart desires.

Boob!

Boob!

How do you like to eat your Lost Bread?