Friday, April 24, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Ordained by fate. Don't fight it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

No, Eating A Spider Didn't Kill Us

But it felt like it might for a few hours. We pickied up this hairy bad boy at a roadside market/restaurant between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Our driver Som (a highlight of the trip in his own right) had been regaling us with stories of the foods (and lack thereof) of his childhood. He claimed spider was not only delicious, but medicinal as well. How so? He couldn't explain any more than "spider has something the body needs." Which was all the goading I needed. And Som wasn't lying. The spider was delicious, having been crispy-fried in a sweet, Teriyaki-like sauce. It's medicinal effects were noticeable as well, as both Andrea and I noticed mild-to-troubling neurological effects for the next several hours. And no wonder. Som said that he had been bitten by this particular species of spider as a young man, and had endured terrible sickness and pain as a result. An impressive achievement for the arachnid, considering Som had developed almost complete resistence to scorpion, millipede, wasp and other insect venom (possibly due to the fact that such insects made up a significant part of his diet for years during the Khmer Rouge-era famines). This particular fellow had had his fangs removed, insisted Som, meaning there was no poison in the tasty snack. Our upset stomaches, mild muscle spasms, headache and (in my cases) temporarily blurred vision begged to differ. Then again, to say that Som is made of sterner stuff than us is an understatement of truly epic proportions.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No, We Did Not Die In Hanoi Traffic

Part two of our scooter video proves it. Sort of. I guess. The truth is, the beaches of Southern Cambodia are so beautiful and relaxing that we kind of forgot that you all exist. Plus the internet wasn't working (it's hard to get WiFi into those rustic bungalows). Plus we barely took any pictures anyway. Suffice it to say we had an amazing time. I will expound at greater length, but having just been driven almost the entire length of Cambodia, the last thing I want to do right now is sit in front of a computer. Especially since I'm feeling a bit woozy from the particularly large, poisonous (fried) spider I recently ingested (pics, etc to follow). For now, a quick stroll around Siem Reap to clear the head (and hopefully cleanse the nervous system) is in order. Enjoy part two of Hanoi scooter madness.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Oh No You Didn't

Sorry Mom, but I rented a moped and spent two days cruising the crazed streets of Hanoi. The second day was Andrea's day off from the conference, and she took this video from the back of our Honda Wave. Feel the pavement-rippling power of our 100cc hog, as we join the the chaos of Hanoi traffic. The video starts close to the Vietnam Military History Museum, and the first point of interest is Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. From there we pretty much just get lost. Which pretty much summarizes my two days cruising Hanoi. Lots and lots of getting lost. And really, if there's a better way to see a city I can't think of it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Inevitable Food Post

Why is it that food always inspires at least one blog post when I travel? Hell, sometimes I wonder if food isn't the reason I travel at all. And I'm certainly convinced that you can learn more from a good meal than from gawking at some tourist-crowded monument. Hanoi proves the point. Despite the painful legacies of French colonialism, cafe culture rules in Hanoi. Coffee is dark-roasted, individually percolated, and stunningly good. Think a cross between French roast and Turkish coffee. Locals and tourists alike rub shoulders at sidewalk cafes and garden terraces overlooking the busy streets, sipping excellent coffee, iced or hot. Especially when ensconced in a vine-wreathed deck above the clamor of the street traffic, the ambiance is unmistakeably European.

Coffee, however, is but the prologue to Hanoi's culinary delights. French influences continue on the street level, with baguettes figuring heavily into many of the infinite street foods. From donor kebab in baguette to omelettes in baguettes, the french bread is everywhere. Deep-fried baguette? Yeah, haven't tried that one yet. And to be perfectly honest, the baguettes in general don't quite meet my bread-snob expectations. So let's skip to Hanoi's signature dishes.

Cha Ca, or fried fish is the champion signature dish in Hanoi. They even named part of a street after it, and you'll have to make your way there to find the signature restaurant for this signature dish: Cha Ca LaVong. No, not "Cha Ca LaLuong" across the street. LaVong is the only way to go. Here's how it works: you sit down at one of the spartan tables and the help hands you the menu, which is actually just a card that says "only one dish: fried fish." Fine, that's why you came. Order a beer, and a few minutes later, your food arrives.

Lightly battered chunks of catfish sizzle in a pan of oil over a coal fire. Throw in the provided mixed herbs, stir it up and dump it into your bowl full of noodles. Throw in more fresh herbs and a little nuoc mam (fish sauce) and stuff it in your face. The key (I think) is their totally unidentifiable but stunning mixture of herbs, which create a redolent bouquet of smells and flavors as it fries with the fish. You can get a version of this at Portland's Pok Pok, but it can't hold a candle. And costs like ten times as much. Though I'm usually tempted to try to recreate dishes myself, I wouldn't know where to start replicating the delicate, herbaceous flavors thaat come from those mysterious greens.

And then there's the Pho. If you've had Pho, you know how good it is under any circumstances. If you've never had Vietnam's signature beef noodle soup, you need to start rethinking your priorities in life. And unless you've tasted it, it's nearly impossible to describe. In Hanoi, it's everywhere, it's cheap, and it's delicious. The broth has simmered for months for all you can tell, with fresh bones being constantly being thrown into the pot. The noodles and beef are cooked quickly in the broth when you order, and the result is orgasmic. Sitting on the tiny plastic chairs, sipping bia (beer, duh) and slurping Pho is the perfect way to power up before cruising the night markets. Sure, there are scooters blatting past you just three feet away while you're eating, but if you aren't used to scooter traffic within a few hours of arrival, well, Hanoi just probably isn't for you.