There are hundreds of tailors in Hoi An, making made to measure suits and other outfits. This service is popular with tourists who need outfits for special occasions, such as bridal parties as well as young people looking for cheap coats and jackets. Tailors can also make copies of your favourite clothes, assuming you have some, which I don’t.
On the way to our favourite chay (vegetarian) restaurant, a long walk through Hoi An’s busy back streets to the end of Trần Cao Vân, we passed by rows of shops selling clothing and met many touts, usually friendly women on bicycles, urging us to visit their ‘tailor’ shops. This constant intrusion, ‘ Hello, where are you going, where are you from, blah blah, come to my shop, just for a look’ can be bothersome at first. After a day or so, when you have worked on your smiling but insistent ‘no thankyou’, and they have come to know you as visitors who are only interested in eating, relationships improve and you begin to feel like a local. It is important to know that these girls do not own their own shop but work on a commission for tailors: the shop they take you to will not be a tailor either, but a store front for outsourced work. ‘While outsourcing is economical for store fronts as the shop only pays a set price for each item made, many tailor shop owners that outsource have no idea about the construction techniques, the consistency, the interior details such as threads, interlining, canvassing, shoulder pads, buttons etc. The quality that is put out is obviously variable, uncontrolled and as a general rule quite low.’¹
Get this suit for Andrew
Go the bombers
Shiny orange looks suitably legal
The blue one matches your eyes
Mr T has privately expressed some interest in acquiring a new jacket for a serious event. Urged on by discussions about style, cut and colour, I collected some ‘tasteful’ examples from the street. Many of the shop owners were intrigued while some shooed me away.
For those who do wish to take advantage of Hoi An’s famous tailors, it would pay to read the following article first. ¹ http://wikitravel.org/en/Hoi_An. There are some reputable tailors around and the article forms a useful guide to those wishing to source made to measure clothes.
Narrow lanes and waterways, narrow houses and boats, slippery narrow rice noodles and women in Au Dao dresses, accentuating their slender figures, there are many narrow things to admire in Hoi An Vietnam. The people, on the other hand, are open, generous and helpful, not narrow-minded or suspicious of foreigners.
I was considering calling this post ‘Mellow Yellow’ but the yellow walls of Hoi An are far too bold and daring, especially in the heat of the morning, when the colour seems to glow. Colour has a huge effect on my outlook: I love walking around the old town of Hoi An when the party revellers and night-time vendors are still asleep and the yellow washes over me and gives me energy.
Hoi An is the only town in Vietnam to have escaped the American War entirely unscathed. Today the old town, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, is a proclaimed UNESCO World Heritage Site, with many restored houses open to visitors.
From now on, I will always associate the colour yellow with Hoi An, Vietnam.
For my dear friend Di G, who loves this bold colour too and knows how to use it.
The first time I tasted Chả Cá Lã Vọng, fried fish La Vong style, was in the famous 120 year old La Vong restaurant in Hanoi in 1996. It was the only dish served, along with beer and tea, so it saved any confusion about ordering. In those days, you entered the restaurant via steep rickety stairs and soon after, a tiny terracotta brazier was placed on the table, coals glowing, along with a small aluminium frypan, and a platter full of various ingredients, which were quickly cooked, layered and assembled before your hungry eyes.
I always vowed that I would make that dish on my return to Melbourne, once I had acquired a little authentic table top cooker. I never did, although I often saw some small charcoal braziers, moulded in the shape of a bucket, along Victoria Street in Richmond. Now twenty years have passed and I did not expect to see this famous dish from Hanoi turn up in Hoi An. It was a very good version too and transported me back to the more spartan days of Hanoi, where young women still wore pure white Au Dai and the spirit of Uncle Ho was alive and well.
We visited Vy’s Market Restaurant in Hoi An and were surprised to find Cha Ca on the menu. Vy’s is a huge dining hall with various cooking stations around the perimeter. You can watch rice pancakes being grilled on hot coals, young apprentices making vegetarian wonton, noodles being stretched and woks tossed. You can learn a lot here without attending their famous cooking school.
Marinade for fish.
1/2 kilo neutral tasting white fish, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
small knob of ginger, grated
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 piece ( small finger) of fresh turmeric, pounded or 1 teas turmeric powder
A small amount of neutral oil
1 bunch spring onions, chopped into long pieces, white and green parts used. Thick white ends cut through lengthwise.
1 large bunch dill, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles), soaked or cooked so ready to use.
Herbs- rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese perilla), more dill. ( not basil- the predominant taste is dill)
Fresh chopped chilli or chilli sambal
Place the fish in the marinade ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Place the fish and its marinade in a small frying pan over a table top cooker. ( you can do this on a regular stove but part of the drama of the dish is assembling it before the diner). Pan fry the fish for a few minutes, then begin adding the flavours. First some of the herbs, especially the dill and spring onion, then half the peanuts. Toss about for 30 seconds, then add the rice noodle and perilla, toss about, incorporating the noodles through the fish. Then add the remaining herbs, the chilli and more peanuts. Serve with plain rice.
This version of Cha Ca was was enjoyed at Vy’s Market Restaurant and Cooking School, 3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An and cost a little under AU $10, one of the most expensive items on the menu.The tofu dish cost AU$3.88. A small tiger beer is around AU$2. The prices are a bit higher than many of the local restaurants but the quality here is superb. Highly recommended for those yearning to visit or return to Hoi An.
After a ridiculously long journey to the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An, a trip that extended from a tolerable 9 hours to a 36 hour epic, with lost luggage, early morning wake up calls, long waits in the Ho Chi Minh domestic airport, and a series of queues, Chinese whispers and broken sleep, we arrived!
I’m sure many travellers have experienced flights that have gone awry due to unforeseen delays and this trip will go down as a legendary journey. At some point along the way, I entered a state of suspended animation, the only way to survive in these situations. Enter the walking zombie stuck in a time loop, drifting through an overly bright land of marble and garish Singaporean lighting, accompanied by loud piano muzac, as the luggage goes around and around, and none of it is yours, and the help desks offer none. There’s more to this saga but I’ll spare you, dear reader.
It always amazes me how quickly aching bones recover and zombie memories fade. The palate is excited once again and new colours enliven the soul. The tropical heat caresses the skin as the sun goes down and it’s time to go walking. It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Hôi An.
A cooking class for two is booked: Mr T will learn once again how to make delicious dishes that he vows to make at home one day! The best vegetarian restaurant in the world, well maybe at least in Hoi An, has been sampled, and the local beer slides down too easily on a hot and humid day.
It was October by the time we reached Camogli, located on the west side of the peninsula of Portofino, Liguria, northern Italy. The days were still warm but it was not exactly swimming weather. Mischa didn’t take much convincing: it was her only opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean sea. It was the icing on the cake for Mischa.
Whereas the cherry on top for me was choosing a restaurant. It always is.
This morning I woke up with Bali on my mind. My annual trip is long overdue: I find myself longing for her culture and people. The attention to detail, the generosity and warmth of the Balinese people and their daily artistic endeavours are the things I love most. Look closely and you will see so much more than the tourist veneer.
A cheap trinket looks so inviting on a tanned Balinese arm.
Simple meals invite the eye and stimulate the appetite. The detailed presentation is reminiscent of the Balinese ritual of Canang Sari.
Flowers arrive daily, as if by magic, brightening the verandah. A new day always begins with flowers.
This post is in response to the Daily Post’s theme Details. Not macro for me, just detailed.
It’s in the news again. A new study has just revealed that substituting artificial sweetener for sugar and fruit leads to increased weight gain, cravings for carbohydrate and insomnia as well as a possible link to diabetes.
In this latest study, fruit flies were fed artificial sweetener and afterwards, the flies consumed one-third more calories and one-third more food. They also found that artificial sweeteners promoted hyperactivity and insomnia. They concluded that if people eat sweeteners but do not actually get the equivalent amount of calories, they eat more food to make up for it. The increase in consumption of artificial sweeteners also coincided with the dramatic increase in the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
I have never used artificial sweeteners and I don’t intend to soon. Fake foods worry me but then so does the the idea of eliminating sugar altogether from my diet. I’m wondering whether those who go ‘sugar free’ also behave like the fruit flies of the Sydney University study.
Once a week I make a cake. I get a couple of slices over a few days and the rest gets distributed to the hungry fruit fly visitors and family members. This cake covers any sugar cravings I might have for the week and contains a few healthy elements as well. The other bonus is that it only contains five ingredients and, once the ingredients are chopped, it can be thrown together in minutes. The dark chocolate adds rich notes, the nuts and dates add a healthy density and the lack of flour keeps it light.
200g dates, chopped
200g dark chocolate, chopped
200g walnuts, chopped
200g castor sugar
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a 23 cm springform cake tin then line with baking paper on the bottom and sides. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff then gradually add the sugar until they become glossy and meringue-like. Gently fold in the nuts, dates and chocolate. Bake for about an hour. Cool and serve.
Tip: The nuts and chocolate can be roughly chopped ( separately) in the food processor. Pulse and stop the machine as you go. The dates need to be chopped by hand.
Midst all the opulent and overly ornate works of art from the Baroque period, hangs a modest but well-known painting, Il Mangiafagioli, by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), depicting a quotidian scene, a peasant sitting down to a simple lunch of bean soup, onions, bread, a vegetable pie and a jug of red wine. The Beaneater is as Florentine as Brunelleschi’s dome, given that the Florentines were often called by the taunt, ‘beaneaters,’ especially in bygone days.
The painting captures that moment when ‘the peasant is just raising a spoonful of beans to his lips, only to stop, surprised, by the intrusion of the viewer’, and in one sense, it is remarkably like a modern photo, a snapshot of a working class scene. At the same time, the table setting could be the work of an early food stylist. In modern times, food stylists bombard our senses and shape our taste from every media quarter. Note the crisp white linen and the well composed meal, the wine on the table and the strategically placed bread. You would expect to see a rustic wooden table in this naturalistic vignette, something that the modern food stylist would prefer too. (Have wooden planks used as food styling props become clichéd yet and why is good linen shunned in the modern world?) This bean eating peasant has a fine knife and glassware, a generous jug of wine and serve of bread. Perhaps he is an upwardly mobile peasant of the 1590s about to become a member of the white meat-eating class, despite the dirt under his nails.
Interestingly, up until modern times, beans were regarded as peasant food,
‘Social codes in Baroque Italy extended as far as to food. According to contemporary thinkers, foodstuffs like beans and onions, which are dark in color and grow low to the ground, were suitable only for similarly lowly consumers, like peasants.¹
If this Beaneater’s repast were placed before me today, I would be overjoyed and would probably pay dearly for it too, as I once did, at the delightful restaurant, Il Pozzo, in Monteriggione, Tuscany, where a bowl of bean filled Ribollita, served with a side of raw onions and good Tuscan bread cost me a large wad of lire. Other than the price, the meal hardly differed from the one depicted in Carracci’s painting of 1590. Things don’t change much over the centuries in Italy, a conservative country, particularly when it comes to food, recipes and styling.
This modern-day beaneater, Mr Tranquillo, was bribed with a bottle of Yering Sangiovese 2010, to pose for this ‘painting’. A bowl of bean soup, good bread and a glass of wine is a lunchtime reward for hard work.
How to cook dried white beans and eat well for one dollar.
This recipe will give you enough cooked beans for a very large soup for a crowd or enough to divide and freeze for later soups or dips.
500g dried cannellini beans
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
4-5 sage leaves, and/or a small branch of rosemary.
60 ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
2 teaspoons or more of salt
Place the beans in a very large bowl with plenty of cold water. Leave to soak for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Drain the beans and place in a heavy-based saucepan or cast iron pot with the garlic, herbs, olive oil and 2.5 litres of water.
Bring to a simmer on the lowest heat setting and cook, covered, very gently until the beans are tender. Do not add salt and do not boil. Salt hardens beans and prevents them from softening and boiling splits the beans.
Remove any scum that rises to the top of the water. When the beans are soft and the cooking water is creamy, add the salt and some freshly ground pepper towards the end of the cooking. Test and adjust seasoning. Depending on the age of the beans, this could take two or more hours with slow cooking.
Use the beans to make a simple cannellini bean soup. Start with a soffritto of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery cooked gently in olive oil, then when softened, add some vegetable stock and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cooked beans and creamy cooking water. Heat for a further 5 minutes, taste and season. Consider pureeing half the mixture with a stick blender and return the puree to the pot. Serve in a deep bowl over grilled slightly stale sourdough bread and drizzle some good oil on top.