It is freezing in Hanoi right now, all thing being relative. My coworkers shudder in furry coats, doors keep closing everywhere to keep the draft at bay, and let me tell you – SOUP is on the menu, as if it ever stops being in Southeast Asia but you know. Continue reading
I first tasted genuine street food in Taipei. Some towering psychedelic sundae of shaved ice, technicolour jellies, candied strange fruit pieces, condensed milk and dark sugar syrup drizzled on top; all frozen and chewy and rapidly melting into a fascinating soup. And I fell in love. It might have been sharing it with good friends with thick accents, talking Buddhism on a grassy corner stained saffron with streetlights, or it might have been listening to an impromptu guitarist sing romantic ballads in Mandarin Chinese for all the Taiwanese couples gathered round with their geometric hair and shy appropriateness. It might just have been the sugar content, and the plastic spoons & the plasticky-er container, or the thrill factor of even obtaining it, but suffice it to say – from that moment on, I knew I had to live where this stuff was obtainable. And not just shaved ice. Street food.
Hanoi’s street food is inescapable. It’s not just a place to eat or a kind of business, but the pulsating soul of this city, and it’s for this reason more than maybe anything else, that I can start to call this crazy place home. Granted, I can’t eat it every meal of the day (indigestion my, friends, and carb/oil overload), but if I go too long without it I begin to crave the sound of the sitting women snipping bun noodles from their huge flat woven baskets, the cicada snap of sizzling mysterious compressed pork loaves getting swished around in oil, the blare of motorbike horns punctuating the clack of chopsticks and the conversation of the working class all around.
I mean, what’s the other option? Yes, the refrain is that home-cooked food is soooo much better than eating out, but 50% of the time, that means making a PB&J cracker sandwiches, drinking watery Hanoi vodka and watching Vietnamese cable … while still knowing that 8 floors down and 3 feet to the left of my apartment is a place that serves whole black chicken (Canh gà hầm thuốc bắc) with medicinal herbs – head included, and lotus seeds, and tea broth, and shocked dining companions, and eyeballs, and laughing.
So this is my evolving map of the street eats in Hanoi. I haven’t tried everything on it, but every spot seems worth a check-out, and every one I *have* been to has been a solid place to sit and observe surroundings while soaking in the refractive elements of the broth in front of you. Chicken heads usually not included.
2. Any of the Moroccan pastries from Pâtisserie Le Ryad
Where: Le Ryad (Center of the Jean-Talon market, between the two ATMS)
3. Egg Custard Tart
Where: Rôtisserie Piri Piri (415 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est, (514) 504-6464)
4. Mini Chocolate Babka
Where: Cheskie’s (359 Bernard West)
5. Custard Cornetti
Where: La Cornetteria (6528 St Laurent)
Where: Dragon Beard Candy (52 Rue de la Gauchetière West)
7. Macaron de Reglisses // Licorice
Where: Boutique Point G (1266 Mont-Royal Est)
8. Kouign-Amann from Au Kouign-Amann
Where: Au Kouign-Amann (322 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est. 514-845-8813)
9. Tart au Citron // Lemon Meringue
Where: Fous Desserts (809 Laurier Avenue East)
10. Chocolate-Cherry Macaron
Where: Cerise sur le Gateaux (107 Fairmount Avenue West) (closed)
And… honourable mention – Mango Gelato & Matcha Ice Cream from Kem Coba
Not technically a baked good, but you’d be missing out if you skipped this or any of their other flavours!
Where: Kem Coba (60 Avenue Fairmount Ouest)
STARDATE: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2012
MISSION: THROW A GOING-AWAY PARTY
** note: the memory card for my camera corrupted a few days ago, so this text is simply what it is and no pictures to interrupt it… all’s the better. I’ll be writing down all the recipes mentioned later, too **
Today is my last day in Montreal. So, it’s in this morning, to stare at the unfortunately grey sky and put together the final orchestral movements on the feast I’ve made for my goodbye party tonight, and hope I’ve made enough wonderful things to eat to show them the depth and the field of my love. A kind of nostalgic and wild cook-off that will, I hope, empty my fridge to bareness.
- 01. Brine pork shoulder for banh mi sandwiches
- 02. Marinate firm tofu slices in lemongrass, soy and ginger. also for banh mi sandwiches.
(the ability to properly cook meat has, I’ve decided, no malevolent characteristics. It is a gentle sashay away from death. It is a transformation of death into soul, mobility, and colour. The ability to cook tofu requires force. and garlic)
And I’ve decided that I don’t find much interest in doing things “one last time,” so my final days have been very normal. No desire to eat crackly sweet sesame rings from St-Viateur or Fairmount bagel shops. No need to fill my senses with the carnival of growing things that is the Jean-Talon market. The mountain is no fun when it’s raining like today, and the museum of contemporary art does call my name, but not out of nostalgia, just interest, and I do not have time.
- 03. Make a run to buy one tablespoon of ginger. Put that into gingersnap batter. Turn (some) gingersnaps into crumb crust for key lime bars. Frost others with pink strawberry glaze.
- 04. Make meringue.
(Despite the implied uniformity of the icebox cookie’s geometrically cylindrical shape, it’s probably this very expectation of perfection that stymies it. A drop cookie – oatmeal, say – may be as nubbly, off-form and craggily as it wishes, but an ill-shapen icebox cookie is particularly unsatisfying. That is why I reshape all the ones that require it back into adequately perfect circles before I bake. Gingerbread rhomboids suck)
I’ve even left my dancing shoes in the closet… I’ve been fading from the after-dark scene in Montreal, and no approaching departure date could really make me want to pretend to like partying with hipsters anymore. They’re super nice people, but it’s been the same party for seven years, and I’m not fresh out of art school anymore and I don’t do the drugs that they do. Or any at all these days.
- 05. Assemble raw ingredients for dips – Hummus, salsa, and avocado-edamame – in correctly sized containers for blending later. Can’t make too much noise now, the house is still asleep.
- 06. Finely julienne 2 combined pounds of carrot and daikon. Pickle them in (yet another) brine.
(Ingredients combined together while still being distinct is one of my favourite phases of food. It’s the introductory bits of a relationship, the parts where everything’s still exciting as the butter melts the breadcrumbs and the heat of the onions bring the spices out of their shell. Homogenity can happen later, after the mosaic part. After the part where i can pluck out certain components if I’ve accidentally fudged up the mix).
It’s not that I don’t love this city. I adore it. It’s become a gilded cage, though. I feel like I’ve eaten it’s fruits (juice dribbling down my chin) and absorbed it’s nature so many times already that the taste has become ordinary, and I’m starving for something it can’t provide. A re-invention, maybe.
- 07. Noise OK now. Make stovetop popcorn. Make white chocolate (Valrhona white chocolate) crab-apple popcorn with that. Sweet.
(Using up extremely expensive ingredients on projects that may or may not be worth the quality upgrade is one of the most stripped-down exultory pleasures in life. This kind of pleasure is only increased when the reason for using the ingredients is to remove it’s added weight from your luggage just before leaving town. Pure hedonism).
Of course I will be back one day. Most of the major players in my life live here – the people that I’ve known for so long that I can bare a reasonable amount of guts to them and if my bones or messed-up bits show that’s like, totally OK. People who have pulled me out of the fire again, and again, and again. Curiously, in the past few days, I’ve been making time stop when I’m with my friends. I can see their movements happen as if through glass and in perfect clarity. It’s never happened before like this. I think I’m taking mental snapshots.
- 08. Bake off PB oatmeal raison-chocolate cookies from the freezer. Don’t forget about the shrimp dumplings in there.
(We are so lucky that we are all masters of a simple kind of time machine. And one with very few hazards at that, save freezer burn and the occasional freon leak).
Come to think of it, it wouldn’t make any sense to run around being a tourist in my own city as a way of saying goodbye. No wonder I’ve been focussing so much more on my blog and the inner world and preparing for this party I’m throwing tonight. The snapshots – that is, the moments that have impact – we decide where they occur. Where the stress (both emphasis and challenge) is. It won’t be a challenge today to fall into grace with my chef’s knife and the soft hues of produce and the smell of ginger and the egg whites. That is a dance that my Self With No Name understands – it’s a universal language that applies anywhere people are hungry and there is water enough to boil. Like a turtle, I know I won’t feel scared or hopeless no matter where I go, as long as I’m allowed to cook.
- 09. Empty the pantry of all chips, cookies, crackers, pretzels and popcorn. Bowls.
- 10. Empty fridge of all vegetables, fruits, meat and cheese. Slice and arrange.
- 11. Stop to admire the space left behind.
(Do not leave anything behind that can be enjoyed today. Cavort and frolic in the idea of having no resources left. I would like a pin made, “I survived 6 days without peanut butter” to be worn proudly at opportune occasions, such as first dates with friends, hiking trips, parties where I know nobody, and in Parisian grocery stores).
The challenge of this party won’t be making the food. It will be understanding what it means to say goodbye. I don’t understand it yet. I think I’m beginning to, but there’s still time left to spend and words to say, and I haven’t seen anyone’s hair from behind for the last time yet.
- 12. Assemble banh mi sandwiches. Finishing touches on the table.
- 13. Make a nice gin drink with leftover key limes.
(Spending a day preparing a feast has a way of turning the simplicity of a cold apple for dinner into an even more distinct pleasure).
I’m actually in Vietnam already. The goodbyes have already been made. The table cleared, rooms vacated, suitcases bursting with breakfast cereals, airports navigated with patience. Still nursing some jet lag, and not as lonely as I would be if my lover weren’t asleep next to me, here in the cheapest hostel room in Hanoi. Sometimes, you have to forget that there is anything to miss that isn’t right here beside you.
♥ Enormous love to my friends and family!! ♥
Black is the color of my true love’s hair
His face so soft and wondrous fair
The purest eyes
and the strongest hands
I love the ground on where he stands
Oh I love my lover
and where he goes
yes, I love the ground on where he goes
And still I hope
that the time will come
when he and I will be as one
So black is the color of my true love’s hair
Black is the color of my true love’s hair
Black is the color of my true love’s hair
My boyfriend isn’t a natural cook, although he is one by trade. When I met him, he made mostly just sausages and the occasional frozen chicken pie, and although he does have a riotously killer recipe for a spaghetti dinner that will take your house down and warm your heart doing it, it’s been a slow and fascinating process to open his eyes to concept of food as something that can be good for the soul. Not just a waste of time or a way to stay alive, but something that can be an expression of yourself, a colourful diversion, a movie night improver by spades, and a way to make yourself feel pampered.
It was his idea to make me pancakes, and I could never say no to a treat like that. Plus, I make admittedly terrible pancakes most of the time, so I had a hunch that his attempt would be like that of angels next to mine, owing to the law of life-scale humour. It didn’t hurt that I handpicked a recipe that consisted mostly of sour cream with very little flour in the mix, one that I’d always wanted to try. And since he’s very good at frying things and flipping things in pans, it was only too few sun-soaked moments in our kitchen (that really does look like a boat’s galley and is home to one of the most character-filled ovens I’ve ever had the pleasure of communicating with) before we had fluffy-puff pancakes on the table and ready to share.
I took full opportunity to crack into the fresh bottle of Rogers golden syrup that my mom had packed with her from B.C. – the thick, sweet buttery taste of my griddle-cooked youth and totally unavailable in this part of the world – and opened a jar of some spring-preserved strawberry rhubarb compote I’d made for a cake (to be blogged about later, for sure!). They met in the middle as a rose-pink swirl and each bite tasted of creamy fields and ethereality, and our wizard friend / night-breakfast diner was silently agog with the taste as well. Christian made this? Hells yes pancakes for dinner! Whenever wherever!
I share this recipe in full confidence that at least one person out there will brave the concept of a bowl full of dairy hardly whispered with flour and enjoy these perfect puff-cakes as we did.
Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes
- 7 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/ 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sour cream or yogurt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Maple syrup (or, if you can get your hands on it – golden syrup)
Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium-low heat; you want it to slowly get nice and hot.
Stir the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together in the bottom of a medium bowl. Dump the sour cream in on top and stir it together very gently; it’s okay to leave the texture a bit uneven. Whisk the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl and stir them into the sour cream mixture, once again, being careful not to overmix.
Melt about a tablespoon of butter in your skillet or griddle and pour the batter in, a scant 1/4 cup at a time. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, or until bubbles appear all over the surface, flipping them carefully and cooking for about a minute on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve in a stack, topped with a pat of butter and a cascade of syrup, and if you like……
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
* Liz’s note: this compote preserves very well if properly canned – it loses some of it’s pink hue, but the flavour stays vibrant and springlike and very convenient for rhubarb cravings year-round.
- 1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
- 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed
- 1 lemon
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
Select about 4 ounces of the smallest strawberries and cut lengthwise into quarters. These will be added raw to the cooked compote; set aside.
Cut the remaining larger berries in halves or quarters so that the pieces are about the same size. (You should have about 2 1/2 cups.) Place them in a medium saucepan.
With a paring knife, pull away and discard the strings that run the length of the rhubarb stalks. Cut the stalks into 3/4-inch pieces (you should have about 3 cups) and add to the saucepan.
Use a fine grater or a Microplane to zest the lemon. Add 1 teaspoon of the zest to the pan. Squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice and add it to the pan. Add the sugar and stir to coat the fruit.
Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. By the time the sugar has dissolved, the fruit will have released a lot of juice. Boil for about 4 minutes to reduce the liquid somewhat, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 2 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft. Don’t worry if some of the rhubarb falls apart.
Take pan off the stove and stir in reserved strawberries. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate in a covered container until cold. (This makes about 4 cups of compote, but the extra will keep for a couple of weeks and is delicious for breakfast, especially with crème fraîche.)