Saigon: BBQ Ostrich, Boats, Bun Bo Hue

We’ve made it to Saigon. I call it Saigon because it is easier to type than Ho Chi Minh City. The Khmer call it Prey Nokor since it was Cambodian until the 1700s, but I won’t get into it.

We took the Sapaco Tourist Bus, which leaves from Sihanouk Boulevard near Olympic Market, and it was relatively painless – clean enough bus, something approximating leg-room, and a fairly painless border crossing experience. $12 each. I would use them again. They also showed us Terminator 3. A Vietnamese woman with a high-pitched voice did all of the voices, including Arnie.

We’re staying at the Ngoc Minh Hotel, which is just as nice as advertised on TripAdvisor. It’s clean, small, quiet, and tidy, and in a very convenient location. I can’t think of any witty complaints.

For lunch, we stumbled down the street and upon Mitau, a restaurant that specializes in food from Hue, the historic central Vietnamese city we’re going to end our trip in. I like Bun Bo Hue – we get this stuff back in Sacramento, which might as well be a Vietnamese annex in some spots – and this was tasty stuff. I especially appreciated the fish cake. We were served free jasmine tea and fantastic candied ginger chips for dessert. The lady who owns the place has a championship golfer son and the place is decorated in golf-Christmas-tea-shop kitsch which I found extremely charming.

It was nap-time at the model boat store. I love model boats and Saigon seems to have a curiously large number of speciality model boat stores. I really would like one but they probably wouldn’t fit well in my crap backpack.

SHARK BOAT IS POSSIBLY THE MOST AWESOME BOAT IN THE UNIVERSE

We walked along the Saigon River and found this large cargo boat being retrofitted. There were also some cannon and some little boys capturing goldfish out of the river – not sure how cute little dime-store goldfish survive in this river but they do. It was a pleasant spot to sit. The hawkers here actually just shrug and walk off when you shake your head “no” which is a pleasant departure from Cambodia.

We walked by a new hotel celebrating opening day. The bell-boys were burning some fake money for good luck. They do this in Phnom Penh but have never had a chance to take some photos. So I did. They were nice about it.

Lucky (fake) money into the fire. No, it’s not real.

We went to the Luong Son Quan BBQ restaurant, an old stalwart of a local grilled-meat joint. Open-air, lots of people drinking 75 cent Tiger beer out of mugs with straws, all kinds of bizarre things on the menu. The food was cheap and excellent. They don’t mark up Diet Coke here like they do in Cambodia. Is that some sort of economic indicator?

People eating tasty animals. Those people being Phill and I.

The menu at Luong Son is nothing if not creative – and extensive. We passed on the Steamed Penis and Ball of Goat with Chinese Medicinals. Maybe we made a dire mistake for our love life but I’m sort of doubting it. We did get ostrich, which was fabulous. Like the love child of chicken and beef.

Inside Bo Tung Xe. Thanks for making my photo more amusing without me noticing, random guy.

Saigon by night. The traffic is bad but not as bad as Phnom Penh. People drive mostly scooters here instead of exceptionally old bikes. People also sort of follow traffic regulations in Saigon, which they don’t in Phnom Penh. As Phill noted, security guards here are usually grown men instead of 16 year olds playing Angry Birds on their cellphones which may be another economic indicator.

It’s sort of impossible not to compare and contrast when you’re from a country that is constantly engaged in a sort of one-upmanship battle with the other (and very different levels of development). That’s one of the reasons I came to Vietnam.

Well, that and the food. The food is awesome.

Indian Delight: Best Damn Indian Food in Cambodia

Indian Delight
115e0, Sisowath Quay
023 724 885
Phnom Penh
 I’m an Indian food snob. I lived in Bangalore for six months back in 2008 and went back in 2010: I’m no fan of the uber-heavy, cream-rich Muhgali food that’s favored outside the Subcontinent. However, I was very happy to discover India Delight on Sisowath Quay, which turns out Indian food much closer to the non-coronary-inducing masalas and curries I remember from India. They even pay attention when you ask for your food spicy. Furthermore, there isn’t a heady layer of grease hanging over everything you order.
I find chicken tikka masala way too rich the way most places make it, but Indian Delight’s version is just about akin to crack for me. You know what this stuff is (hint: it was invented in Britain) but I’ll describe it again: pieces of roasted tandoori chicken cooked in a very spicy, slightly creamy sauce with a profusion of fresh spices. This is definitely the tastiest tikka masala I’ve had – hell, ever, I think – and it’s only $5.00. I sometimes wish I could just eat this for lunch every day. It’s especially good with the yellow rice peas pulao they serve here, which has a bit of saffron in it.
There’s also a rich version of vindaloo, the Portugese-inspired Goa dish of curried chicken with plenty of vinegar and meat, as well as potatoes. My boyfriend is rather fond of the stuff and orders it regularly. I haven’t ordered it myself – the tikka masala has its siren song – but it is decent stuff.

Christmas in Cambodia: Vintage 2010

Christmas in Cambodia 2010 

I did a photo-essay on Christmas in Cambodia last year and had a rather fabulous time doing it. The melancholy-expat blues have whomped over over the head this year and my heart wasn’t quite as in it in 2011, but hoping to get a few decent shots tonight and tomorrow to reassure myself I’m not a total bum. Anyway, enjoy.

North Korea Video Hi-Lites: Kim Jong-Il’s Only Public Speech, Dear Leader Impersonators

The Dear Leader only gave one public speech during his time as ruler of North Korea, and it wasn’t exactly lengthy. In fact, all he said was “Long Live the Heroic Korean Army,” according to journalist Nate Thayer, who was present at the time.

It’s kinda like the King’s Speech,  but 80% less touching.

Gentleman: are you short, squat, and toad-like? Capable of rocking a pompadour and push-up shoes? Have I got a growth industry for you. It’s like Elvis without the singing or charisma.

I’m not entirely sure WHY Kim Jong-il lying in state in a glass coffin reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Trying not to read into it too much. I love the quavering voice of the commentator. Also, the “Circa 1942-2011” insignia on the coffin, in case you were confused.

Kim Jong-Un looks absolutely terrified. I would be too if I were him. He reminds me of nothing more than that nerdy fat kid in middle-school who drew anime cartoons at his desk all the time and refused to make eye contact with other people. And now he’s suddenly running a nuclear power. At least there’s perks. Running the DPRK comes with perks.

It would be remiss to leave the now-classic Vice Guide to North Korea out of this post, I reckon. One wonders if the DPRK’s supposed legion of highly-advanced computer hackers have figured out the dark art of Google when it comes to screening visitors – hell, Myanmar has got that one under control.

If you are reading this, North Korean hackers, let me say I have nothing but admiration for your beautiful country, and would love to visit soon so I can say all kinds of snarky things about it. Regards.

 

 

Rahu Phnom Penh: I Forgot I Kinda Like Hipster Sushi

Rahu
Sisowath Quay
10 Sisowath Quay
Tel: 023 215 179
Hipster sushi makes up roughly 80% of the diets of Northern Californians, and I’m pleased to announce that Phnom Penh now has an entry into the field. Restaurant chain Metro has opened a sushi outpost next to Harem Shisha Bar and the Riverhouse Lounge, with sushi and Japanese specialities added on to the standard Metro menu.
The dark, moody, and aggressively hip decor – yes, I’ll mention the Angry Monk Kid painting in the back corner, let’s stop talking about it now – is set off by extremely attractive and somewhat attentive wait-staff. Where Rahu really shines is after 11:00 PM, when the sushi menu is discounted by 50%. In fact, I’ve never actually eaten at Rahu before the discount hit.
In a city where late-night food can be limited—if you’re not brave enough to risk food stalls and gastrointestinal ruin—this late night sushi can be something of a blessing, especially if you’re not really that into greasy hangover prevention chow. Rolls top out at around $5 and most are in the $3.50 area. It’s a pretty good deal for the tastiest sushi I’ve had in town. The menu is not particularly extensive, but all the bases are covered, with sushi rolls, sashimi, and some other Japanese classics on offer.
The spicy salmon rolls are my favorite here. The legitimately spicy salmon interior is wrapped in rice which is studded with small, crispy tempura bits. It’s finished with a not-excessive drizzle of wasabi mayo and is really a pretty perfect light meal or late-night snack. I used to bitch about California sushi’s obsession with sauces, but now I miss them. I miss them a lot.

Another Christmas in Cambodia, Insert Dead Kennedy’s Humor Here

My second Christmas in Cambodia is coming up in a few days. I thought I’d be going home for the holidays this year, but other responsibilities intervened, and now I’m spending another December 25th in Phnom Penh.

Christmas is just a day, and furthermore, a religous holiday celebrating a religious belief I don’t adhere to – but my family’s secular Christmases are always pretty good fun. I mostly miss cooking inordinate amounts of unhealthy food and uncorking a lot of high-end champagne, under the all-powerful and all-encompassing pretense of It’s the Holidays, Dammit.

Shut up and drink your champagne and eat your prime rib, your left-overs, the candy your parents were kind enough to hide in your stocking even you were well past your sell-by date and should have known better.

There was also the drive-into San Francisco either a couple of days before or after Christmas – this a tradition I am fully in favor of, crowds in Union Square and overpriced household goods be damned, in the grandest tradition of smushing one’s face against the Williama’s Sonoma display and complaining about the fact that the department stores have done a lousy job with their blow-out display windows for a while now, which can be blamed on the recession.

Back in the days when I used to want cooking goods for Christmas – having had no kitchen for a year and a half, it’s a bit more of a hazy concept, like a sort of vestigal limb, if a skill can be called “vestigal.” These San Francisco holiday visits would usually end in Chinese food somewhere in the vicinity of Chinatown, which had red and gold trim and was sort of Christmasy no-matter what time of year it was, what with all the sparkly lights.

Feels a lot less like Christmas here this year than last year. Not for lack of trying on Cambodia’s part. Even as compared to last year, the decorations and the tinsel and the trees and the Santa outfits and everything else are all stepped up. Santa visits children outside the Canon store on Sihanouk, I swear to God the gigantic inflatable Santa on Monivong is BIGGER this year, and seemingly everybody has got a Christmas tree in their shopfront or restaurant.

The religions meet, intertwine: people loop colorful lights around the family spirit house. Christmas is a secular holiday for me and it is a secular holiday for Cambodians: this I understand. What do Cambodians do on Christmas? According to a few people I have asked, about what my family does: “We get together and we eat a lot of food, and we drink a lot. We give presents.”

It is a congenial holiday. I just got around to listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole today out of a rather faded sense of duty. I seem to be forgetting the words but it is likely I will re-learn them.

I’ll be adding photos to my Christmas in Cambodia gallery up until the day, and probably after as well.

Cambodian Landmine Clearances Badass

Just another day in the uniquely nerve-wracking life of a mine-removal expert in Cambodia. These guys are real heroes – and completely fearless. The closest I’ve ever been to bonafide Land Mine Country is Koh Ker, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the stones to walk in the footsteps of a landmine clearance pro.

Mr Ra has also been given the distinct honor of being named Badass of the Week on the Internet.