Streetside Desserts in Hanoi

K and I have a habit of joining any queue of locals that we see on our travels. Is there a queue winding around a street and no one can explain what it’s for? We’ll join it, and see where it takes us. Luckily, it hasn’t really failed us yet and we’ve been able to try some amazing food because of it!

On one of those occasions, we lined up to try some chè made by a lady on the side of the road in the Hanoi Old Quarter. With one pot full of lotus paste rice, and other pots full of sweet puddings and soups, she was making soupy desserts on demand for passerbys who ate it sitting on little stools in front of her.

hanoi-dessert

With some miming and pointing (with the associated giggling from those nearby), K and I managed to get ourselves a bowl of the lotus rice with a sweet ginger soup, and a bowl with a red bean soup. They were absolutely heavenly, and just large enough to fill that little hole in your stomach that only exists at around 4pm.

It was probably made just that little bit tastier and satisfying knowing that it had been cooked up in her kitchen at home, and we were eating someone’s genuine home cooking. That’s what I love most about travel – really taking the effort to eat where the locals eat to ensure that you’re having as authentic experience as possible.

How do you ensure you have an authentic experience when you travel?

Fresh Food Markets in South East Asia

If there’s one thing that most people don’t do well in developed countries like Australia, it’s embracing the glory of fresh food, straight from the ground. As a nation, we eat so much frozen, shrink-wrapped, boxed and over-packaged products from supermarkets that we forget what proper, fresh, straight-from-the-source food tastes like.

I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this myself. I live in a highly urban area, I work full time, and week-to-week, I don’t have the time to travel out of my way to go to a Farmer’s Market and buy my groceries straight from the source. I do what I can in trying to cut down my consumption of processed foods, but sometimes my love of pre-cut pre-seasoned potato wedges outweighs any ‘food miles’ ethics.

I really enjoyed experiencing the complete opposite lifestyle while I was travelling through South East Asia in December. The streets of Vietnam in particular, were particularly full of small farmers selling their home-grown produce.

asian-markets-01

Aren’t the colours vibrant and the produce fresh? Walking through the market district of any Vietnamese city or town is a real delight, as you get confronted with the smells and sounds of housewives haggling over the cost of fresh produce for their evening meal.

You see butchers selling hunks of meat straight off a concrete slab, perhaps slaughtering a chicken right in front of you. You see a lady with a cage full of live frogs, decapitating and skinning them in one easy five second motion. You discover new produce that you wouldn’t normally find at home. It’s the type of really tangible and real market shopping that is very hard to find in Australia.

asian-markets-02

K and I have tried to replicate some of the delicious fresh Vietnamese dishes that we had while we were overseas. We feel particularly virtuous and healthy when we make ourselves a Vietnamese salad, with a mix of fresh herbs, lettuce, bean sprouts, chillis and vermicelli noodles, with a squeeze of lime juice and fish sauce as a dressing. All fresh produce – but not the same quality as the produce we saw in Vietnam. We have a while to go before we reach that pinnacle of fresh healthy eating exemplified by the Vietnamese!

Are you more of a fresh food eater, or a processed food consumer? How do you reconcile your food ethics with your lifestyle?

Review: Line Clear, Penang, Malaysia

I visited Malaysia for the first time in December last year, spending three days in Penang and three days in Kuala Lumpur (with a day in Seremban, visiting K’s family). I was really looking forward to trying all the different foods, especially after some great experiences with a buffet at the Grace Hotel, and a cooking class with Jackie M.

I found on my trip that I really enjoyed the do-it-yourself routine of a lot of Malaysian street food. I learnt to look out for any stalls marked ‘nasi kampur’, knowing that I’d be guaranteed a delicious motley of a meal where I would have hand-picked every grain of rice, curry, meat or vegetable that appeared on my plate.

One of the better nasi kampur places we went to on our holiday was Line Clear off Penang Road in Georgetown. It is quite a famous Indian-style eatery down an alleyway – so famously good that K’s father made a special point of printing out directions for us before we went overseas, as he wanted to make sure that we would try the food there.

line-clear

I couldn’t precisely tell you what we ended up getting at Line Clear – there was a mutton in curry which melted off the bone, a fried chicken with beautiful spicy batter, a spicy yellow rice, and more. All the dishes were delicious, and the restaurant was clearly a favourite with the locals. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any roti on the day we went, so we ended up going up the street for our roti fix!

Line Clear is located off Penang Road in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.