Archive for the ‘Did she say dog?!?’ Category

Did she say Dog?!?

Vietnam is full of contradictions. The old and the new are present in every inch of the city. Elderly in pajamas biking next to Gucci-clad Vespa-driving girls. Women selling fruit on the street outside of art galleries full of $1,000+ paintings. And I am full of contradictions too. The cyclo drivers are always whistling at me for a ride, a constant reminder of my foreign status. I’m so Vietnamese in many ways, but keenly aware of my American-ness too. The truth is I get treated better and worse as a foreigner. I can always get a cab ride, but have to pay more for most goods/services. The travel agent charges me exorbitant prices and gives me the wrong times for my flights, but my Vietnamese friends treat me like a queen. I figure a 30 percent markup on very inexpensive things is a small price to pay for staying in this wondrous country.

I’ve been traveling with a Vietnamese American foodie friend who visits Vietnam annually. He knows all the great street food and we are having a culinary tour of Hanoi. Our first day here we ate four meals between 2pm and 9pm: two kinds of soup, banh cuon and seafood (bloody clams, monster prawns and crab). I was bemoaning the deprived tourists who only eat in restaurants and never experience the joys of street food. My cockiness was noted the next morning when I suffered a quick two minute bout of projectile vomiting. As liquid was streaming from my mouth into the toilet, I was just worried that if I had food poisoning it would put a major cramp in my street food escapades for days! Fortunately, it wasn’t food poisoning and I was back on the street in hours. Last night, we ate at a fancy Vietnamese restaurant. Honestly, the street food has been heaps better and costs a fraction of the price. Plus, I get to witness the amazing street scenes.

This morning, I ate bun oc (snail soup) for one dollar. Lunch was fried tofu, fishcakes, mint, rice noodle and shrimp paste. The shrimp paste dipping sauce was a masterpiece exploding in my mouth comprised of shrimp paste, fresh chili, garlic/chili soaked vinegar, kumquat juice, MSG, sugar and oil. And all for sixty-five cents! Tonight, on my last night in Hanoi, I decided to dine like the locals and eat dog, the Northern specialty. The hotel staff couldn’t believe it and asked for photos as evidence since foreigners don’t eat dog. We ate dog four-ways: roasted, sausage (included peanuts in the sausage), stewed in wine, and my favorite, grilled with lemongrass.

The massages continue and I’ve gotten four massages in two weeks. They are as varied as Vietnam ranging from $4/hour with locals to $18/75 minute aromatherapy massage in a spa. The spa massage was pretty heavenly. The masseuse was kind, gentle, firm and caring. She took me to very edge of pain and then gently rubbed away the hurt. I got a little crush on her from her tenderness J

We are leaving Vietnam tomorrow, and I’m already starting to feel a bit sad and homesick even though I‘ll be back in May. I can’t believe it only took two weeks to feel like home. Vietnam is different this time around, my third trip but now I know I’m here to stay. My days are filled with visiting old and new friends and exploring old and new haunts. I had fears about moving to one of the big cities in Vietnam. Saigon has 10 million people, Hanoi has 4 million, and the traffic, pollution and noise felt oppressive. Somehow, I have quickly acclimated and enjoy the vibrant buzz. I could still do without the nonstop honking though…

Next up is Vientiane, Laos. My friend and I will part ways and I’ll head up to Luang Prubang and then on to Thailand. The adventures continue!

Read Full Post »