(Dinh's Aunt cleans the different types of mushroom, or fungus as they are referred to here... She also has amazing hands and is wearing a gorgeous top.)

We have been in Ho Chi Minh City for about a week now and have had a GLORIOUS time so far. In fact, we are very sad to leave this city of pagodas, mopeds, art, history and energy. Everyday we find a new market, exotic fruit (definitely a rival to India's fruit wonders), pagoda, shrine, coffee shop, French building, elaborate topiary and foot massage parlor. It is easy to fall in love with this place -- it's sprawl, people, romance and sunsets.

The food is a revelation in flavor, temperature and texture -- we've had so many things I've never had or even heard of before -- it's a delight! Being in hot hot India, we ate so much hot food -- heavy with ghee and tastiness . . . But here, the dishes come hot or room temperature with an array of fresh herbs and vegetables to add to your own bowl to your liking -- I love the crunch, the spice and the refreshing nature of the cuisine so far. The only downer is it is pretty difficult to find vegetarian food and we were so spoiled with the 'veg' situation in India...

One of the best experiences we've had so far has been cooking alongside our host's Aunt. She speaks a clucky, grandmotherly sing song Vietnamese (no English except to tell me "you're number one" as I did the dishes) and I had the pleasure of spending the morning at her side, assisting in the chopping/cleaning and general preparation of an elaborate lunch. Despite the language barrier, I learned so much from her. Further proof that food has no language -- everyone can engage, enjoy, feast and laugh in the kitchen.

(from left to right: onion flowers soak in the sink before being trimmed to stir-fry, soy skins sit in a bag, awaiting to be crackled in hot oil -- kinda like vegetarian pork rinds -- the "snow fungus" and "cat ear fungus" sit in water to cleanse any dirt -- they remind me of jellyfish or a sea creature as I chop them for our lunch, kinh gioi {I think this is what it's called} is a common herb in spring rolls and served with pho and bun -- I pluck the leaves and they sit in the big blue strainer.)

My notes are scattered and more free-form to give a concrete recipe for what we ate -- but the thing I observed the most from this style of cooking is that it's all about simple preparation of a variety of ingredients (mushrooms, tofu, herbs, rice, a few other vegetables, etc.) and then each dish is tossed together at the last moment with just a few additional flavors. There weren't very many dry spices -- just a little stock mix and sugar -- as I observed, but the fish sauce, water and fresh garlic cloves were in just about everything. This last minute assembly continues further to the table, where everyone is given a small bowl and a variety of condiments to doctor up the dishes a bit more, as you see fit. I love this custom -- sometimes I love a lot of spice, salt and sauce and occasionally, a mellow, unadorned vegetable and rice is perfection.

(fried tofu blocks and soy skins await their final stop in the spring roll.)

(Aunty fries tofu with long chopsticks and a little dance, away from the pan, as the oil spits deliciousness.)

(We dine on a former Embassy table about 12 feet long!)

The meal ended up being more of an epic poem than anything else -- straight from a scroll in the early 20th century pagodas we've been hanging out in . . . Tofu spring rolls (mine are short and stubby, Dinh's {our host} long and elegant -- I'm still a grasshopper in my rolling abilities) with peanut sauce, gourd and snow fungus soup, white rice, tofu, cat ear fungus, soy skin/crackle and mushroom stir fry and quick-sauteed chive flowers . . . For dessert, "to cleanse our palates" as Dinh said, the sweetest and smallest tangerines I've ever eaten. It was the perfect lunch and education. It was all so wonderful and sensoral, I promptly got into bed and took a two hour nap. I was completely blissed out.


  1. so wonderful to see so many pictures...i really got a sense of what it was like to be in the kitchen AND in the dining room. you are the perfect travel companion for me, who during the same hours is only traveling around the bedroom in dreamland . CR

  2. Leslie and went there on our honeymoon! your pics bring back lots of great memories. Did your host happen to be Dinh Le?