Published: February 7th 2011December 14th 2010
Uncomfortable bus cama from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, 4 hours, I was next to the stinky toilet, have to put a scarf over my face to be able to sleep and not suffocate on pee perfume. Midnight we arrived at PP and have to wait almost an hour till the bus came, we got sorted out transferred to a regular bus, but is more comfortable actually, and it's not full so we were able to spread out. 12 hours it took us, border was very straight forward but we got stuck in Saigon traffic. Got dropped off at District 1 Pham Ngu Lao, backpackers area. I have no guidebook and dont know where I am so I befriended Romain, a French dude on the same bus and we both walked to find a hostel together, a man approached us advertising his family's hotel on a small alleyway, just opened last week, very new he says, so we went and the single room is $10, double for $18, then he offered us the rooftop rooms, only toilet no cable tv no doors but for only $5! So we took it, it's new and it's clean and well lit and they put a
fan on for us.
I tagged along with Romain for the rest of the day sightseeing, to the War remnant museum, reunification Palace, Notre Dame, post office, the usual, we took a motobike taxi back to the hostel, traffic here is crazy! That night we sampled the snails and clams at a local street eatery, they are so delicious! Romain being French have no problems eating them so I was relieved, but he stopped short of trying the "balut", duck embryo that is I thought found only in Philippines but now discovered it is perhaps all over SEAsia! A few beers at some bars and bought our own and settled in at the rooftop of our hotel and watched the polluted Saigon skyline from the comforts of our veranda.
Next day same same, sightseeing on a motobike, we stopped at the HCM museum, then back to the Catedral and Post office and then to a small market teeming with life nearby our hotel, we had lunch there of the delicious grilled meat(pork)in dry vermicelli with sauce, superb, and of course I have to try the Pho! Romain left that eve to Danang and I walked around and found
some street food before going to bed early.
I decided to enroll myself on a Culinary school to learn to cook Vietnamese, I looked at some options here in Saigon, from LP I found Bi Saigon which happens to be only a block away from where I am staying in Pham Ngu Lao area, I went to inquire and they were not very helpful, it is also a restaurant and you pay $20 per menu you want to cook and the kitchen looks small so I looked for another one.I picked up a brochure for the Saigon Culinary Art center, I signed up for a day cooking class to test it and was impressed by how they teach and so I decided to talk to the owner and told her what I want to learn and she had me list the food I want to cook, mostly street food, I described to her what I had tried on the streets and she knows exactly the dish, also I picked certain veggies or seafood and asked them to make something for me in Vietnamese style, all in all it will amount to a 5 day session, about $350, well not
my French buddy Romaine trying out street food, delish!
cheap but my course is advanced and also some dish are professional level.
The my chef teacher is a woman who used to work for a big five star restaurant, her English is not perfect but there is always someone to interpret if she cant find the words in English, all the staff were very nice and at your beck and call if you need water, towels, aprons, etc. the main thing I want to learn is the Pho broth, we did the chicken and then also beef Hue style, man the pho broth takes a long time to prepare..we also did some food shopping at the market where I found some cheap delicious clams, I bought it and they cooked it for me to snack on. Salad rolls were fun to make, 3 different styles, spring rolls to die for, prawns and chicken wings with special Vietnamese flavour, I could not eat anymore at the end of the day I am so full, and they make me take out all the extra food from my cooking so I have free dinner already!
1st day took 6 hours, the 2nd day about 4 hours. 3rd day is Seafoods!
I made a request to cook snails, clams, and every sea creatures they eat here, and I was not disappointed! different sauces, and techniques on how to cook them and seafood spring rolls to die for! The crab in tamarind sauce was gorgeous and I now realized like the Thais, they use tamarind paste a lot in their cooking, they like to balance sweet, sour and salty tastes. You have to develop an acquired taste to be able to discern whether your sauce is just right flavoring. Anyway I will learn it as I cook so no worries, the snails are crawling everywhere, they cling to sauce pans, lids even to my knife! But they were delicious when cooked. Exhausted I went back to my hostel and chilled, only problem is just below me a noisy bunch of English guys checked in and they are rowdy, playing guitars loud and screaming and yelling, many times the owners come up to shut them up!
Next morning I was late for my last day of Cooking school, I cannot find my flip flops! I left them in front of the hotel, then one of the owners told me he thinks one
of the rowdy guys must have taken it to Cu Chi tunnel trip for the day! I was visibly pissed, they can travel here but not able to afford a flip flop? The owner apologized as I mouth off some expletives, he offered to lend me one of theirs and promised to talk to the culprit about manners, and promised to kick them out when they return as they were too noisy and out of control from the night before!
Today my last day is Vegetarian day except for the marinated pork we prepared yesterday. We made the best salad spring rolls ever, all veggies, I was impressed, then some dry noodles, they make use of toasted rice, anato seed oil, soya beans, ingredients I dont usually use. After a hearthy breakfast , eating our own creations,we continued, and she cooked a soury soya soup which was fantastic as well. Then grilled the pork chops and BBQs, but the best part is making the stuffed steamed rolled cake, we made it from scratch, rice flour which we used to make white almost transparent rolls from a steaming bowl of water, wow this was hard, requires skills but I quite
enjoyed it but I dont think I have the patience to do this to show friends, so it will be for future use. The day ended with my graduation, they gave me my certificate and a gift consisting of apron, cleaver and some pickle shredder thing! I was ad to leave them they were all helpful and patient with me and now I am an official Vietnamese cook!
I have a couple days more to kill in Saigon, turns out my buddy Connor whom i traveled with in Thailand and Myanmar, is in town at the same time, we agreed to meet up at his hotel room in the eve, him and Matt his Canadian buddy were already pissed! They drank so much, the bottle of cheap moonshines litter their room. But we went out nevertheless and we met some English girls and hang out with them bar hopping, the boys met them the night before and they seem to know the hip clubs as they work here in Saigon. Matt left in the wee hours of the morning, Connor convinced me to move in with him on our last night here in Saigon. i collapsed and fell asleep
on Matt's former bed and did not wake up until 1pm, I panicked as I need to check out of my hotel, left Connor still in a deep slumber, gathered my stuff, checked out and said goodbye to the nice warm family that owned the new hotel.
after proper shower and sobering up Connor and I walked around town and went to some attractions of the city, one highlight was the American market, with all the military apparels they sell, alongside electronic gadgets, construction things etc. I bought some funny Vietnam war era patches with funny phrases like"kill 'em all, let god sort them all out", classic. Last night out, we started bar hopping, we met a German dude at one of the bars, he is actually going to be on the same flight as I to Singapore so we agreed to meet up tomorrow to save taxi fare, long night of more drinking, all I remember was waking up with a heavy head and we rushed to pack our things, our room is a mess, all our stuff sprawled out everywhere, how we managed to pack in 30 minutes was a marvel! And so goes my Vietnam adventure,
one of my favorites, i shall be back again soon, now I leave with a good knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine.
There are more photos below