Thursday, May 29, 2014


I have to admit that my travels really do revolve around food. Eating, drinking and taking photographs from place to place is my main idea of travel. Most of my friends think I'm crazy and obsessed but I can't really change it. A couple of months ago, I went to Seoul for a week, a period not enough to fully discover the fascinating, lively city. Of course, my itinerary was packed with great food places to seek out, from Korean-style to noodles and dumplings.

Although this is a bit predictable, my highlight was sitting around the grill plates with lots of locals drinking soju, beer and wheat rice wine, called makgeolli. Cooking lovely cuts of tender skirt meat, garlic and mushrooms and then wrapping it all in lettuce is a fun way to eat. On the side, of course, lots of kimchi and different sauces can be used to spice the food up a bit. I observed the locals to see how they eat and to learn local eating etiquette.

The noodles and dumplings in Kwang Jang market were so delicious that I went back twice. I wish I could speak a bit of Korean to learn the secrets of how she makes her hand-pulled noodles and kimchi and tofu filled dumplings so fresh. Lots of people had also recommended the fried mung bean cake, which is a specialty of the market. Served with white onion and soy sauce, they were great but you need to eat where they make it, fresh and hot. I enjoyed the vegetarian cakes better the coloured seafood stuff.

The third dish I liked was the deep fried chicken and deep fried green pepper stuffed with pork, all washed down with big tankards of beer. The drinking culture reminded me a lot of Vietnam, where we often have beer and rice wine on the table, except in Seoul it's beer and soju. One interesting drink we tried was called 'Sweet after Bitter', a big glass of beer containing two shot glasses, one with soju and one with coke! Of course, you have to drink it down in one go!

Topokki, a dish of sliced rice cake with fish cake and a rich sweet chili sauce was not on the top of my list as it was too spicy and too stodgy . I tried it twice and even after a solid evening of drinking, I didn't like it. But the street food tents all over the city have lots of other stuff to try, too.

Visiting market is another way to see the local culture and Seoul's best market is the Noryangjin Fish Market. I spent hours there taking photographs. What an amazing market with so many different types of fish and I loved the way they arrange their shops and also how they prepare the fresh seafood. It was fantastic experience and I don't think I could ever forget it.

Shopping in Seoul is also great with well-known brands and local products but they aren't cheap. I loved looking at the fashion-conscious young local people walking around shopping centres with cool glasses, fashionable clothes and bag fils of cosmetics. They are obsessed with cosmetics, especially skin whitening products. I've never seen so many cosmetic shops in my life. I wonder what they thought of my country-bumpkin tanned skin!

I'd love to go back to Seoul again for another week as I had a fabulous time there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I like the central coast city of Hue and have been there many times over the years. After a four year gap, I recently visited this charming city again and definitely got my fill of Hue food. We enjoyed very much our stay with La Residence Hotel, fabulously located on the river and within easy walking distance of lots of great street foo

We walked along the Perfume River/ Sông Hương to have breakfast, starting with Bún Hến (clam noodles) and Cơm Hến (clam rice) at 2 Trương Định St. The vendors were pretty funny when it came to bill time. There was quite a long conversation before they decided to charge us 20,000VND - $1 per bowl. I have no problem at all with the price but I did realise that the Hue locals were only charged half what we payed. I said I'm Vietnamese too, you know :). I suggested to her that if she was poor, she should ask me and other people, they probably wouldn't mind donating or loaning her some but cheating is not a good way to do busines

Further along the road, we dropped into two different coffee places where we paid just 7.000VND (35c). It was not the best coffee but it was nice to be treated as a Vietnamese again :). After getting our caffeine hit, we headed to hue's main market, the Dong Ba Market just over the Trang Tien Bridge. As we headed across, I saw a middle aged woman walking along selling bean curd drink. I ordered two bowls and I was ripped off again. I was so upset but just gave her my money and walked away. It seems that Hue people have changed so much, only thinking about instant cash and taking advantage of tourists as much as possible. I felt sad more than angry with them. I've chatted with friends since and they all had similar stories when they visited Hue. Some are even refusing to return, which is a pity!

Anyway, things improved after that. The highlight of my short vacation was the Bún Mắm Nêm from an old lady who has been sitting outside 15 Phan Đăng Lưu St for more than 30 years. It's only 15,000VND (75c) but it was so satisfying after a long walk around the fascinating Đông Ba Market. I have to say that the noodles were really spicy; I was sweating and tears were running from my eyes by the time I'd finished my bowl of noodles. It was fantastic! A second highlight was Huyen Anh restaurant, where they serve grilled beef with noodles and herbs. It was so yummy

Later in the evenings, we normally headed out for supper, too. Two snacks I was really impressed with were Banh Ep (a rice pancake with egg, served with green mango and herbs) and Bang Trang Trung (a crunchy rice cracker with egg, pate, potato and herbs). Of course, I slept very well at night after eating so much each day.

By the end of the trip, I'd completely forgotten about getting ripped off. But one thing I have yet to discover in Hue is really good Bun Bo Hue. We had a couple of bowls but I honestly don't think they were as good as what I've had in Hoi An or Nha Trang. When I go back, I'm going to do more research on that one.