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Thai Cooking Class

Here are a few photos of the day we spent at a Thai cooking class north of Chiang Mai.  It included a tour of the market (amusing, since we’d been going to these types of markets for months now); a tour of a garden packed full of ingredients like lemongrass, galengal and tumeric; and an afternoon of chopping, mixing, wok-ing and eating.  No specific measurements, just instructions to pour the oil and fish sauce into a big spoon “with emotion” and add chilis in quantities that were proportionate with whether we felt “a little sexy, medium sexy or suuuper sexyyy.”  Maybe not an intensive learning session, but definitely a lot of fun.

Different types of rice

Garden hats

Garden tour

Rice paddy

Banana blossom

Prep for holy basil stir fry

Mashing the som tam

Red curry paste ingredients

Panaeng curry ingredients

testing the curry

Red curry and coconut cream soup ingredients

Making the sticky rice with coconut cream, palm sugar and salt.

Batter for the deep fried bananas

Cooking together

Dinner is served

02
Jun 2013
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Organic Farming in Ban Khun

Cherry tomato vine

While we were staying with Kevin in Chiang Mai (for the second time), we were able to tag along on one of his jobs.  It was burn season in Thailand and the three of us were happy to leave the city where it was so smoky that the big mountain, Doi Suthep, was invisible.  It turned out to be smoky everywhere else too, but at least in the mountains it’s mixed with less exhaust.


Burning the undergrowth

Kevin does filmmaking for non-profits and his friend Sean had a project for him.  Sean is an American who is working to improve the wellbeing and economic stability of his wife’s Karen (“Kuh-RIN”) hill tribe village in the Omkoi district in the southwest part of Chiang Mai Province.  He is experimenting with vegetable growing methods that are kind to the earth and result in organic produce that can be sold at higher prices to local markets and restaurants.  He is shouldering the burdens of trial and error and hopes to pass on the knowledge to local farmers who may be interested in switching from conventional (chemical) farming.

Here is an explanation from Sean’s website:

“Over the past decade or more chemical fertilizer companies have come into many of the local hill tribe communities promoting their product and investing into local farmers to grow many different crops.  This created many jobs for many poor Karen farmers.  Over time farmers have become reliant on this market and the chemicals and have since lost the ability to take care of the land and use natural resources.  They are have no other market and are forced to sell to middle men and make no money almost every year, growing things like tomato’s and chilis.  We aim to make it possible for these farmers to go back to their roots of working with land in a more natural way and help them find a higher price for their produce.”

Seedling trays

Sean's porch

View from Sean's window

Mosquito net

Sean's dirtbike

Breakfast mango

Sean built his house himself, and it features an open-air kitchen and a porch with a great view of the valley below. (His wife and children were visiting friends back in Chiang Mai, so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to meet them.) It was fun making dinner together and throwing the scraps to the chickens waiting just outside the window. Sean’s mother-in-law helped chop vegetables and brought over a really big knife to cut the meat.

Garlic pounder

Alicia making dinner with MIL

Alicia's borrowed knife

Potato hash

Plate o' pork

Inlaw's house

Rice mill

Dog

Alicia and MIL

If this were a blog about organic farming, we probably would have taken better notes about the seedling trays, the vermicompost (worm tea), the natural fungicide sprays that cost the same as the chemicals, the greenhouses, the rice paddy irrigation, and the way the roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation lines.  Pictures will have to stand in for actual information.

Vermicompost

Drip irrigation

Sean holding beet seeds

Sean showing how roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation

Kevin shot lots of great footage that will help Sean share organic farming methods with Karen and Thai farmers.

MIL's carrot

Kevin filming MIL

Making furrows for the beets

Fun aunt

Mixing up a carrot fungicide

Wildflower tangle

Pressure sprayer motor and fungicide

Jodi spraying the carrots

Walking out to the rice paddies

Cows grazing in the dry rice paddies

Kevin shooting the workers

Worker throwing soil on the raised tomato beds

New Pi

Workers hitching a ride back to the village

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

The greenhouse

Soaking the seedlings

On the last day before we made the long drive back to Chiang Mai, Sean’s mother-in-law called us into her house and fried us some sweet sticky rice batter.

Fried sweet sticky rice batter

MIL cooking

Tony asked about the little star tattoos that dotted her hand and wondered if they had any particular meaning or purpose. Sean translated her response:

“When I was young, it was the fashion. There is no meaning, we just thought it looked pretty.”

Big smiles all around.

Hand tattoos

02
Jun 2013
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What We Ate in Cambodia

While it makes us feel a little better to know that Cambodia isn’t really known for its cuisine, we also feel a little guilty.  We didn’t really experience a huge variety of outstanding food in Cambodia. Half of the blame falls on us, because we didn’t get out of tourist areas much. The other half was that we actually had some difficulty finding good local food. Other than in areas directly adjacent to markets or inside the markets themselves, it seemed like most of the places we went had almost no street food (compared to Vietnam and Thailand where you are almost tripping over it).  We know we missed a ton, and we’re not even sure whether everything below is uniquely Cambodian.

But what we did find was delicious.

Chicken heads

 

So here’s a very small taste of Cambodia.  You’ll need some utensils.  They’re all ready for you, waiting in their hot water bath.

 

Clean silverware delivered to your table in a glass of steaming water

Donuts with a toffee-like crunchy glaze.

Candy glazed donuts

Mi Char – Short, worm shaped noodles rolled by hand, fried with sprouts and meat and greens, topped with a fried egg.Khmer noodles with fried egg

Sach Ko Chomkak – Marinated beef skewers grilled over hot coals, dipped in sweet chili sauce, served with a tangy green papaya and carrot salad.  You’re charged by the number of skewers you order but the vegetables are all-you-can-eat and on the house.  One of our favorites.Grilled beef with chili sauce and green papaya salad

Bobor – Rice porridge, a typical breakfast food. This one has chicken, crispy fried garlic and a blood cube.Breakfast: rice porridge

Grilled red snapper with tamarind sauce.Red snapper

Nyoum Trayong Chaek – Banana blossom salad, really similar to the ones we ate in Thailand.
Banana blossom salad

Kuy Teav Phnom Penh – a Phnom Penh specialty featuring meat, blood, liver, intestines and tongue. This particular one is of porcine origin.
Mixed pork noodle soup

Num Pa Chok Kari Sach Ko - Curry beef and noodles.
Curried beef and noodles

Khmer red curry with chicken, potato, pumpkin and vegetables.
Red curry with chicken

Green curry with prawns, potato, onion and green beans. Those things that look like oversized peas are water lotus seeds.
Green curry with prawns

Amok – A thick, turmeric-heavy yellow curry with vegetables, typically with fish but there’s always a meat or prawn option, topped with coconut cream…
Amok with green beans

…sometimes served in a banana leaf if you’re someplace fancy.
Amok in a banana leaf

Our first pizza in five months. So what if it had corn and mayo on it.
Pizza in Phnom Penh

17
Mar 2013
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What We Ate in Vietnam

Oh man. How to organize this one? There’s so much, it’s going to have to be done alphabetically this time. But we’ll save dessert and coffee for last.

Hoi An market stall

Hoi An street vendor

This is by no means a comprehensive survey of Vietnamese food. It’s going to be our biggest travel food post, but we didn’t come close to sampling all the possibilities. As we were looking up the Vietnamese names for things (please feel free to submit corrections), we kept coming across lists of “must try” foods that we either skipped or flat out never saw. We spent a month in cities in Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, and our number one objective was to eat. But there is still so much we missed.

Sidewalk restaurant

How do you find good food in Vietnam? Wander down any sidewalk or through any market hall. Look for tiny plastic stools. Are there only one or two stools free? Is everyone throwing their napkins and bones and lime peels on the ground? Good. Sit down immediately. Wait. The proprietor may ask what you want. They’re probably only serving one or two things. Point to your neighbor’s table or just hold up one finger and smile. You will be brought something delicious.

Sidewalk

Xoi Yen restaurant, Hanoi

Here goes. What We Ate in Vietnam:

Bánh Bao – Large steamed stuffed dumplings.
Bánh Bao

This bánh bao is filled with minced pork, onions and a quail egg.
Banh Bao

Bánh Bèo – Tiny shallow dishes filled with gelatinous steamed rice cakes, topped with pork, fish sauce and peanuts.
bánh bèo

Bánh Bột Chiên – Rice pancake topped with herbs, bean sprouts, soy sauce and hot ginger sauce.
bánh bột chiên

Bánh Mì – Fresh baguette sandwich with pork pâté, bacon, shredded pork, crispy bbq eel, herbs, chili sauce.
Bánh mì

Bánh Tôm – Shrimp and yam fritters.  (Plus some mini pork wontons.)
Bánh Tôm

Bánh Xèo, Nem Lụi – Savory griddle cakes made with turmeric, pork, shrimp, green onion, and bean sprouts. Skewers of grilled minced pork. Wrap it all up in rice paper sheets, along with spicy peanut sauce, herbs, shredded green papaya and unripe banana.
Nem Lụi, Bánh Xèo

Bắp Cải Nhồi Thịt Cua – Cabbage stuffed with crab.
Stuffed cabbage

Bò Nướng Cuốn Cải – Thin slices of grilled marinated beef served with coarse chili lime salt. We rolled it all up in these big leaves that had a tangy taste almost like horseradish.
Bò nướng cuốn cải

Bún Bò Nam Bộ – A thin rice noodle salad with marinated beef, pickled green papaya and carrot, bean sprouts, fried onions.
Bún bò Nam Bộ

Bún Chả – Sweet broth with fish sauce and slices of green papaya. Grilled pork. Rice noodles. A mountain of cilantro, mint, local herbs, lettuce, and green beans. Chopped fresh garlic and chiles. Some assembly required.
Bún chả

Garlic and chiles

Assembly

Bún Thịt Nướng – Grilled pork on noodles, topped with peanuts, cilantro, pickled carrot and nước chấm (a sweet and sour sauce that’s also salty and spicy).
Bún Thịt Nướng

Cao Lầu – Noodles, broth, meat, herbs.  A combination we’ve come to know and love, but this one is a little different.  The cao lầu noodles are made with water from certain wells in Hoi An, so supposedly the true version of this dish is only available in one place in the entire world. We were skeptical, but the noodles do have a unique mineral flavor that we never encountered again.
Cao Lầu

Cha Ca – fish cakes with dill.
Cha Ca

Chả Giò – Deep fried spring rolls stuffed with minced pork. Often served with our beloved bún chả.
Spring rolls - Chả_giò

Chuối Chiên – Deep fried mashed banana. Sometimes with a slice of coconut (dừa) The newspaper wrapping can’t contain the sweet deliciousness (or the grease).
Deep fried banana ladies

Chuối Chiên

Cơm Cháy Kèm Sốt Cà Chua Thịt Lợn – Pork in a sweet tomato sauce with deep fried rice cakes.
sốt cà chua

Cơm Tấm – “Broken rice” topped with whatever pre-prepared additions you care to you point at. In this case, it’s a dumpling slice, fried spring rolls, roast pork and greens.

Giấp Cá – This is the only non-yummy thing in this blog post. The first time I (Alicia) ate this herb, it was mixed in with a whole bunch of others that I was rolling into rice paper along with other delicious things. I took one bite and literally gagged. Something tasted like old fish tank water. I thought maybe something spoiled had found its way to my plate and my appetite was killed for the rest of the day. (If you know me, this is a shocking event.) The second time, it was lurking in a dish of Cao Lầu. I recognized the nasty flavor and tasted each leaf in my bowl until I found the culprit. I pulled out all of the dark green glossy leaves. Later that day, I Googled “gross Vietnamese herb” and found it. Apparently the Chinese call it “fishy smell herb.” Yep. That’s the one.
Devil weed

Gỏi Đu Đủ – Shredded green papaya, dried beef, basil, peanuts, sweet chili sauce, side of rice crackers.
Gỏi Đu Đủ

Gỏi Hoa Chuối – Shredded banana blossom salad. (Banana blossom is mild and nutty, with a crunchy texture similar to shredded carrots or ginger.)
Gỏi Hoa Chuối

Hến Trộn – A finely chopped salad with tiny clams, onion, herbs, ground fish, topped with peanuts, served hot and comes with a giant rice cracker for dipping and scooping.
Hến trộn

Mì Quảng Lươn – Eel noodle soup for breakfast. Top with shredded banana blossom and big crispy rice crackers.
Mì Quảng Lươn

Mì quảng refers to the type of noodles, and the name of this dish should have additional descriptive words following it, but I’m not sure what those are. This mì quảng had herbs, just enough broth to moisten the noodles, a chicken leg, roast pork, corned beef, and dumpling.
mystery Mì Quảng

Another mystery mì quảng. This time with two hard boiled quail eggs.
Mì Quảng with egg

Mystery Skewer – These tiny rice paper envelopes are stuffed with thin noodles and make a great vehicle for sweet, fiery chili sauce.  We found them in the tiny fishing village of Bai Xep. A skewer costs mere pennies.
Mystery Skewer

Sweet chili sauce

Nem Chua – Fermented pork roll steamed in a banana leaf. Sounds terrible, looks worse, but pairs nicely with a cheap brew. We had these on one of our afternoon bike rides through Hoi An.
Sausage in a banana leaf

Phở Bò – Beef noodle soup doesn’t begin to explain the magic. The thinly sliced meat is put into the bowl still raw, and the rich steamy broth is ladled over top, cooking it just past rare in a flash. You can doctor it up with lime, chiles and herbs.
Pho Bo

Phở Thịt Lợn – Another excellent noodle soup. This one has pork and is topped with pickled shallots, hot sauce, peanuts and cilantro. A squeeze of lime and a side of green papaya slices takes you to the moon.
Phở
Phở Gà
Phở Gà – This one’s with chicken. You can even add…

Doughnut sticks.
…Giò Cháo Quãy – Donut sticks. Ok, we’re going out of alphabetical order here, but DEAR FRIENDS, YOU CAN PUT DONUTS IN YOUR SOUP. What a magical world we live in. Crispy on the outside and nearly hollow inside, these things soak up your phở broth and you’ll forget things like oyster crackers ever existed.

Roll-your-owns. – That’s obviously not the Vietnamese name, but we ate it on a sidewalk in Saigon and there wasn’t a sign posted. Grilled pork with peanuts and green onion. Top with pickled carrots and green papaya, slices of starfruit, unripe banana and cucumber. Add lettuce, mint, basil and chives, dip in sweet and sour fish sauce with chilis. Roll it all up in rice paper triangles. This was so good and so cheap that we ordered a second round and tipped 50 percent.
Roll-your-owns

Train Lunch. – What you might get from the hot food cart on a train at lunch time. Steamed rice, greens, deep fried egg, mystery meat (probably beef) stir fried with pineapple and pickled bamboo shoots.
Train lunch

Trứng Cút – Quail eggs. Hard boiled or cooked in the shell over hot coals.
Trứng cút

Village Mystery Soup – Another culinary mystery from the village of Bai Xep.  The broth tasted of sea food and the rice noodles were thick, transparent and gelatinous.  The chunks floating in it didn’t have much flavor and we thought it could have been squid or octopus, but the woman shook her head and laughed when we pointed to the soup and then pointed to Tony’s squid tattoo.  In hindsight, it was likely pig stomach or some other sort of organ. We may never know.
Village mystery soup

Xôi Xéo – Yellow sticky rice with shavings of mung bean paste and your choice of meat and toppings. This one has roast pork, mushrooms, peanuts and crispy fried onions.
xôi xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with Chinese sausage.
xôi xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with beef and pork dumpling.
Xôi Xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with a small omelet and finely shredded dry pork.

WHEW. Hopefully you have a little room for coffee and dessert.

Cà Phê Sữa Nóng – Strong black coffee brewed by the cup. The velvety richness of Vietnamese-style coffee can be explained by the fact that it is often roasted in clarified butter. Add to that a generous pour of sweetened condensed milk (sữa) ready to be stirred up. If the cafe serves coffee in mugs instead of glasses, it might come in a bowl of hot water to maintain optimal temperature.
cà phê sữa nóng

HCMH coffee

Cà Phê Trứng – Impossibly rich coffee made with frothed egg yolk and sugar.  Think egg nog, plus coffee, minus booze.
Egg coffee foam

Cà Phê Trứng

Chè Bắp – Sweet corn pudding dessert topped with coconut sauce, served cold. Sweet corn is a very common dessert component throughout Asia and its naturally sugary profile makes us wonder why it doesn’t have the same designation back home.
Chè Bắp

Chè Mè Đen – Black sesame pudding dessert, served cold.  Mild, nutty and velvety. Wish we had more.
Chè mè đen

Mystery cookies – We never found the name for these, but our guesthouse owner in Hoi An said these sweet little tea biscuits are made with beans, onions and beef. Definitely a departure from the Western concept of dessert, but surprisingly sweet and pleasant.
Mystery cookies

Rau Câu – A gelatinous dessert made from a seaweed product called agar agar. This particular one has two flavor layers: dừa and cà phê (coconut and coffee).
Rau Câu

Bia Hơi – Fresh beer on tap for 33 cents a glass. This particular block of establishments in District 1 in Saigon had two dogs that were trained to bark when the police were approaching the neighborhood. When the canine alarm sounded, the proprietors collected all the plastic chairs out from under the customers who were sitting on them in the street. The evicted stood around bewildered until the police slowly cruised past, then the chairs were re-issued and the party started all over again.
Bia Hơi

And that’s what we ate in Vietnam.

27
Feb 2013
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Food and Markets in Luang Prabang

MARKETS

Fruit vendors

Congealed bloodCongealed blood.

Something organ-y.Something organ-y.

Whole chickensWhole chickens.

fish

Fish vendorRiver fish.

Crabs on a leashCrabs on a leash.

Mystery fruitsMystery fruits.

Banana blossomsBanana blossoms (8 or so inches in length).

Preserved eggsPreserved eggs.

Basket of mushroomsMushrooms.

Crispy Mekong river weedCrispy Mekong river weed.

Duck in a to-go bagDuck in a to-go bag.

AROUND TOWN

Yellow crackers

Yellow crackers drying in the sunYellow crackers drying in the sun.

Sticky rice vendor

Coconut sticky rice bike

Coconut sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes.Coconut sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes.  Peel off a section of the bamboo and use it as a scoop.

RESTAURANTS

Pork noodle soup with fish sausage ballsPork noodle soup with fish sausage balls.

Soup fixinsSoup fixins: mint, basil, lettuce, green beans, lime.

Big bucket o' chili pasteBig bucket o’ chili paste.

Lao coffeeLao coffee with a generous dose of sweetened condensed milk, ready to be stirred.

Sticky rice... on a stick

Grilled sticky rice… on a stick. Fish sauce with chilis for dipping.

Crispy yellow noodle

Crispy yellow noodles.

Fried noodles with pork

Fried noodles with pork.

Chicken larb

Chicken Larb – extra spicy meat salad with herbs and chilis.

Mushroom larb

Mushroom larb.

Luang Prabang sausages

Luang Prabang sausages.

04
Feb 2013
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Feasts and Friendship in Khmu Villages

We’ve been talking about how to write about this ever since last month. Because it was probably the most memorable and humbling experience we have had this year, we decided we’d just write a short summary and let the pictures speak for themselves. We’d love to tell you all about it when we see you again, but at least for now, words simply fall short.

Bus station map

 

We met Jena, another fellow traveler, back in Pai. We knew she was heading over to Laos soon and thought we might meet up with her at some point. One morning while we were eating breakfast in Luang Prabang, Jena just happened to walk by. She stopped to talk for a bit and told us about a monk that she befriended when she was traveling through Laos last year. We were soon invited to join both of them to visit his families in their Khmu villages for the next four days. We said yes.

 

Overloaded tuk-tuk at Luang Prabang bus station

Another monk joined us, and after a three hour bus ride and a three hour hike on a dirt road through the mountains, we found ourselves at the monk’s mother’s village. The following morning was another two hour hike and half an hour boat ride to his father’s village. At both villages, we were overwhelmed by welcome and generosity.

We were fed mounds of sticky rice and many versions of untranslatable vegetable mixtures that the monk simply called “jungle salad.” Between our arrival and the new year celebrations, the local animal population dropped slightly. A few young chickens were boiled, an entire goat was roasted (with no part wasted), and a cow’s brains made it into our soup. Our bad luck was erased and our good luck was ensured with multiple baci ceremonies. With great insistence from our hosts, our bellies were warmed with Lao Lao (home made rice whiskey) from the time we woke up until our evening bath in the Ou river. 

Jena, Tony, Monk K beginning the hike

Mountain scenery

The newly-bulldozed road

arriving in Monk K's mother's village

Village kids playing on a bike

Little boy using a large knife to carve a toy rifle

Little girls in a straw mat fort

Monk K's mother's village, Ban Pha Yong

The mother's house

Monk K translating

Village chief leads the baci ceremony

Monk K and his mother during the string tying

The baci table

Tony, Alicia and Jena during the baci ceremony

Tony, Alicia and Jena ceremonially

The baci ceremony for Monk K and his family

Ceremony spectators

Boiled chicken, two

Sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, coconut sticky rice, sweet potatoes

Jena in the morning

Village school

Learning about trees - village school

Boy looking out the window of his classroom

One of the classrooms

Monk K and Monk P

Village baby

Monk K's sister holding a baby

Same baby after a costume change

Woman weaving a bamboo mat

Monks cooking our breakfast

Breakfast of omelette, steamed bamboo shoots, boiled greens

Huge basket of sticky rice

Starting the hike to Monk K's father's village

Hike to Monk K's father's village

A village along the way

Nam Ou - the Ou River

Monk K and Monk P on the boat

D's (Monk K's dad) boat

D's house

Lunch: fish soup and another

View from D's front porch

Getting the boat ready in the morning

Bottom of D's boat

Chilly morning on the boat

Misty jungle

Visiting a weaving village upstream

Thread for weaving

Weaving loom

Little girl pretending to use the loom

Little boy playing with a ball

Shy little girl hiding behind weaving display

Duck and mystery jungle vegetable for lunch

Assembling sticky rice with banana to be steamed in banana leaves

Butchering the goat

The most important and special parts of the goat reserved for guests and important men: intestine, testicle, foot/hoof, knuckle.

Man from another village, D, Monk P eating at the goat barbeque

Congealed goat blood with cilantro and chilis

Everyone watches you take the first bite.  No pressure.

Pouring Lao Lao (homemade rice whiskey) into the goat's horn

Cringing after drinking the Lao Lao

Tony's turn for the Lao Lao

Goat horn, bananas and sticky rice on the table\

Boiled goat with herbs

Another baci at D's friend's house

String tying portion of the baci ceremony

D at a friend's house, ready for the second goat feast of the day

The second feast for the day: boiled goat with herbs, sticky rice

Another baci, this time at D's house

The baci table at D's

Village woman tying strings on Tony's wrists

D and village chief tying strings on Jena's wrists

Congealed chicken blood with peanuts, chili and cilantro

Boiled cow liver and other mystery organs

New year cow brain soup (the broth was delicious!)

Trying to talk with D using our Lao-English and English-Lao phrasebooks

LP Lao phrasebook

D looking through the

D (Monk K's father) and his wife M

Village man wearing an Obama hat

Breakfast: grilled fish, roast new year cow, mystery soup

Breakfast: New year cow intestine

Our breakfast host

Lao Hai in the making (sweet, thick rice wine)

Hen in a basket with a chick perched on top

Chicken coop baskets

D's dragon tattoo that he got in Thailand when he was young

Alicia playing Kator with village girls

Village kids on D's porch

Girl and boy on D's porch

One day, the monk’s father took us in his boat to see some caves that had served as shelters during the U.S. bombings. One still had bones in it.

Back on the river

Monk K leading the way through the jungle

Tony and D checking out the cave entrance

Large chamber inside the first cave

sparkly rock formation in the first cave

Heading back down the river to the next cave

Strange red insect

Hiking to the next cave

Ammunition box hinge

Entrance to another cave

Entrance to the bombed cave

Large spider's eyes reflecting the light

Broken bowl in the bombed cave

Bones in the bombed cave

Arriving back in the village

When we arrived back at the village after exploring the caves, there was a shiny boat tied to the bank that we hadn’t seen before. As we drifted up next to it, the monk’s father pointed and said, “Made in USA.”

Bow of the UXO canoe

During and after the Vietnam War, between 1964 and 1973, there were 580,000 US bombing missions that dropped two million tons of ordinance on Laos- equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. Up to a third of the bombs did not explode. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO (unexploded ordinance) in Laos since the bombing ceased.

And they still want you in their homes. And they still want to feed you. And they still want to tie dozens of strings around your wrists as a symbol of how much they want only good things to happen to you in the coming year.

Village chief tying baci bracelets

Want more? Watch our short video of our December adventures, which include motorbiking through Mae Hong Son, floating down the Mekong, and traveling through northern Laos with monks.

31
Jan 2013
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What We Ate in Bangkok and Northern Thailand

Piles of street food
We’ve been looking forward to eating our way through Southeast Asia since the we first began planning our trip. The food is fresh, cheap, delicious and everywhere.  If you are hungry… well you don’t really have much chance to actually get hungry because you are tripping over sidewalk cafes and street vendors at every turn.

 

Street vendor with wok

We’re not even sure how to organize all this. Most of it’s street food, there’s noodles everywhere and it’s all incredible.  Let’s start with noodles, then.

STIR FRIED NOODLES, RICE and CURRIES

Our first pad thai.  Buried underneath is shrimp, calimari, and baby octopus.Our first Pad Thai, eaten on a plastic stool on the sidewalk. Buried underneath is shrimp, calamari and baby octopus.

Pad thai standMore Pad Thai.

Pad see ew

Chicken fried ricePad see ew and chicken fried rice for breakfast at our favorite sidewalk cafe next to our hostel in Bangkok.

green curry chickenGreen curry chicken with basil.

Mushroom and tofu curry
Mushroom and tofu curry.

Fried basil, mushrooms, chickenFried basil, mushrooms, chicken.

glass noodle salad with chilis and fried chickenProbably the spiciest glass noodles and best fried chicken we’ve ever had…

red curry… and some red curry. This particular Bangkok restaurant was in the entryway to a market building and people would ride mopeds through every few minutes.

SOUP

soup shop

Soup vat

beef and noodle soup

beef and noodle soup with fish ballsVarious noodle soups. Point to the type of meat and the type of noodles you want and they throw it in a small basket and dip it briefly into a large vat of boiling broth. Then they pull it out, ladle on the broth, top it with cilantro, green onion and fresh herbs, and it’s up to you to doctor it up with lime and chilis.

Tom yum soupTom yum kung - hot and sour seafood soup made with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and chilis.


STUFF YOU DRINK WITH STRAWS

smoothiesSmoothies and fruit shakes. So cheap you can have them twice a day, but be sure to ask them to skip the sugar.

Lemongrass chili lime drinkLemongrass chili lime drink to cure all your digestive woes.

KHAO SOI

Bus station khao soiKhao soi gets its own category because Tony attempted to eat it for every meal.  It’s egg noodles and meat (usually pork or chicken) in yellow curry sauce, topped with crispy noodles, pickled greens, green onions, shallots, herbs, lime juice, and as much chili paste as you can handle.

Khao soi

Khao soi with fixins

Khao soi at brown rice

Khao soi at Dang's

BURMESE FOOD

green tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato and peanutsGreen tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato, soy nuts.

Hinlay curry with tofu and potatoesHinlay curry with tofu and potatoes.

Another Hinlay curryAnother Hinlay curry.

Burmese food cooked by Hong SarEven yummier Burmese food (tea leaf salad, Hinlay curry, vegetable soup, steamed cabbage) cooked for us by Kevin’s friend Hong Sar. As we ate, Hong Sar described the events he saw and experienced in Burma as a child before his family escaped to Thailand.

CHINESE FOOD

CarrieThere’s probably a lot more Chinese influence in the food in Thailand than we realize (we’re looking at you, steam buns), but we had an official Chinese food night at Kevin’s house when another Couchsurfer, Carrie, cooked us her favorite dishes. We had stir fried morning glory greens, spicy tofu, and a potato and pork soup.

SALADS

Som tam vendor

In Thailand, salads aren’t some leafy green thing.  It’s a salad in the folksy casserole sense of the word.  A big jumble of lots of delicious ingredients, and can be served hot or cold.  The lady above is making some som tam.

som tam in a bag

Som tamSom tam is shredded green (unripe) papaya and carrot with tossed with a paste of dried shrimp, chilis, fish sauce and sugar, and topped with tomatoes, raw green beans and peanuts.

Banana blossom saladMelt-your-face-off banana blossom salad.

Tofu mushroom saladTofu mushroom salad. The mushrooms here are so savory and meaty, even the most devout carnivore wouldn’t mind the lack of meat.

FOOD CARTS and ROADSIDE STANDS

Chicken wingsChicken wings and other grilled meat on a street cart.

Roti stand

Nutella rotiRoti. Somewhere between a crepe and a puffy, crispy pancake, made with ladles of butter, stuffed with banana and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and Nutella.

mini pies

Salty potato puffMini pastries stuffed with sweet and savory things like, potato, taro, pineapple and yam.

Tiny fried quail eggsFried quail eggs.

roasted bananaRoasted banana.

Steam bunsSteamed buns filled with BBQ pork, chicken curry, red bean paste, chocolate pudding… dozens of sweet and savory options.

Black Egg.  Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.Black Egg. Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.

fried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbageFried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbage

Deep fried tofu tarts (topped with sweet soy sauce and peanut)Deep fried tofu tarts topped with sweet soy sauce and peanuts

Dumpling vendor

Steamed pork dumplingsSteamed pork dumplings…

dumplings in a bag…served in a plastic bag with spicy sweet dipping sauce.

Banana leaf omeletEgg and minced meat grilled in a banana leaf.

Miangkam on a skewerMiangkam. As soon as your teeth break through the slightly bitter chaploo leaf wrap, the sticky mixture of sugar, coconut, peanut, ginger, shallots, dried shrimp, chilis and lime inside explodes in your mouth. Whoever invented these is a genius.

Miangkam makerWe’ll thank this nice lady.

Bacon Thick-cut bacon grilled over coals on a skewer…

tablecloth…served at a roadside stand that uses uncut sheets of product labels as tablecloths.

30
Dec 2012
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What We Ate in Amman

Here it comes, another food post.  We often feel foolish reaching for our cameras before reaching for our forks, but we hope you enjoy the results.  This post is a little different than the rest; it’s organized by restaurant.

—–

Quarter Moon Shawarma

Tony and shawarma

Our first meal in Jordan was between Queen Alia Airport and our friends’ apartment.

Quarter Moon shawarma

Can’t beat shawarma for a great late night fast food option.

 

—–

Hashem Restaurant, a dive-y place downtown that is famous for serving delicious cheap Middle Eastern food.  Sit on their grungy plastic chairs and have a personal revelation.


Matabel

Matabel, some sort of creamy eggplant wonderfulness.

 

Fuul - tangy, spicy beans swimming in olive oil and herbs.

 

Hummus

Hummus.

 

Falafel

Falafel.

Falafel... stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

More falafel… this time stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint.

—–

 

Al Quds was where our friends decided to take us for some mansaf, Jordan’s national dish.

 

Mansaf

Mansaf is staple at weddings, celebrations, and for honoring important guests.  If I had to draw a parallel between this and an American dish, it would be Grandma’s perfect Sunday pot roast.  Not at all similar in flavor, but in sentiment.

 

Mansaf sauce

Wikipedia describes mansaf: ”The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook or shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all.”

 

More matabel

More matabel.

 

More hummus

More hummus.


—–

Mahashi takeout from Ali’s Mahashi-Al Mashi.

 

Mahashi al Mashi takeout

The little aluminum boxes aren’t the most photogenic, but there was no way we would skip over this.

 

Mahashi plated

Mahashi is eggplant, zucchini, cabbage… all stuffed with minced meat and rice and vegetables, stewed in spicy tomato and yogurt sauces. Sides: piles of rice and flatbread and an avalanche of pickled vegetables.  Ali is generous with his portions.

—–


Mawwal Restaurant
– a nice sit-down place with waiters who will be very concerned for the state of your mental health if you don’t order enough meat.

 

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles. Super spicy.

Fattoush

Fattoush salad – greens and vegetables topped with fried flatbread and a vinaigrette dressing.

 

Kebbeh maklieh

 Kebbeh maklieh – deep fried cracked bulgur wheat stuffed with minced lamb and herbs.

 

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh – loads of parsley with mint, tomato, lemon juice and bulgur.

 

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush- roasted eggplant, vegetables and chilis, tahini and garlic, topped with vinaigrette.

 

Galayet Bandora

Galayet Bandora - stewed lamb, tomatoes and onions.

 

Kofta Bi Tahini 

Kofta Bi Tahini - ground lamb and herb patties in a velvety sesame sauce.

 

—–

Habibeh pastry shop.

kunefe cheese

Habibeh (literally, “beloved”) will provide for you na’ama kunefe.  This kunefe is finely chopped pastry dough, topped with soft white cheese, topped with more pastry, drenched in syrup and garnished with pistachios and orange food coloring.

 

kunefe alley

Best eaten hot, on a styrofoam plate in Habibeh’s alley.

—–

And finally, Bang Bang Bubble Tea House at a mall in West Amman near the Seventh Circle.

Bubble tea and complimentary peanut butter waffles.  Ok, maybe it’s not so traditional, but Amman is a modern city, and that’s what we all had that night.

27
Nov 2012
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What we ate in Budapest, Prague and Berlin

We decided to combine the food from our final three European cities into one post. While the cuisines were different, you may notice some similarities.

BUDAPEST

Goulash and pickled cabbage.

Goulash and pickled cabbage

Roasted mushrooms.

Roasted mushrooms

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer. Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate. Lemony túrós táska pastries for dessert.

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer.  Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate.

Stuffed cabbage.

Stuffed cabbage

A typical food vendor’s stall at the Great Market Hall.

A typical food vendor's stall at the Great Market Hall

Bacon wrapped cheese.

Bacon wrapped cheese

Purely medicinal. (Think of a more herbal, concentrated version of Jaegermeister.)

Unicum

We did spend six weeks with some Aussies. It was inevitable.

Vegemite

PRAGUE

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings.

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette.

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer.

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer

Goulash in bread bowl.

Goulash in bread bowl

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles.

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings.

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings

Dumplings with carmelized onions.

Dumplings with carmelized onions

Skvarková pomázanka pečivo – an oniony spread made with “scratchings” (fat).

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky.

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon

Yeast pivo.

Yeast beer

Grizzly pivo from Pivovar Berounský Medved.

Grizzly - Pivovar Berounský Medved

BERLIN

Currywurst.

Currywurst round 1

Currywurst with fries.

Currywurst round 2

…after that cholesterol endurance marathon, we were done with the “authentic” food and moved on to Berlin’s multicultural cuisine. We’re sure Germany has much more to offer than a weiner swimming in some spicy ketchup, but it was time for other things.

Fresh breakfasts at Cafe V.

The

Cafe V breakfast

Cafe V scrambled eggs

Roasted eggplant and falafel.

Roasted eggplant and falafel

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel.

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel

Tofu and veg.

Tofu and veg

Pho.

Pho

Pad Thai.

Pad Thai

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps from the Turkish market.

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps

Dessert? Candy coated grapes, also from the Turkish market.

Candy coated grapes

Carrot cake and cappuccino.

Carrot cake and cappuccino

19
Nov 2012
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A Few Hours in Venice

Our host Marie and her friend Rudi were planning a trip to pick up another friend near Venice, which is only a few hours from Kobarid, and they invited us along. We were not planning on seeing Italy at all this year, and so we jumped at the chance. Rudi drove us to Cividale de Friuli first for an espresso and a look at its big stone bridge. It was raining, so after we finished our coffees, we got right back on the road.

Our one and only Italian espresso

Venice is surrounded by some pretty depressing urban sprawl and industrial areas, at least the parts we could see from the four lane highway, the area that Marie and Rudy dropped us off in, and the parts the bus drove us through before we got to actual Venice Venice.

Waterworld Venice.

When you first cross over the from the large bus parking lot, it’s almost a theatrical entrance as you can hardly see anything until you reach the apex of the main bridge, and there before you is a big canal full of boats and rows of very old, damp, and not so vertical buildings.  And hordes and hordes of people.

First view of Venice

us

It was about 2 p.m. when we arrived and we needed to catch a train to meet Rudi and Marie at 6 p.m., so time was short. We decided we just wanted to wander the streets and enjoy the unexpected treat of visiting one of the world’s most famous cities, have a nice meal, and maybe treat ourselves to an espresso and gelato.

We quickly discovered that while most of the main thoroughfares were elbow-to-elbow with souvenir shoppers and the wheelie bag draggers, most of the time we had the streets and alleys to ourselves if we just deviated a block or two.

Goldola parking

man and dog on a boat

General Lee

We were glad that it was a grey and gloomy. It matched he preconceptions we had in our minds about the place, which doesn’t happen often. The whole city was fantastical and we were happy just observing and admiring everything…  from the canals and multicolored buildings, right down to the door buzzers and shutter locks.

doorbells

water alley

alley

wooden boat

church courtyard

water alley - yellow wall

all the harmonicas

Gondola guys

dragon with umbrellas

Tony

Lunch was another story. We didn’t do any restaurant research beforehand, so we were completely at the mercy of fate and our own good judgement. Both failed us and we managed to spend about $60 on a pizza that had sliced hotdogs on it and some gnocchi that made us certain the chef’s name was Boyardee.

Chef Boyardee?

hotdog pizza

wine

At least the wine was good. And we got this sweet photo of the waiter who gave the restaurant an aura of undeserved legitimacy.

stern waiter

By the time we finally got the bill, raindrops began to fall and we realized we had to leave for the station soon if we were going to catch our train. We opted to take a water bus back, reasoning that even if we missed out on expresso and gelato, we’d at least have an enjoyable boat ride and see some more of Venice. The wind and rain was really starting to pick up now and the boat plunged up and down as we boarded.

wind picking up

building

from the boat taxi

tugboats

Tony on the boat taxi

We managed to pick the boat that took us past large shipping docks and the backside of large industrial buildings, and eventually the weather was so bad that we had to retreat into the enclosed area.

When the boat finally churned sideways into the dock, there was little time to spare and we began to make a run for the train station.  The instant a raindrop falls in a tourist destination, magical umbrella fairies appear and try to make a quick buck. They mistook our rush for trying to stay dry and kept stepping right in our paths to make sure we knew that they had the solution to our problem. The stone promenades were slick and I imagined myself tripping and sliding on my face. We made it to the train soaked, intact, and with three minutes to spare.

train home

Venice didn’t turn out anywhere near perfect, but we’ll remember it just as fondly, maybe even more so, than if it had.

us

02
Nov 2012
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Italy

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