Saigon

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh on Friday evening after a lot of hassle in several countries, not having eaten or drunk anything since the morning. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a shock, coming from the Island of Gods to a city with a population twice as much as Finland’s. On my first night in Saigon, I just went to walk around the (backpacker) district 1, were my hostel was conveniently located, found myself some good fresh spring rolls and read the Lonely Planet to locate myself.

Great coffee and bananas for breakfast.
Great coffee and bananas for breakfast.
Bright post office, where people mainly just take pictures. Apparently they do handle mail too.
Bright post office, where people mainly just take pictures. Apparently they do handle mail too.

On my first whole day, I went to see the sights: the colonial bright yellow post office and the famous Notre Dame church. In the afternoon I decided to join a French guy from the hostel to see the famous and popular Cu Chi tunnels, where brave people of Vietnam suffered and survived during the war. The tunnels were interesting enough, and we even had a veteran as our tour guide, but the group of 80 people was a bit too much to handle. I skipped the possibility of shooting all the real guns, but did manage to crouch 40 meter way 6m underground to get the war feeling: Not pleasant.

In the evening I went to enjoy dinner at the same place we had lunch: the magnificent Saigon Vegan restaurant, cheap and amazing food from fresh ingredients! I went there 3 times in 2 days, and if I had stayed longer, I would have definitely gone more.

Fresh spring rolls for lunch and dinner, can't complain.
Fresh spring rolls for lunch and dinner, can’t complain.

Market life.
Market life.

The second day I started walking around, trying to find Chinatown with no success. All the areas I went to seemed to look more or less the same, but I did roam through some interesting and very local markets. I visited the war museum, which made me want to puke and cry a bit, showcasing pictures of the war and of mutilated people and all that. Pretty one-sided approach to the whole subject, but it was interesting to see anyway. In the afternoon some kids stopped me to practice English, which was pretty interesting since I hardly understood a word they were saying. In the evening I had dinner with another French guy at the same vegan restaurant. Om nom.

 

Beans beans beans.
Beans beans beans.
Bars from heaven.
Bars from heaven.

On the third day I woke up early morning to wait to be picked up to a cacao farm: the plans changed a bit so instead of 7 we left at 9 to visit Marou chocolate factory outside of town. After the visit we went to Mekong area, to Treasure Island by ferry to select cacao beans for Marou’s Treasure Bar. It was so much fun, and we got 300kg of top notch cacao beans. We enjoyed dinner back in HCMC, spectacular Vietnamese cuisine country-style from local ingredients, shared at the table. This magnificent meal of several small dishes cost around 12€ per person, my most expensive meal in Vietnam. I took a motorbike taxi home, and booked a Mekong Delta tour for the next day at 10.30 pm. The best thing about big cities: they never sleep.

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Whole lotta food love

No idea where the name comes from
No idea where the name comes from!

Lucky to be working in the food industry, I was able to visit Asia’s largest Food & drink, hotel, restaurant & food service exhibition HOFEX, held in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition center this week. During the first 3 days, the expo had 38,297 buyers – not quite the same caliber as any expo in Finland!
If Natural Expo West/East in the States (or any other natural/organic expo for that matter) would be my Heaven, HOFEX probably is something right outside Heaven’s gates. Exhibitors in 3 floors, from so many different cultures, presenting what they perceive as the best from their country. (Scandinavia was not represented at all, though at least I saw one oven door manufactured in Sweden!) Unfortunately for me, European Fine Meats were well presented. On the other hand, the only producer of quinoa products was from Holland – Go Europe!

Scottish lard
Premium Scottish lard

Besides the culinary presentations, panels and other cookings, there was barista championships and the more visually intriguing flairtending competition as well as some rather fancy culinary competitions. And of course some the cool kitchen equipment was tested on-site – I saw some pretty cool sushi making machines as well as veggie spiralers, among others.

Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes
Food is art and I was definitely taking picture of the cupcakes

The thing I like most about this kind of events (besides all the nibbles), is to talk to interesting people who possibly share same interests and have passion about their work (hopefully). In general, I was maybe a bit surprised how many pig legs there was, and so much ice cream! It seemed like pretty much all of the European countries were focusing on meat, alcohol and possibly some cheese. Food traditions rather than trends…

Not your regular cuppa joe
Not your regular cuppa joe

Speaking of trends, the extensive coffee and tea sections were rather seducing. I got to try my first ice drip coffee, which was surprisingly soft – I tried the same Vietnamese beans as hot dripper coffee, and the flavor was much more intense. The coffee had been dripping for 2 days until ready to drink. In Hong Kong, single origin beans and more love-requiring brewing methods are definitely a hit – when Hong Kongers don’t drink bubble tea or milk tea, they at least value their coffee! About beans…the only single origin bean is not coffee, anymore.

Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao
Pure, single origin chocolates from Vietnam, from 72% to 82% cacao

I admit being a “bit” of a snob when it comes to certain things. Chocolate just happens to be one of those things that I will rather not put in my body, if it’s low quality. Some chocolove-talk in HOFEX got me an invitation to taste these amazing single-origin chocolates from different villages in Vietnam. Though I do prefer raw chocolate to processed ones, these sweeties were pretty impressive: the only ingredients used are the specific cacao beans and sugar.

Simplicity at its' best
Simplicity at its’ best

When it comes to processed chocolate, these ones were top notch. From cool packaging design to the origins of the bean, Marou has got it figured out. Lucky me, I still have their event invitation which was a chocolate bar. Plus I got a goodie bag with their special golden chocolate, which cannot be bought anywhere. What a dilemma – I don’t want to eat it, but how can one resist the temptation?

Oh, expos, how I love you. If I ever get to go to Fancy Food Show or Expo West, I’ll be happy for months in advance! I hope the next time won’t be too far away from now.