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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Restaurant Day Asian Raw Bar

Good people, good food and good vibes
Good people, good food and good vibes

Approx. 24hrs of work, but totally and beyond worth it: this Restaurant Day most likely blew away many of those who are sceptic towards raw foods, but also was something special to those already dedicated to the subject.

Even Raw Dessert Chef Maria Lönnqvist approved!
Even Raw Dessert Chef Maria Lönnqvist approved!

The mouth-watering super-delicious [insert other phrase words here] menu was the following:

Pad Thai Asian noodle salad with crunchy almonds
Spring rolls with almond dipping sauce
Chinese beetroot dumplings with chili plum sauce

Blueberry crumble pie with fresh coconut vanilla sauce
Blueberry chocolate cheesecake

Blueberry cheesecake pictured just before eating by Markus Karjalainen
Blueberry cheesecake pictured just before eating by Markus Karjalainen

 

I think everyone left the place happy and satisfied. We had time to tour around other places after wrapping up our pop-up restaurant. There was a lot of entrepreneurship going on in different parks in Helsinki, and apparently the offerings were very versatile (437 restaurants!). We were treated to a free shot of tequila and pureed cranberry juice served on a block of wood, and we also popped by a paleo cafe, but unfortunately I was too full to try their cookies or sandwich. I don’t know which is more fun: to organize a restaurant or to visit several places and sample different things. If the menu is as good as ours, I think I prefer to be in the kitchen!
 

Nuff said.
Nuff said.

 
This week I’ll stay in Helsinki for Borisraw food courses, where I’ll be assisting. Despite the pouring rain, this is going to be a good week!