Friday, April 27, 2012

The Porchlight Sessions

An old friend from university has made a great documentary on bluegrass music and is trying to raise funds to put the finishing touches on her film.  Check it out and if it tickles your fancy... support the cause.

If your interest in the high, lonesome sound has been piqued.  Read about the ten bluegrass artists you need to know HERE.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hoi An: Cafe Des Amis

After a somewhat disappointing food run on our first night in Hoi An, we went to Des Amis on a recommendation from a friend in Saigon.  Run by Chef Le, this rickety Francophile hole-in-the-wall blasts old French and Vietnamese tunes out of an aging speaker system and wafts of redolent foodsmells pervade the air.  Opening in 1991, Cafe Des Amis is a charming holdover in a Hoi An restaurant scene that has changed dramatically.

While most diners go with the special five-course set menu, we chose to order ala carte as we had gorged ourselves earlier.  The simple, but tasty and fresh fare was so good that we came back the next night and re-created it exactly.

Pumpkin and taro soup served with rice crackers.
Fried egg noodle with veg and shrimp
Fried Cao Lau noodles with veg and tofu
Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Wonton Soup with shrimp
Des Amis is located @ 52 D Bach Dang in Hoi An, Vietnam on the waterfront. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This (Long) Weekend

Despite this past week being full of ups and downs, lots of tears and pensive chats with family back home, we tried our best to get out there and have a bit of fun on my four-day weekend.  It began with dinner and drinks at our beloved 24G.

A stop by the Russian Bar's "Forever Russia" closing party on Friday night.  Another great space in Saigon meets its end and a collective groan leaks into the heavens. 

We ate vegetarian pho at Pho Chay Nhu @ 54 Truong Quyen St, District 3, and went to acupuncture to settle our thoughts.

We stopped by my favorite cluttered western market, Thai Hoa, for supplies including oatmeal, almonds, and raisins. 

A walk to our neighborhood bookstore to find a birthday present for a student.  I thought this page was fitting for my somber mood.

Two hours were spent at the birthday bash of young Gia Huy, a student of mine.  From the scope and grandeur of the party, you would have thought it was his sweet 16th.

A Sunday night gig at Yoko.  Vietnamese indie rock mainstays CoCC and the exuberant noise-pop yelps of Giao Chi Band (unpictured). 

Towards the tail-end of my weekend, a massive going away party at the ICP Stronghold for two very special people.  I'll miss you so much Yulia and Baylin.

As for the darkness of my mood, throughout the past week, I dealt with the passing of my lovely grandmother, Helen Sharpley.  I found solace in the continuation of my normal life, but I have thought of you non-stop for the past week and will continue to do so.  You will forever be in my heart.  I love you and miss you Grandma.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Delving into Eastern Medicine

A few months ago, I realized it was finally about time to find myself a doctor in Saigon.  Rather than trudging down the all-too-familiar Occidental route, I thought it was high time to try traditional Eastern Medicine.  I found Dr. Kim Sung Soo and his family-run clinic, Happiness (Hanh Phuc) Oriental Medical Center, and knew I that had met my man.

He has been practicing Eastern Medicine for over twenty-five years, six of which have been here in Saigon. While his English is halting at times, he is informative, helpful, and kind, and has been treating several ailments and problems of mine ranging from the flu and inner ear difficulties to women's issues and pain management.  Below are some of the various treatments I"ve received:
Acupuncture: Inch-long needles that are gently tapped into various pasts of my body.  Both insertion and removal are (nearly) painless.  This balances my body's energy (called Qi) and heals ailments and diseases.  Recently, I went in for an earache and a nagging pain in my shoulder.  I received a thirty minute treatment, with about twelve needles placed strategically around my body, followed by an electroanalgesia treatment on my shoulder, and a smoke treatment for my ear.  Shockingly, I left feeling like new and the pain hasn't returned since.

Moxibustion: Conical incense that is burned in a container directly on my skin.  The smoke helps with circulation, allowing my blood to flow better during acupuncture.  Usually, it is placed on my stomach between two acupuncture needles.  It leaves a yellow sticky ash that slightly dyes my skin for a day or two.

Fire Cupping:  A suction treatment that promotes healing by getting your circulation moving.  I have had this treatment done three times and it's by far my favorite... even Gavin has had it done!  The doctor heats air in cups and moves them from place to place on my back, sort of like an incensed octopus is attacking me!  The suction isn't painful, but can feel a little uncomfortable in some places.  The only downside is that it leaves your back covered in dark bruises like a domestic abuse victim.  On a recent visit, I had fire cupping done to finally rid my body of a lingering cold and fever.  Immediately after, I was feeling much better.  Gavin recently tagged along and filmed the procedure.

(Be warned that half of my bare bottom is exposed!  Watch at your own risk!)

Massage:  Massage is also an important part of acupuncture as it gets your blood flowing.  An added bonus is that it feels great! As mentioned above, I have had electroanalgesia treatment on my shoulder and neck to treat pain.  I also get to wear some pretty cool boots (much like the picture below) for an air-compression circulation-promoting massage.

My experience with Eastern Medicine has been great so far.  I would highly recommend Dr Kim Sung Soo, as long as you are patient with the slight language barrier.  (He speaks Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and some English).  Happiness (Hanh Phuc) Oriental Medical Center is located at 432 Pham Thai Buong in District 7 and Dr Kim Sung Soo can be reached at 0906 684 969.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Highway 4 Restaurant: A Critical Approach

Continuing the trend in Saigon of sleek modern spaces offering up traditional Vietnamese delights at competitive rates is Highway 4.  Part of a veritable empire of eateries that has apparently clogged the market in Hanoi, we were told to visit by a friend.  We are instinctively wary of establishments like these, usually best suited for post-work drinks and eats with the business crowd, and, unfortunately, our reticence once again proved to be well-founded.

It had a nice, well-printed menu with tapas offerings that only lunatics or insurance agents would ingest, such as crickets and locusts.  Levity aside, there is something for everyone on said list. Extensive and nice fonts!

We were instructed to get the fried catfish spring rolls, which is supposedly the restaurant's crown jewel.  They were tasty and the use of dill was interesting, but the fish had clearly been fried at some indistinct moment in the past and warmed up via microwave.  In a land where microwaves are rare, it was all-too-easy to recognize the chewy texture as evidence of nukeage.

They also followed an abhorrent Saigonese trend by providing crappy, plastic-bottle hoisin and chili sauce.  If you are going to make an attempt at specialized dining, please provide sauces that are palatable; store-bought gelatinous sludge is never cool.

Yeah, we couldn't help ourselves...

Sweet potato fries
Thank goodness for old stand-bys! The mi xao rau proved to be our favorite item as it was basic, tasty, and fresh.

In our perpetual hunt for new, tasty vegetarian finds we stumbled across the tofu patties.  Sadly, they were arid, insipid lumps of vegetable protein that were best left undigested.  They could have been saved by a decent sauce, but instead were inexplicably paired with soy sauce.  The acidity of the soy left these chalk balls even less appetizing, giving them a bitter kick.  

Tofu Patties

In a city with endless amounts of delicious food, save yourself from a shining facade and go dingy.  On the bright side, at least it's not fusion...

Friday, April 20, 2012

May Your Rest Be Gentle: Levon Helm

Levon Helm, legendary drummer/singer for The Band, passed away at age 71.  Read about his contribution to the American musical landscape HERE in a great write-up by Jon Pareles.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hoi An: Street Scenes

Hoi An has lively streets, spend some time wandering aimlessly through them when on holiday in this lovely town.

Delectably soft Banh Beo

Terribly stale and flavorless fried cakes- buy at your own risk!

Shooting the breeze with the gals...

The Japanese Bridge