Archive for 'VIETNAM'

January 10

I love eating bo tai chanh. We make it at our house often and I also grew up eating it in quan nhau places in Little Saigon with my grandpa and uncles. It’s a great staple dish when I’m craving a lot of Vietnamese food and is always a hit with lunch or dinner guests. It also is a favorite next day lunch too. Just make sure to bring mouthwash or gum because of all the onions you’re eating raw!

This recipe is mostly from the Ravenous Couple.  I don’t change it up much, if at all, and I really like the way they blanche the meat just a bit beforehand to get that extra citrus taste.









  • 1 pound of beef (thinly sliced beef eye; I get mine at HMart)
  • 1 cup lemon juice or lime juice
  • 2.5 tbs sugar
  • pineapple juice or mango nectar
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 bunch of rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (substitute with basil or mint if not available)
  • 2 tbs fried shallots pre fried, found in Asian groceries, known as Hanh Phi
  • 2 tbs roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • ~2tbs nuoc mam cham, that I also use from Ravenous Couple. I store in in the fridge and use it whenever I need to in Vietnamese cooking.
  • 1 jalapeno (finely sliced)


Mix lime or lemon juice with sugar until dissolve and set aside.

Fill half of a medium size sauce pan with pineapple juice and heat to a rolling boil. Quickly “blanch” some of the beef a bit at a time, no more then a few seconds or so removing it as it turns slightly opaque but still quite rare. Place in large mixing bowl.

Add the lime or lemon juice mixture and mix well, letting the acid do the rest of the cooking about 15-20 minutes, but use your judgement as to when to remove it from the acid. We like it pretty rare. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid from the meat. Mix in the onions, rau ram, mint and/or basil and drizzle with just a spoonful or two of  the nuoc mam (don’t over do it as you don’t want to overpower the fresh citrus taste) and mix well and adjust to taste. Transfer to serving platter and top off with crushed roasted peanuts, fried hanh phi, and jalepeno.


I made these for the kids and their moms before we all trooped off to see Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson, the Immortal Tour. We scored good prices and tickets from TravelZoo, which took us all the way to the FRONT ROW! If you haven’t seen the show, you must. They were amazing and the music of course took us back to our elementary school and teenage days of watching Michael Jackson marathons on MTV. We were out of our seats for half the show, dancing along to Thriller, Bad, Beat It, They Don’t Care About Us and many more favorites.


Spring rolls are one of my favorite foods of all time. They are so easy to make, tastes so fresh, and incredibly healthy to eat all the time! My mom use to pick herbs from the garden, just throw them all in a basket and put them on the dinner table. Julienne some veggies like fresh lettuce, cucumbers, jicama, carrots, add whatever meat or fish you’re making that day,  and voila…a spring roll. She usually makes a fish sauce for dipping, but I tend to prefer peanut sauces with spring rolls.

I’ve been wrapping spring rolls my whole life, and I have a few ways of doing it. My old favorite was just having my wet rice paper on a small dish, throwing everything into the middle lined with good fresh lettuce leaf without the rib, and fold in the sides to not have any open ends until you bite into them. This is my dad’s way of rolling them because he makes the BIGGEST spring rolls filled to the rim with everything and everything. He also says that he gets lazy and doesn’t want to roll a lot so just do a few enormous ones to save time. I learned to love that way of rolling from him, but for photography and aesthetic reasons, this open ended way by Steamy Kitchen is much prettier!

I usually make a peanut sauce with hoison on the stovetop learned from Ravenous Couple because I LOVE Bo Bia and they haven’t let me down on a recipe yet… but Jaden of Steamy Kitchen caught my attention on my Feedly blog roll with her recent post on Vegetable Spring Rolls and in particular, her feature of The Blender Girl’s Orange Almond Sauce for Vietnamese Spring Rolls [her cookbook is a bestseller on Amazon]. Sorry, that was a lot of links, but I’m a firm believer in citation due to law school. The sauce is easier to make because you don’t have to heat anything up. Instead, you can use a blender or food processor to mix all your ingredients. I made some adjustments to the sauce to cater to my taste: I used regular JIF peanut butter instead of almond butter [because I just love the pure peanut taste], and I almost doubled the amount of peanut butter from the suggested amount, and I used less lime juice. The sauce is quite thick with just 1/4 cup of water, so I added little bits of water as I blended until I was happy with the consistency. 




February 10


Read more …

September 02

In Saigon, we took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. My dad told me about them last time I was here but we didn’t have enough time to go.

I read in Let’s Go that you get to crawl into the tunnels and shoot AK47ss! Uhhhh i have to go!

We had the best day at Cu Chi. they let us climb into the tunnel that was literally one foot by one foot. Tien was egged on to go in and that was the icebreaker for us all. We laughed so hard when she got stuck in the hole due to boobage hahaha! We bonded over that episode and from then on, our group was the most loud and friendly.

Shooting M16s


tapioca with peanut salt pepper sugar

yummy tea

the only group photo =/

and we thought THESE were the tunnels

There was an underground tunnel about 100 meters long and maybe a little bit more than shoulder length in width. They let us follow a soldier down but he was so incredibly fast we lost him almost immediately. It was pitch black underground and the only light was a small red path marker every 10 meters or so. Since I’m short, I basically squatted for 100 meters in fear so I walked as fast as I could to keep up with the person in front of me. I made the 100 meter mark and emerged into sunlight with a few others. Kat and Tien made the 60 meter mark and had to get out when claustrophobia set in. The taller people were forced to crawl on their hands and knees the whole time and this 6’3 skinny guy literally scurried the whole way. I was quite impressed with his speed but he confessed that it was due to fear and that the small soldier in front of him was so incredibly fast it was shameful if he copped out and went up before the 100 meter mark. That was one of the most memorable experiences, to feel what they felt back then, and I was told later that they actually expanded the tunnel a bit more for tourists!

I am so impressed and humbled with these insane tunnels! They were dug with no support system, and the ventilation system was so cleverly disguised. Americans used dogs to sniff out the scent of the Viet soldiers so they put pepper around the vent to keep the dogs from smelling them. However, when the digs sneezed, that was indication that a vent was there so the viets took American soldiers’ shoes and laid them by the vent to throw off the dogs. Talk about improvising!!!

The gun range was scary loud. We didn’t have ear protection Dino was deaf by the time I finished shooting. We each bought 4 bullets and chose the M16 to shoot.

This excursion is a must do if you are in Saigon!!!!

September 01

These are some of the images that caught my eye as I walked through Chi Ben Thanh in Saigon. We bought gifts and just browsed through the fabric aisles, the food aisles, and even all the knick knacks. The wine holder kept calling out to us, but we resisted because we can’t carry the damn curvy things!!! bahhhh!!!!

crossing the “circle of death

banh xeo an la gien

the best iced tea we’ve ever had

We flew from Hue to Saigon. The minute we landed in Saigon, we knew we were going to love this city. Neon lights, modern buildings, and efficient drivers flock the city. It is the most modern city in Vietnam, and Western influence has really made its name here. KFC is HUGE. I think its hilarious that locals actually want to throw birthday parties at KFC and Pizza Hut!

We taxied into the city and got dropped off in the backpackers area on Pham Ngu Lao St. It was midnight so a lot of the hostels locked their gate for security. We settled on a nicer hotel for the night, knowing we could make up for it the next day. We were so incredibly gross from the excruciating heat of Hue and all the sights so a nice shower could not have been more appreciated.

The next day, I called my friend Helena who lives in the city, went to find a replacement book for or lost Let’s Go. In Southeast Asia, you can find Lonely Planets and such guidebooks in any language for less than $5 dollars! I paid almost $30 for my Let’s Go in the US! This is because they photocopy each page and sell the copies! All the info and images are still there and it looks like the real binding, but it can easily fall apart. Who cares?! It’s 3 bucks for a book that I’m going to throw around in my pack all around the world! (it’s actually kept its shape quite well)

We met up with Helena for lunch at Banh Xeo An La Gieng. It’s a nicer restaurant but known for its amazing banh xeo. All the banh xeo is still under 2 bucks and we had it with 3 kinds of mushrooms, coconut juice, and fresh watermelon juice. The watermelon juice here is ridiculously good. They take the fruit and just mash it. Nothing added. No syrup nor sugar.

Cho Ben Thanh is the large flea market in Saigon. Anything can be found there. We bought gifts but I won’t say what they are! 😉 We only got stuff that we could carry for the next month in our backpacks so we bargained and bargained for our precious gifts!

Street food is also ridiculously good. We had xoi ga (sweet rice with chicken), xoi bap (sweet rice with mung bean), Mi (egg noodles with wonton and chili satay), and of course, pho.

Helena convinced us to do cheap hair washes and nails. Since I live in Little Saigon where this is predominantly what Viet women do, we HAD to do it! The shampoo and wash is a ritual for many Viet women, it’s their pampering time. (mum does it every week still) The treatment takes an hour approximately and it was a wonderful hour. They massage all your sore neck and shoulder muscles as well!

During our wash, the power went out in our street. In order to make up for the possibility of not being able to blow dry our hair, they offered discounts or longer massages. It was all fun and easygoing, and we had a great time relaxing our sore muscles.

September 01

We only spent the day in Hue, but we did so much!!! We hired a driver to take us around the city for the day. However, the driver was probably the worse driver on earth. Before we even left the lot, he had backed into another van that was parked behind him! No, not a motorbike or a small kid darting in the street or something hard to see from the rear view mirror…a VAN! Then, on the road, he nearly missed hitting a motorbike on a turn because he was looking the other way. Even so, we were in the big car, so we didn’t worry as much, and he also knew where to find the best bun bo hue ever!!!

First, we went to the Citadel, which was modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing. Then we went to a pagoda, and then to the tomb of Tu Duc.

exploring the citadel

do what the dragon does

crouching tiger, hidden dragon

gorgeous doors

me and tien at the citadel

You cannot come to Hue without having bun bo hue. It’s a staple of the city and is a sin to miss. Our driver knew of some really good places and he immediately took us to this place when we requested the best bu bo hue. The broth was the most flavorful, the meat tender, and the noodles cooked to perfection. The last time I was in Hue, it was amazing. This time, it was even better. oooh what am I going to miss about Hue?? BUN BO.

The last time I was in Hue, I didn’t get to see the tombs because they were farther out of the city. This time, we had all day, so the driver took us. This tomb is absolutely stunning. The tomb area feels like another castle for the king. Tu Duc is the 4th king of Vietnam in the Nguyen dynasty. He was kind of useless as a king, but he built the most amazing palace for his death!

the scenery by the lake at Tu Duc’s tomb. It was so beautiful

August 31
We took a 14 hour train to Hue. We splurged on a Livitrans sleeper, and thank god we did. For only $10 more, we got a whole cabin to ourselves for the night, comfy sleepers so that we can arrive in Hue refreshed for the busy day ahead. Since we did not stay in Hue overnight, a full night’s rest is needed!

view from our window on the train

they gave us noodles on the train for breakfast

our awesome cabin with 4 sleepers, two on the bottom, 2 on top

August 29

This image made me laugh so hard I cried when i saw it. The grotto is in the shape of kissing chickens, so Kat and I decided to continue our routine of going to romantic and cool places together instead of significant others.

Tien took this photo of the fruit boats. The colors are stunning. We bought grapefruit and dragon fruit for dessert.

We did a day excursion to Ha Long Bay. We actually planned on being in Ha Long City so we brought all of our bags, but at the last minute, we decided to return to Hanoi since it was more lively at night.

We booked a tour at Ha Long, which you shouldn’t do because you are likely to pay more. However, we got the most amazing boat with some very interesting guests on board. Since we did our own tour, there were less people on the boat; we had a total of 7 people touring, and the crew. We ran through the whole boat taking pictures on the top deck, and then went to chill in the bottom deck.

They offered to take us to the floating island to buy seafood and they would cook it for us, which is awesome, but they didn’t tell us that the prices would be insane. We ended up picking a fish, some crab, and two mussels to cook. It was the most expensive meal ever, but my god, was it good. The minute it came out, we knew this was going to be an amazing meal. Our other guests shared some of the meal with us, and it was all so incredibly tasty. The fish was the freshest I’ve ever tasted (they killed it in front of me), the crab was so meaty, and the veggies were all cooked while the seafood was boiling.

We then arrived at the grottos, and went to explore. The grottos are lit with different colors, and everything was amazing on the inside. It was incredibly humid inside the grottos, but we managed to get some pretty fun pictures. Walking up and down the steps is like the best stairmaster ever. I think my calves grew an inch since I’ve been here. It forces us to be insanely fit and I am very happy about that…even when Im huffing and puffing my way up!!

oh! and get this! on the boat, there was a famous Vietnamese singer!! Well, we don’t know how famous he actually is, but a DVD was put in and suddenly I realized that the person on the screen was the same person sitting across from us. His name is Dang Vu, and he sings love ballads. He was dressed to the nines, in a shiny shirt and long toed shoes. He and his wife were actually really sweet and they shared their grapefruit with us. We then shared our million dollar fish and tons of shrimp with them.