The world’s best cuisine

Dong (pronounced as zong with a hard, downward tone) is a vegetable that is rather popular in Vietnam during winter. My friend this lunchtime boiled some, and it didn’t surprise me that the translucent-looking vegetable doesn’t taste anything, though my friend promised me it is packed with fiber (I translated to her as “roughage”) which I believe is true.

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Foods in Vietnam, like in all Southeast Asian countries, are predominantly rice-based. Pho ga and pho bo, both popular traditional Vietnamese noodles are made of rice, so are ban coun pictured below and xoi which are my staple breakfast. They’re the country’s version of a fast food because indeed they can be bought “to-go” and can be eaten conveniently while walking.

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But as somebody who grew up in the Philippines and became accustomed with dishes having both western and oriental flair, Vietnamese cuisine’s novelty is not enough make me forget about adobo, sweet-and-sour spaghetti, palabok, and other sweets. We seldom consume sweet delicacies in my place, so my sweet tooth has been half-starved all this time.

This afternoon, after my class, my craving for pasta brought me to Kim Ma Street, several meters from Daewoo hotel. I ordered carbonara and a concoction of local beer and soda which tasted not bad. I reasoned it’s the Vietnamese version of shandy. The pasta was well-done and the sauce just right. The restaurant, simply named Pepperoni, is a good value for my money, although I think that a small plate of pasta and beer for 75,000 dong is rather ludicrous for locals (and a student like me).

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A friend of mine who is the managing director of a multinational company in Singapore made a declaration that the best food in Southeast Asia can be found in Vietnam. I’m yet to confirm that, though. For food, as all other commodities are political in nature. This apparent superiority of taste is not dependent on the country of origin of the cuisine but on the class of people who consume the food. Take for example a Pho ga (chicken rice noodle) served along the side walks of Tran hung Dao which could cost between 15,000 to 25,000 dongs will taste different once it is sold inside the air-conditioned halls of Hanoi Metropole or in the Intercon with an ambiance of luxury. These taste ratings which are usually adjudged by tourists are not a reflection of the unique quality of a nation’s cuisine. In fact it mirrors the quality of a country’s tourism bureaus that aim to attract as many tourists as possible.

So the Philippine cuisine not making any mark in the international scene does not say anything about the culinary tradition of the country but the ineptitude of the Tourism Department to allow these tourists have a taste of Filipino food.

I will not make a comparison here because I’ll just turn out being biased for food in the Philippines. In fact I cannot anymore wait to eat in Jollibee and have a helping of my favorite Jolli-Spaghetti and Chicken Joy, or a bowl of La Paz batchoy in the market of Iloilo. Filipino cuisine is after all the best in the world.

Floody Friday

Monsoon in Vietnam supposed to have started around June and would’ve peaked in September. However, because of climate change and other environmental disturbances man has brought about, it did not anymore surprise me when rain came apouring without any sign of abetting starting in Monday of this week.

I failed to attend my class this afternoon because the way to my school was heavily flooded. Ba Dinh district in Hanoi is so susceptible to sudden rise in flood water because its low level with respect to other places in the city. Aside from that, it has numerous lakes that serve as catch basins for excess rainwater, and since raining has not stopped since Monday, all its small lakes overflowed submerging the entire place; and unfortunately for me, my university is located in the center of the district.

Seeing that the narrow street to my school was flooded, and not wanting to miss class, I tried to find alternative route. But this caused me more harm than good. Trying to avoid getting wet and wading in flood water, my search for a dry street leading to my school ended in vain, instead I got caught in a frenzy of motorists trying their best to cross the knee-deep, murky flood water. When I reached Daewoo Hotel, several hundred meters from my school, the roller chain of my bike get caught between the gears. Without any lever to remove the stuck chain it was just impossible. Then two boys approached me and volunteered to fix my bike for me. Business as usual, it’s just amazing to think that in adversities like this people will always think of earning money. They charged me 20,000 dongs, I said it was too much. Then I bargained for 10,000. They mistook me for a Singaporean and told me that I must be rich. I took my wallet, and concluded the awkward situation by offering them 15,000 dongs. Case closed.

I wasn’t able to attend class. I got wet. I got lost.

I’m scared I might have contracted leptospirosis because I took off my shoes when the flood was already capable of drowning me. I will not bear thinking that when people ask about the cause of my death, then the answer will be: “Ah, it’s because of the urine of rats in flood water. What a pity.”

I love rain but too much rain is just too much.

Monday

View from the outside. Scenes inside a bus in Hanoi in Winter
View from the outside. Scenes inside a bus in Hanoi in Winter

I hate Mondays.

Two nights ago, I came home at around 10:30 in the evening hungry and tired after being lost in Hanoi.

It was my first time to try riding a bus after my three months of stay here in Vietnam. What was supposed to be a desperate attempt on my part to save money turned out to be more expensive, stressful, if not demoralizing.

I took bus number 26 from Cau Giay, where I have my part time job, to Kim Lien but ended up in Bach Mai, a couple of kilometers away from where I should have alighted. Because of that, I had to take a xe om, a motorbike taxi popular in any Vietnamese city. The driver who originally agreed to be paid 20,000 dongs raised his voice and gave me a threatening look right after I gave him the money when I reached my house in Xa Dan street, and asked for more because according to him ‘he never thought that my house is that far’.

Tired and hungry, I was not in the mood to argue and put my language skills to practice; I succumbed and gave him another 10,000 dong. He smiled at me after, a smile one can only associate to that of a dog.

I’ve always hated Monday. Not because that incident happened on a Monday, but because it is the only day of the week that “forces” itself on me. Its arrogance appears overbearing that it overshadows my dislike for Sunday or Wednesday.

For Monday, hate is too tame a word to describe how I feel towards it, in fact, hatred is better. Monday doesn’t fail to remind me that I have to start the week, but hey, I do not need something to remind me this fact for the tasks ahead are already daunting. Monday is the mother of redundancies and hyperbole. It constantly repeats itself, emphasizes itself, and calls attention for itself.

Monday and I never had a good relationship even before. I am a Thursday child, and according to that book I read when I was twelve, a child rearing book published in the US during the 50s, children born in Thursday are always at odds with those born in Monday. A flimsy, unscientific book, I must say, but it justified my hatred for that day of the week.

I dreaded the start of classes on a Monday. It was our Physical Education day, and how I dislike P.E., from my first grade until my sixth up until my fourth year in high school. And I remember we always had to be weighed on a Monday, and it caused me so much anxiety to see my classmate peering on the weighing scale and seeing that I was too light for my height. During those times conformity is the name of the game, even when it comes to weight. I must weigh as much as my friends for us to be team mates in our after-class baseball games.

I broke up with my first three relationships on a Monday.

I give lousy arguments in any of my classes during college on a Monday.

And I get lost whenever it’s Monday.

I shall never get over this feeling of detestation toward Monday. Not now when it’s good at nothing but be the only day when so many unfortunate events happened in my life.