Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter Camp: A Son's Heart

I have finished my contractually-obligated three weeks of winter English, two weeks mentioned previously, and one week of "Movie-Makers". This time, I had three smart, reasonably confident boys from the fifth grade. They wrote the story (well, mainly Jimmy, with some polishing and a couple of plot points improved by me), learned their parts and acted it all. I was producer and cinematographer.

I also found a decent free editing program that handles .MOV format, and taught them how to edit. Get some popcorn, settle in and enjoy!

Double click for full-screen mode--helpful if your resolution doesn't show the whole thing in my blog format.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Smokin' and Drinkin' in Seoul

Last year, Seoul began a pogrom, or at least a crackdown, on smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Of course, lots of such establishments already banned smoking, but this was a public ordinance. Many places also had separate smoking areas or rooms. Reading the fine print, it only applied, however, to places larger than 150 sq.m. Using fire marshal code, that means any place that seats more than 40 people.

As of January 1, 2015, the size carve-out was stricken, and smoking rooms were abolished if they did not have direct access (i.e., doors or windows) to the outside. Not to be too blunt, but smoking in a bar was always one thing in Korea's favor, in my book. Also on January 1, the price of a pack of (my brand of) cigarettes escalated from 2,700 W to 4,500W--all of it in tax. This is part of the government's "two-prong approach" to curbing cigarette use.

I don't deny cigarettes are bad for my health, and I don't object to paying a premium for insurance purposes to offset the burden on the health care system. Fine. But, and I suspect quite a lot of business owners agree with me, it's not really the place of the government to tell a business how to run itself. Those of you worried about second-hand smoke, you would do much better to outlaw using single-stroke lawnmowers. And motorcycles.

But in a very low blow, a new regulation has been passed to outlaw drinking alcohol in most public places, including parks, beaches and college campuses. Literally millions of Koreans every weekend hike up a mountain (many of them public parks) and pause at the top to guzzle a few bottles of soju before making their way down. I frankly don't see this tradition being changed.

I don't hike up mountains, so I don't give a rat's ass about that. However, I frequently sit outside of restaurants--dining al fresco--while guzzling a few bottles of soju. Some of these restaurants own that space, but others just sort of spill out onto the sidewalk. I just wonder where the line will be drawn in the enforcement.

But again, this is a Nanny State move. According to the article here, the move comes from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who estimates that 1.6 million Koreans are "alcoholics". Yeah, riiiight!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: A Cupful of Cobra

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Just to be clear, this post is about eating a cobra in Vietnam. If you find this idea distasteful, don't continue reading.

I tried to find a partner or two for this meal throughout my stay in Hanoi (remember, I took two cooking classes!), but when I got to the part about drinking fresh cobra blood and bile, people would slowly start to drift away. However, as you can see from the menu above, the people of Le Mat village, about a $10 taxi ride from the Old Quarter, take their cobra meat seriously. Eleven courses from one snake. Cost: 1.2 million dong, or sixty dollars.

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First, the snake is selected and killed in front of you.

It is then bled, and the blood, and also bile, mixed with Vietnamese hooch.

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Diners are then led upstairs to the dining area, and shortly, the first course, snake soup, arrives. It was savory and quite tasty!

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The next three courses, clockwise from left, spring rolls, fried snake, and the "lot" leaves, came in a hurry. These were all good, but the simple fried snake balls was the best.

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Soft fried snake skin, with bok choi:

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Rare of chitterling and liver is the organ meat--not joking, tasted a lot like chicken organ meat:

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The stewed snake was terrible, but I put that down to the "medicanal leaves":

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I guess this was the snake "pied", but it was some snake skin mixed in with sticky rice.

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And finally, snake gruel. I had eaten so much by this point (by the way, one cobra served this way could easily serve four), I didn't taste any snake in this at all.

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And that's one off the bucket list. Also, the last post about my vacation in Vietnam.

Blog note: I have now used over 98% of my free photo sharing storage at Photobucket. Any suggestions for another free hosting site? Let me know.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: Cooking Class, Street Food

Hanoi Cooking Centre
I took two morning-long courses here, starting on Saturday with "Food of Hanoi and the North". The dishes were Banana flower salad with pork and prawns, Fresh spring rolls with omelet and shrimp, with an awesome dipping sauce, and Ginger chicken clay pot. Dessert was Corn and coconut pudding with pandan.

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Those little yellow things would eventually become bananas, so cutting banana flowers is a fairly costly exercise. Our salad involved two petals, one to serve as the bowl, and one to chiffonade. Soak the chiffonade for fifteen minutes in water with lime juice to soften without discoloring, then add in the other ingredients (chopped pork, shallot, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts). The dressing is similar to the dipping sauce I'll describe below. That's me with my cooking partner Stacey, a Brit by way of Greece.

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The spring rolls are pretty standard, except perhaps for the addition of some pho, but the dipping sauce is delectable. Ingredients (you'll want to make this!): 2 tbsp lime juice, 1/2 tsp rice vinegar. Combine with tbsp sugar and dissolve. Then add in tbsp fish sauce, finely minced large garlic clove and 1/2 seeded red chili pepper (or to taste).

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To make the ginger chicken, you cut up chicken, marinate in tsp fish sauce, 1/2 clove garlic, chopped, about tsp julienned ginger, a pinch of sugar salt, and black pepper. Fry up the chicken most of the way ...

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... add 1/2 tsp annatto oil, finish browning. Put in clay pot with tsp more of fish sauce, more ginger, and oven bake for 6-9 minutes. Top with some julienned kaffir lime leaves. Fab!

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Street Food Tour
We started our morning with a hearty pho bo, beef noodle soup, a traditional breakfast choice in Vietnam.

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On our way to a walk through the local wet market (pics here--or scroll down to previous post), we encountered a couple of opportunities to sample vendors' offerings, such as milk apples (Chrysophyllum cainito)

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Other foods we sampled (or I sampled separately) included water chestnuts, sticky rice, Vietnamese apples, and roasted sweet corn.

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Next stop, a banh cuon restaurant, which served these super thin wet rice batter crepes, filled with mushrooms, chicken or pork, then rolled. The dipping sauce was sweet and sour, to which our guided added a dash of waterbug oil--waterbug? Yeah.

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We stopped by a little shop with all sorts of candied fruits (I liked the ginger plums best) before making our way to a little alley with a popular bun cha stand.

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What is bun cha?

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It's a fatty pork and noodle soup, in our case served with fried spring rolls and piles of noodles. The guide also got us some fresh Vietnamese "donuts", with mung bean inside. They were delicious--unlike what you'll likely be offered at bia hoi, which are stale and greasy.

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Aside from a trip to a famous and much-lauded, but generally ho-hum coffee shop, our last stop was further up the little alley, for dessert. Che refers to any of these sweet fruity or gelatinous beverage, pudding, soup sort of things. Also yummy.

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Some other street foods I ate included these strips of grilled, mechanically separated ham (edible with the sauce, but not so much otherwise), pigeon (fattier than you might think by looking at them) and stir-fried frog with bamboo shoots--this was quite good!

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KOTO Restaurant
This place is located directly across the street from the Temple of Literature. It is famous for its fusion cuisine and also for employing and training underprivileged youth for the food business. I had five spice grilled duck breast on a potato and mushroom patty, and it was terrific.

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City-View Cafe

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Yeah, there is a great city view, but that's about all there is to be said for this restaurant. I thought I'd go upscale for one night in Hanoi, and I ordered the steak--a measly gristly bit of beef and some spring rolls far inferior to what we made in cooking class. give this place a miss.

Still, the mixed drinks and the atmosphere make for a good opportunity to toast the city of Hanoi!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Vietnam, Hanoi: Street Scenes

Wet Market
My first morning in Hanoi found me in the wet market local to Hanoi Cooking Centre by about 9:15. There are more than a dozen such markets dotted around the city, but it was explained that the government is gradually closing them down and replacing them with modern supermarkets which have office space overhead.

Quite typical of such markets throughout Asia, there are fresh vegetables. The second pic is bamboo shoots; the third is a makeshift roof sagging under a bit of rain:

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Everyone needs fresh meat, and according to Tracy our guide, it comes in at about five AM every morning and is gone by ten or so.

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Yes, she's skinning a frog:

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Pig brains, and pig stomach:

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The pho noodles sold here come in particularly fresh (and warm) from a nearby village that specializes in pho. It's all gone in a couple of hours:

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Bird cages
Birds are considered lucky, or harbingers of prosperity, so they are a common sight as you walk through the streets:

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Bia Hoi

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Most nights, but particularly on weekends, the area around Ma May, Hang Buom, Hang Bac, etc in the northern part of the Old Quarter become "bia hoi". Thousands of people sitting on tiny stools at tiny tables on sidewalks and streets drinking beer and munching street food. And also falling prey to street hawkers selling lighters, caps, stale Vietnamese donuts, what-have-you.

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Some of my new friends outside King Pirates Pub, Jack Sparrow image definitely used without Disney's consent. Dude second from left, Simon, is apparently a Nigerian who is a member of Vietnam's national soccer team.

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The second shot below is a "cyclo" (pronounced "see-kloh"), though most people get around on motorcycles.

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Right around Hoan Kiem lake, there is some statuary:

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But Hanoi's Old Quarter is best-known for a dilapidated melding of European and Viet architecture (note birdcages):

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