Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Adventures in Food

Green Hanoi
Making an effort to try restaurants local to our neighborhood, Ryan and I recently ventured to a nearby Vietnamese place for dinner with two co-workers.

Green Hanoi has one main room, with semi-private rooms lining it on both sides.  Since the restaurant was fairly busy when we arrived, the four of us had little choice in our seats and were led to one of the smaller rooms.  We settled onto the floor in front of a long table and studied the menu.  Shortly after realizing we didn’t speak Korean, the gregarious manager (owner?) summoned a young woman who spoke English.  She explained that we should choose a meat that would be accompanied by vegetables.  We would cook the meat ourselves, then wrap it in rice paper with the vegetables.  Ryan and a co-worker decided to try the duck, while another co-worker and I were fine with our wraps being vegetables only.

Shortly after we ordered, a large rolling cart made its way to our table.  One by one, a young woman presented us with the cart’s items.  First she delivered thin rice paper and bowls of warm water for softening it.   

We then received our own personal trio of sauces.   

Then came the generous vegetable platter containing thinly sliced beets, sprouts, cabbage, carrots, various types of lettuce, and pineapple.   

Shortly after the side dishes were presented came the duck, which Ryan eagerly browned on the grill in the middle of the table.

We soaked wrapped, and filled the rice paper, then drizzled on the sauces.  

The food was delicious!  We will certainly be back again.

A co-worker here on his second teaching contract introduced us to “toasta” awhile back.  Some version of the word “toast,” it’s basically composed of egg, cabbage and carrots poured into a form on a griddle and layered with cheese (and/or ham) grilled between bread.  
It’s quite satisfying and makes a quick and convenient meal.  There are multiple vendors selling toast in our area.  Our favorite joint is run by an extremely sweet couple, who ensured that I came in from the heat, sat down, and enjoyed a complimentary iced Americano last time I went to pick up breakfast for us.  Did I mention that each sandwich is less than $1.50?

A far cry from the traditional Asian food we’ve become accustomed to, a couple weeks ago we were invited to a staff dinner at VIPS.  

Not knowing much about the restaurant, we had fairly low expectations for the event.  However, when we arrived, we realized this was not the same as our usual work excursions to pork spine soup (link).  As soon as we sat down at the table, we saw that VIPS is a very Americanized restaurant.  The paper placemat featured wine and steak, and the table setting included a fork!  We have yet to see a fork at any Korean restaurant.  Only spoons and chopsticks seem to be available.

When our school supervisor arrived, she instructed us to order two main dishes for every four people, and we learned there was access to the buffet as well.  Ryan and another co-worker lucked out sitting at a table with the two vegetarians, since that meant they would each get their own main dish.  Though they weren't exactly on par with El Gaucho, Ryan and Stephanie thoroughly enjoyed their steaks.  I thoroughly enjoyed sharing Ryan's gorgonzola mashed potatoes!

After everyone had ordered we headed to the buffet.  A salad bar (rare here) first caught our eyes, then we noticed an Italian pasta bar, Margherita pizza and rows of Caprese salad.   

There were various soups to choose from, and multiple pasta and fruit salads.  I must have had three helpings of the grapes, apples and pineapple covered in sweet yogurt.  We also had our choice of smoked salmon with capers and a Korean noodle bar.  There was even a make-your-own-hot dog station.  Beyond the sauerkraut and relish, we laid eyes on something we’d only dreamed about for the last three months.  Guacamole!  So what if it was potentially made from a mix?  It was guacamole!  Next to it were cheese sauce sour cream and salsa, the ingredients for soft tacos made with mini flour tortillas.

Ordinarily a place like VIPS may have seemed mediocre to us.  However, in our current state of deprivation (ok so that's a bit dramatic) we found the spread to be delicious.  
Two plates (of many).

VIPS also had a decent dessert selection, featuring small slices of cheesecake and tiramisu, as well as petite pancakes topped with a choice of syrup or sweetened strawberries.  Frozen yogurt was also available, as were strawberry and chocolate syrup.  It was hard not to overeat.

Unknown Korean Restaurant
On a less gluttonous outing a few days later, we returned to a traditional Korean restaurant where we’d dined once before for a Saturday night date.  We indulged in a teapot (or maybe two...) of makgealli (the rice wine we’ve mentioned before, also known as dong dong ju) and Ryan had a pork and vegetable stir fry which he devoured.  

We also shared vegetable pajeon and a tofu/kimchi dish, which were both excellent.   

It’s safe to say Ryan and I had never tried kimchi before we moved here.  Although my parents and sister love it, I always plugged my nose when it was eaten in my presence.  We’ve embraced it a lot living here, and now notice the subtle differences in each restaurant’s recipe.

Kimchi is such a staple here that many families make annual batches at home, to be used throughout the year.  We spotted this appliance once, which I initially thought was a washing machine.

In actuality, it’s a device used for storing homemade kimichi.  These storage containers were inside.

We’re heading to Seoul next weekend.  There will undoubtedly be more kimchi and other adventures in food to report from our trip.

Until then I’ll remain in denial that these Amy’s foods that I loved to eat back home didn’t cost the same amount as 10 "toastas" would.  Sigh.


  1. Very fun posts...todays and yesterdays. Wow-that vegetable platter
    (nice "close up" by the way) looks absolutely mouth watering-
    and beautiful. You guys are certainly celebrating the food scene over there. Am kind of surprised that with your gene pool you'd be so interested in food...NOT!! You'll have to start making your own authentic Kim Chee once you return home.

  2. Yay for finally seeing the Light that kimchee is all that!
    Love this post and all the descriptions.
    Isn't it funny what you realize you have taken for granted. Just think, someday you and Amy's (and real margaritas) will be reunited again. 10 toastas?! Wow!