sandwiches

Apr 29, 2015

Taking it easy further north

The relaxed, international flavor of Đà Lat

Peter, eating "bird" at Chu Quán.
Peter, eating “bird” at Korean-Vietnamese BBQ place Chu Quán.
Delicious tom yam soup and dill chicken at Góc Hà Thành.
It was a bit touristy, but we had delicious tom yam and dill chicken at Góc Hà Thành.

In contrast to Phạm Ngũ Lão, Đà Lạt’s backpacker scene was much more relaxed and integrated with the city around it. There was still a small neighborhood glutted with western bars, hostels, and restaurants — down Trương Công Định street, if you’re looking — but the gravity of the area was not so strong. We kind of spent our time in the city traversing between International World and Localville. We watched live one night — in a bar full of Russians — as CNN reacted to Jon Stewart’s departure from “The Daily Show.” But we also successfully stumbled through the all-Vietnamese menu at an up-and-coming BBQ joint.

Given Đà Lạt’s size — small — we did wander down Trương Công Định at some point just about every day. And our usual destination was The Hangout, a bar billed as the homebase of the local Easy Riders. In actuality, its clientele consists mostly of the enthusiastic, but inexpert young travelers who’d spent the day touring the countryside with the motorbike guides; their ripped up legs told the story of a lot of falling down. But it was a chill place for a beer or two. Decidedly less shady than the backpacker bars of HCMC.

Another regular stop, a few streets over, was the Liên Hoa Bakery. They offered a wide range of French-style pastries. Fruit tarts, fresh donuts, croissants, cookies, cakes … I had to limit myself to two per day. Mostly because I wanted to save some room for the bakery’s made-to-order bánh mì. Peter would go with paté and vegetables, while my favorite was the BBQ pork. They buttered their bread as well, which was a fantastic touch. Guys, I just love sandwiches.

But we found a lot of good meals, all around town. On the suggestion of our hostel owners, we had lunch one afternoon at Vinh Loi, a folding table and plastic chairs kind of place that specializes in doing the basics well. Back on Trương Công Định, we had dinner at Góc Hà Thành, a restaurant that trumpeted its Lonely Planet endorsement on a large banner out front. Locals do not come here anymore, if they ever did. But the food was really good. Peter and I shared a dill lemon chicken dish and a tom yam shrimp soup — which is actually a Thai dish, but whatever. It was super sweet and delicious.

Our favorite meal — one so nice, we ate it twice — was at Chu Quán, the aforementioned BBQ establishment. The owner, we read, was going for a Korean-Vietnamese fusion, and I’ll tell you, it worked for us. The showstopper there was the Bò Sặc, a spicy beef dish cooked on a hot stone at the table. Each time a party ordered one, the whole room filled with choking, acrid smoke. (In a fun way!) That was a little too intense for us, though, so we went with a dish our waiter translated into English as “bird.” The table next to us had one, and it looked good.

“Bird” is probably squab, and it was served in a caramelized spice rub. We cut it up ourselves with large kitchen shears, which was a little discomfiting. The meat was tender for such a little guy, but that spice really packed a punch. The dish came with soy and chili dipping sauces, and side of mint and cucumber as a palate refresher. “Every bite has a strategy,” Peter said.

Rounding out the meal was a noodle and vegetable dish that was pretty good, but was definitely overshadowed by “bird,” and some just-perfect French fries, Vietnamese style, with an orange chili sauce and mayonnaise. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention our starter: a black sesame rice cake with green chili sauce. Maybe one of Peter’s favorite discoveries of the whole trip. (Can you guess what mine was? I’ll give you a hint: It starts with bánh and ends with mì.)

We were truly sad to leave Đà Lạt. It’s just a really friendly, charming place. On our last full day, another Easy Rider chatted us up. When we told him that we were leaving, he joked-not-joked that a motorbike ride back down to Saigon would be way more fun that flying. He was probably right, but “not with my back,” Peter said. The Easy Rider laughed, mounted his bike, and zoomed off down the road.

Jun 30, 2012

Replace your passport: Eating freshly

It’s sandwich time

A real, live Subway sandwich

☆ Side Quest: Subway

Objective 1: Put it all together: This trip, occasioned by a visit to “American Soil,” has become a total western long weekend
Objective 2: Don’t feel guilty about it; You’ve given China its due, and you just miss some things from home. That’s OK!
Objective 3: Have a sandwich

It was a hot and humid afternoon, we were a little lost and a little hungry when Subway the Sandwich Chain hewed into view. We were curious (and, don’t forget, hungry), so we decided to take a break from being lost and try out a Chinese Subway sandwich.

Subway in China? Is exactly the same, down to the smell, as every other Subway in the world. They’re even on the lookout for good “Sandwich Artists” or potential franchisees. (We took a flyer, just in case we get bored of this teaching thing.)

It was totally surreal. Outside the window was China, but inside was always and only Subway. This is where we realized that the occasion of our “trip back to America, sort of” had unconsciously triggered a sort of west-stravaganza for us. All week, we’d been hunting down cheese, English-language TV, felafel, scotch, new books, olives

Part of the reason we moved to Luzhou, rather than a bigger city, was so that we could fully immerse ourselves in Chinese culture, without being tempted by the ease and comfort of, say, taco nights, or ex-pat Scrabble groups, or whatever. Not that these things are bad, and I’m sure that plenty of ex-pats live fulfilled Chinese lives with them, but for us, having access to them would mean that we’d still be saying to each other, “One of these days we’ll get to learning Chinese, making Chinese friends, venturing out from our comfortable English-language hidey-holes …”

But cutting ourselves off from our home culture completely and forever was never part of the plan. So when we’re on vacation, we have some cheese!

And, realizing what we were doing - indulging in western goodies - cast the crappy theft and replacement of my passport in a totally different light: That crook did us a favor!

And the sandwich was pretty good, too.