Phu My (pronounced Foo Me) is also known as Baria Serece, is the deepest river port in Vietnam. We approach from Vung Ganh Rai by Song Cai Mep. Because many of the navigational buoys were unlit and there is a TON of small unlit fishing and trading vessels our local pilot guides us for 16 nautical into the river to the port. Phu My is the gateway to Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon as it’s also known. It’s Vietnam’s largest city , located near the Mekong River delta. The city centre is situated on the banks of the Saigon River, 60 Kilometers from the South China Sea. And its home to more than 9 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in Vietnam and Indochina.
When we were here in 2009 we did a lot of touring seeing the Saigon City Hall, The Presidential Palace which has been renamed the Revolutionary Museum. So today we made a hard decision to do the “Taste of Vietnamese Cuisine”. This tour was in strong competition to Cu Chi Tunnels Discovery which we will do next time we’re here.
A Taste of Vietnamese Cuisine takes us into Ho Chi Minh City, a 2 hour drive from Phu My and it’s an early start. It’s extremely interesting to see how much more developed Vietnam is compared to 2009. More roads have been improved upon, extra lanes have been added and more mopeds and bikes – In a city of 9 million there are approximately 5 million mopeds and bikes. Bike prices, for a Chinese model start at $300 US (will last 3-6 months) to $10,000 for a Japanese model that will last a life time (unless it’s stolen). Traffic is appalling, the concept of lanes are unheard off. We see 2 major accidents on the way into the city. , I even see a woman breast feeding her infant while her husband steered the moped. Many people are riding 3 and 4 to a moped, business owners carry their stock on their mopeds. A lot of young women still wear gloves, long skirts or pants with a full face mask in order not to get sun. It’s said that “whiter” looking women will get a richer husband, and they go to all lengths to achieve this. In the drug stores, shelves were full of whitening products to lighten skin. I’m not quite so sure I’d be interested in putting it on my skin. And besides we think a little tan looks healthy!
It was interesting to see that the new lanes added during the last few years didn’t even have lines painted on them . Gerrit took some amazing photos of the traffic and we’ll leave the pictures to tell the story. Many rice paddy fields line the road into the city; woman sit at little stalls and sell corn, rice or fish soup, noodles (thick or thin). For many of these people
this is their livelihood. Bread is sold by the road side, you just slow down in the traffic hand over some change and your handed a loaf of bread and you’re on your way. No such thing as parking and going into a store. It’s just a fascinating way of life. Many business owners sit on their honkers to fix mopeds or a piece of machinery – they usually live in the back of their business and we see hammocks strung up in many of the shops. Shops are small and people do with what they need versus what they want. For many people survival is living day to day.
When we reach Ho Chi Minh we’re greeted by 2 chefs from the “Saigon Culinary Art Centre”. Our group of 24 is split into 4 groups, this allows us to get personal attention in the market we’ll visit to pick up our ingredients for our lunch later in the day. The market is bright, loud
and alive. The stalls are packed with goods for sale and is segregated into different areas meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, coffee/teas, clothing, shoes – anything anyone would want to buy can be purchased in this market. We’ve been told that the Vietnamese coffee is some of the best and strongest coffees so we’re on the look out for “Weasel” coffee and we’re successful almost instantly. The price is $18US/Lb. and apparently the most expensive coffee sold in the market.
Pictures will show the amount and many types of fish and meat on sale. It’s just amazing to watch these folks kill, cleanse and prepare their products for sale. Sea cucumber, scallops, frogs, and fish we’ve never heard off are for sale. We’re getting “Snake Head Fish”, so called because it looks like a snake, it really does look like a snake. We’ve been told our menu is as follows: Salad rolls (wrappers, similar to spring roll wrappers but these won’t be deep fried they will be eaten with a sauce) consisting of lettuce, mint leaves, bean sprouts, egg pancake (cut into strips), extremely thin cut port slices and shrimp cut in two. These are rolled in a certain order. The dipping sauce is made from boiled water, soya oil, hot chilli’s (according to taste). Our next course was braised ginger chicken done in a clay pot. This was just amazing and our final dish was the sour fish head soup, of course all the food was eaten with rice, and it was lovely to see everyone try to use the chop sticks. Dessert was green bean curd with coconut and served with tea, water and ginger.
Everyone in the group was terrific and we all made a great effort to do our own cooking and yet help others if necessary. At the end of the course and after we’d eaten we were given a little test (what ingredients went into the braised ginger chicken) and when was salt used (only once to taste the soup). Everyone got a diploma saying they had passed along with a copy of all the recipes and a lovely set of chopsticks. Check out http://www.vietnamsaigoncookingclass.com
It was an awesome day and the staff at the centre were truly amazing. Well done Chef!!