Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unphogettable: Pho in Saigon

Note: You can click on each image to see it full size

Pho is like crack, only tastier, and everyone who's ever heard of it either has a personal story to tell of their own addiction, or witnessed a loved one going through it. At the height of my addiction, I was eating two to three bowls a week. Then, two things happened: I moved away from easy access to pho, and became vegetarian (eventually to turn vegan). Though options for omnivorous pho are now popping up around me all the time, the vegetarian pho always seems like an afterthought in local pho houses as they're so lacking (there are some exceptions, which I'll write about soon).

So when planning our trip to Southeast Asia, among things I was most excited about was getting some pho at a purely vegetarian restaurant in Vietnam. So naturally, I was a kid in a candy store from the moment we stepped off the bus in Saigon. We weren't hurting for vegan options there. We didn't visit the place in the picture above, but I loved the message.

The first place we went was An Lac Chay in the Pham Ngu Lao area, District 1. We ended up making a second trip here. It's located near a huge cluster of inexpensive guest houses, and up the street from the bus stop where we were left off from our trip from Phnom Penh.

Here's a map showing roughly where it is. The address is 175/1 Pham Ngu Lao St (not actually on the main road), located just above Margherita, an Italian/Mexican place. Once you've found it, walk into Margherita and walk up the steps on the left.

We started with the pork skin rice paper rolls at 12,000 Dong ($0.60):
It came with way too many dip options.
And then, the moment I'd been waiting for, the pho:
It was amazing. Unlike most pho places I've been to in the US, this dish came with several kinds of fake meat. The broth was just what I'd hoped it'd be. A dream come true for 25,000 Dong ($1.25), plus the price of a plane ticket to the far side of the planet and 9 bus rides.
At 30,000 Dong, Marya splurged and got the stewed Chinese mushrooms:
A lovely mixture of mushrooms served in a clay pot with a side of rice.

On our second trip, of course, I got more pho (not pictured). We also got this pork rib dish as an appetizer, though it's intended to be an entree:
It was good, but just a tiny bit gummy.
Marya got this Lotus Salad (with fake ham):

The area where we stayed in Saigon had many cavernous and winding alleys that seemed straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. We had fun exploring them. Adding to the adventure is that motos are always speeding through them. Here is one of my favorite alley pics I took when we were trying to navigate back to our guest house:

These trash cans were everywhere, in our guest house, our travel agent, and in many of the restaurants and bars:
On each can was a different picture of a physical activity. I'm just in awe of the wonderment. Happiness to Everyone!!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

K'nyay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Note you can click on most images to see them full-size

25K Suramarit Blvd, ST 268, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

K'nyay was quite a walk from our hostel, but we're glad we made the trip. It turned out to be a nice little secluded and, at the time we were there, quiet place down a short private drive. The food was quite unique, too.

To get there, walk East of the Independence Monument (pictured above) on Suramarit Blvd (Northern part of the circle), just beyond Street 19 and before you get to a park on the left, you'll see this sign below:

Down the driveway you'll see this sign:
Yes, the background is a gay pride flag. I wondered for a moment if a developing country such as Cambodia is more gay friendly than a first world country such as the US.

The place is cozy. We loved the open air design of the place.
It has some pictures hanging up of pride parades and equality marches. It looked like they were gearing up for the Cambodia Pride 2011. They were selling Cambodia Pride t-shirts for $2. We should have gotten one for our cat sitter. Sorry, Kevin!

And here's the entree menu page:
I love how there are two entree sections: Vegan and Non-Vegan, and that that the vegan entrees appear first. =8-)

We started out with this Roasted Pumpkin and Pear Salad:

Marya had the Jackfruit Curry:

The only other place I recall having jackfruit was at Tasty Harmony in Ft. Collins, Colorado. The jackfruit curry came with a star anise pod, which we shared by pulling off the segments and chewing. We loved that the entrees came with black rice here at K'nyay.

And I had the Char Kreung Tofu:

As far as I can tell, "char" means "stir fry" and "Kreung" is an ethnic minority in Cambodia. It had cauliflower and green beans. It was tasty, but I honestly could do without green beans being served in so many dishes. I can't recall if I put them aside or if I just choked them down.

And for dessert we had this lovely Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango:

We loved this place. The food was delicious, staff was friendly, and the vibe was relaxed. We wished we had the time to return here for a second meal.

My notes for this stop read:

app - Roasted pumpkin + pear salad $4
Marya - Jackfruit curry $5
me - Char Kreung $5
dessert - mango + sweet sticky rice $4
Beer - priceless

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vegan What? Fun Times in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Note: Please click on an image to see it full size

Weird and wild Phnom Penh: where we had to keep the balcony doors and windows of our hostel closed so the monkeys wouldn't come in and make a mess of the place.
Where we came across this temple by the riverbank seeming to pay homage to Mario:

Where, not an uncommon sight in all of Southeast Asia, I snapped this picture of a family of four on a moto with hardly the room for two:

Finding casual vegan food was not hard to find, though finding variety in restaurants that are merely vegan friendly is difficult. This printed menu from one of the many riverside cafes on National Highway 5/Sisowath Quay is typical of what you'll find, right down to the same font:
There's very little difference between them all.
No matter, though. If you're popping in for a quick bite, you can't beat the price or quality. Check out this lovely vegetable amok for US$2.75:
I will add, as I've mentioned in previous posts, having a lifetime distaste for fish has made my fish sauce detection superpower keen, and I didn't detect it at all in any dish in Cambodia. In fact there were only two meals throughout our entire four country trip that I could tell had fish sauce or some fish product in it. So, no worries here!

The cheap pitchers were among the reasons we had about a gallon of beer a day.
Though you'd think this beer would be pronounced "anchor" like that of a boat, but I'm guessing that either because they don't want to confuse it with Angkor beer or because they're just pronouncing it phonetically, they pronounce it "an-chore".
Thanks again to Happy Cow we had another happy, mostly, find: Evergreen Vegetarian House.

Evergreen Vegetarian House
109, St 130, Sangkat Phsar Chas
Phnom Penh Cambodia

This place would have been perfect. Perfect! If it weren't for one little thing. We were seated at a table and I asked for a beer. The response was: "Sir, you can't serve alcohol at a vegetarian restaurant."
An angry "I $%^&#@* beg to differ!!!" was almost my response, but decided that I wouldn't make so big a deal out of it. The food was very inexpensive, and very very good.

Marya got this great deal where, for US$2.75 she could get a set meal consisting of two dishes and a soup. She started with this veggie fish and tomato dish:

Then had this fried mushrooms and cucumber:
Yes, I know. You don't see stir-fried cucumber very often.
And she finished up with this tofu vegetable soup:

For US$1.50 I had this lovely noodle soup with rice noodles, vegetables, and fake meat galore:
If I recall correctly, this was their menu item Mi Taimu Noodle Soup.

As one doesn't see "Veggie Intestines Noodle Soup" on the menu every day, plus the fact that I feel as if I could eat my weight in noodle soup, I just had to try it.

And here it is, in all its glory!
I'm not sure what it was really made of, but it was a fun novelty all the same.
We made up for the lack of hooch elsewhere at a fun little outdoor pub next to our hostel.

And, just for giggles, here's a fun photo I snapped of a guy carrying a mattress on his moto:

There's a book of photos of people carrying the most unimaginable things on their tiny motos and other forms of transportation called "Carrying Cambodia", if you'd like to see the triumph of will over physics.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheap Eats in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia is best known as the hopping off point to visit the country's most prized attraction: Angkor Wat (pictured above). Angkor Wat was a requisite stop on our whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia, so we (by "we" I mean Marya) did loads of research for places to eat in Siem Reap.
Thanks to the magic of Happy Cow we found the restaurant Chamkar.
A word of warning: it was a bit difficult to find. It is in a fancy narrow pedestrian walkway off Pub Street called "The Passage", in the Old Market area.
The place is written up as a vegan friendly vegetarian restaurant, though I recall that the things on the menu we as vegans wouldn't eat were few. Click on the below two images to see the appetizer and entree listings.

We started out with the Potted Wild Harvest dip. I was sold on the description of the dish: "Pounded wild eggplant with coconut milk served with Khmer crudites and Cambodian baguette."
Eggplant is surely never something I expected to see found wild, and how does one pound eggplant into a fine paste? Aside from the fact that it was baked there, I'm not sure how the Cambodian baguette differed from any other baguette I've ever had.

Continuing with the eggplant theme, Marya selected the Mad Eggplant Lovers. The description is: Stir-fried grilled eggplant with loofa, coconut milk, and the delicate taste of holy basil.
Images of Bill O'Reilly aside (ewwwwwwwww!), you might be thinking as we were, "Isn't loofa a sea creature?" Valid question, but it turns out it's a huge land-based seed pod. And we ate it.

I had the Biting Amok dish. It had four little cubes of rice wrapped in amok leaf in a spicy coconut sauce.
This dish isn't to be confused with Cambodia's national dish, Amok, which looks like this, served in a cabbage leaf, though it is more traditionally served in a banana leaf bowl.

All throughout Cambodia you'll see the image of Angkor Wat everywhere, from the country's flag to the country's most popular beer:

Below is our bill for Chamkar:
I know this is probably considered expensive by Cambodian standards, but $18.75 for fancy vegan food plus a beer, glass of wine, and two soda waters to me was pretty damned amazing to this American who's lucky to get a few beers for that amount in the States. We were very impressed with Chamkar. They certainly served the most unique dishes we had during our entire three week trip. And everything was so flavorful.

Another fun experience in Siem Reap was this place in the food stall section of the open air market Psar Chas.
I don't know how much of the food was authentic Khmer, but it was good, especially considering the price.
Marya had an Angkor beer while I tried this Bayon.
Yes, I realize this is not intended to be a blog about beer.
Bayon is the name of a temple in the ancient town near Angkor Wat called Angkor Thom. It was my favorite part of the Angkor Wat/Thom site-seeing.
So naturally I needed several of these to commemorate the occasion.

Craving noodles, I started out with this fried noodle dish.
Nothing too exciting, but, at a buck, the price was right.

We'd seen stir-fried morning glory on so many menus we decided we had to finally try it.
This particular kind of morning glory is also known as Chinese water spinach and swamp cabbage. It is illegal to grow in many states in the US because it quickly proliferates in waterways which could potentially threaten the habitat of fish. For this reason the USDA classifies it as a noxious weed.
Anyway, it was okay. Some of the reeds were a tiny bit tough, and such a big plate of the same vegetable gets old after the first 10 or so bites.

Marya got this lovely Khmer curry:

And here's the bill for all of that:
Yeah, eight fitty for some decent vittles and beer.

I'd like to say a word about our accommodations in Siem Reap, too. We stayed at the Siem Reap Garden Inn.

Everyone who worked there was very pleasant and the place is lovely. Without asking, they gave us the best room in the place, which was an affordable $15/night.
They have their own on-site tuk-tuk driver who, for a fee, will drive you to the sites at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and other surrounding structures on half or full-day outings. They'll even take you there before sunrise to see the sun come over temples. This didn't work out for us as it was raining quite hard the morning we wanted to do this.
The Siem Reap Garden Inn is on a dirt road that's an easy 1/4 mile walk right into town. Highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bangkok: Gimme Whatshagot and Downing Cheap Beer

Thanks to the Lonely Planet "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" guide we found this fun little vegan restaurant, just south of the Democracy Monument (pictured above) called "Arawy". It's a good walk from Khao San Road. To see a map on how to get there, click here.
The address is 152 Thanon Din So.

We walked in and were shown to a table by the owner with only hand gestures. We weren't given menus.
Marya went off to the lavatory while I stood up to snap these pictures of the food.

As I was taking the pictures, the owner started dishing out some of the various dishes, seemingly at random.
I thought at first it'd be better to wait until Marya got back so we could decide what we wanted, but I quickly concluded that it wouldn't matter. It was all vegan and we could share whatever we got, and the owner seemed keen on giving us a little of everything. Sadly, though, we have no idea what we were served.
Here's what my notes said about our dinner that evening:
Dinner: May 15 Dinner: Arawy - pumpkin stuff, pumpkin soup, other soup, brown rice, tofu in banana leaf, fake meat, etc.
The owner asked us how we had heard of her place. We looked around and noticed no less than ten framed posters of the cover of each Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide that included her restaurant. We pulled out our guide and showed it to her. "Oh, I don't have that one", she said, noting that her wall was lacking the most recent edition.
I should add that the place does not serve alcohol. That was fine, as we could get that everywhere else. It was just neat to have an authentic vegan meal in Bangkok somewhat off the beaten path. I have no real clue as to what exactly we ate, but it was delicious all the same. That the owner was so friendly added to our experience that evening.

In complete contrast to Arawy is Four Sons Inn.
Despite the parenthetical name of the place, "A Friendly Place to Stay", they were far from kind. They did, however, have menus with extensive vegan options, plus cheap beer.
This liter sized 50 Baht beer is in the area of $1.70. I kept ordering beer from the hostess as our waitress was a little too aloof.
The place is located near the end of Soi Ram Buttri. Recycling from an older post, click here to see a map that includes Four Sons. It's where the upper left arrow is pointing "Stay Here".
Craving something somewhat spicy, I ordered the Kee Mao, also known as Drunken Noodle.
It wasn't too spicy, but closer to what I was looking for. It had wide rice noodles, spicy peppers, basil, tofu, bok choy, carrots, mini corn ears, and what looked like a sprig of peppercorns.

This little cat seemed to live there and was well known by many of the staff.
I got to give him a few head scritches.