Downstairs in my kitchen

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lunch in Ha Tien, Viet Nam


Being huge fans of Vietnamese food, we decided to go out and get some. As it is only 100 km to the Viet Nam border, we decided to go to Ha Tien. We caught a minibus from Kampot at 10:30 and were in Ha Tien just after noon. 
Ha Tien Market


We were starving and found a nice restaurant near the market. The food was great, and the people friendly, even if they found us odd. The waitress at the restaurant was a bit abrupt in showing me that I was eating my noodles incorrectly (you spin them up with a fork, rather than using chopsticks as I was doing), but I have a tremendous capacity for forgiving attractive young women almost anything. Dagny tells me just to do what I am told and I try, I really do.



Our transport to the beach (8km for $2)
There isn't much in Hai Tien, so we looked for transport out to Mui Nai, a beach about 8 km down the road. There aren't any tuk tuks in Ha Tien, we didn't fit on a motorbike with our luggage, but we found a pedican driver willing to haul us out there. It was a pleasant ride, although a bit of a squeeze in that little seat.

Mui Nai was amazing. Although we have travelled a lot, this is the first time in a long time that we have been in a place where knowing English, French, Spanish, a little Cantonese and some Khmer wouldn't give you enough words to communicate with anyone. Everyone can say "Hello" and some sales staff manage "What you want?" but that is it, beyond quoting prices.
 
Today we had lunch at Hong Phat, just across the promenade from the beach. I had fried rice with squid and Dagny had Singapore noodles. I drank a couple of Bia 333 (beers) and Dagny had an iced coffee. All for the low, low price of 85,000 Dong.

Did I mention that we are millionaires? The day before, when we learned that dollar didn't work here and there were no ATMs, I had made an emergency run back to Ha Tien on the back of a motodop and changed US$100 into a bit over two million dong; so lunch translates into $4--at a beach resort. The air conditioned room is $17.50, but we got a discount from the regular $20 for staying three nights.

The tables are at the restaurants are all designed to accommodate moderately sized Vietnamese families of say, forty people, so we didn't sit alone. Two women were at the table already, ordering slushies from a guy on a bicycle who shaved ice into a cup and poured on colorful syrups and condensed milk. Seeing that we were foreigners, and clearly not up on the importance of this delicacy, they acquired another spoon from the vendor before he sped off and insisted we try them. Well, I'd always wanted to.  It was very sweet and tasty.

When we finished our food, I ordered another beer and Dagny went to check out a nearby store that sells a variety of strange things, some of which she thought might make suitable art components. If we visited an aircraft factory she would find suitable art components. Two other ladies sat at the table, and another lady came over making an impressive pitch for her particular dead flat things. Dead flat things (DFT) are fish (I don't know, some kind of fish) that are dried and are, by law I think, always flat. The ladies examined the DFT and gave their approval. The vendor went back to squatting on the pavement where she fired up her fire in a bucket, cooked the two DFTs and brought them, with dipping sauce, to the table. The ladies decided that my diet was sorely deficient in DFTs, and used sign language to indicate that it went with beer. Unwilling to suffer the consequences of violating some cultural taboo, I tried it. It turned out to be kind of a tasty fish jerky. Definitely something I would have again.

The other two ladies were not to be outdone, and the younger one had brought a big bag of peanuts. She shoved a handful in my direction and asked if I knew what peanuts were. This surprised me, because she asked in decent English. My first thought was that he was a librarian from St. Paul on a junket, but she was a student (English major) from Ho Chih Minh City on vacation with her mother, who was the other lady at the table. (The peanuts, by the way, were boiled and tasty. These too, I was assured, are vital to the diet of the Asian beer drinker and I thought that good information.)

Dagny came back to sample these delicacies before I managed to eat them all, partly because the ladies were involved in competitive restocking of my plate. We chatted with the young lady, who taught us a few Vietnamese expressions that we immediately forgot. We decided to refer to her as the person in Mui Nai who speaks English.

There are a couple of days left on the trip, and there are these orange things, sort of like tortillas, that have shrimp and other stuff on them and I am wondering what they are like.
A quiet beach moment on Friday before the tour buses arrive