Touring Vietnam & discovering its cuisine-Hanoi and Halong Bay

Originally we had booked to go to Thailand for our honeymoon but after all the trouble with the Red Shirts in Bangkok, we decided to change to Vietnam as it was still Asia and it also meant we could use our flight.
We booked a guided tour for 13 nights,which started in Hanoi and ended with a couple of days to relax on the beach in Nha Trang. I hadn´t tried much Vietnamese food before our trip so was looking forward to trying this unknown cuisine. As we had chosen to go on a guided tour, lunch in a restaurant, usually with a set menu,was often included in the day´s visit. I however think that this was a more Westernized version of Vietnamese food as during our whole visit, we didn´t even get to try one of Vietnam´s most well-known dishes, Pho!! I really enjoyed Vietnamese food and its fresh, herby, sour and sweet blend of flavours and the next few blog entries will be about my experiences and food discoveries. Hopefully in the future I´ll also include some Vietnamese recipes as I couldn´t resist buying a Vietnamese cookbook!
When we arrived in Hanoi, we had the first day to ourselves to explore so after dropping our stuff off at the hotel, the first thing on our agenda was to find somewhere for lunch.We found a little café,which unfortunately I can´t remember the name of, and ordered a sausage sandwhich and braised beef. Both were delicious especially the braised beef which was really tender. One of the main things that hits you when you first arrive is the amount of traffic especially motorbikes in Hanoi that there is and also how chaotic it is. Crossing the road is definitely an adventure and an experience-I was pretty scared each time I had to do it!
We wandered around the Old Quarter taking in the sounds, smells and sights of Hanoi. One common sight is women carrying all kinds of strange fruit or other things in special baskets hung on a wooden pole carried across their shoulders. You can also see motorbikes which are completely laden with products, like in the following picture:
The following day we visited the typical sights of Hanoi, such as Ho Chi Minh´s Mausoleum, One-Pillar Pagoda, the Museum of Ethnology, the Temple of Literature etc. In the evening, we ate at a lovely restaurant,Dinh Lang Thuy Ta, which overlooked the Hoan Kiem Lake. Although expensive by Vietnamese standards, it is worth it for a romantic meal with beautiful views, the wonderful food and service and also traditional music while you eat. We shared a lotus flower stem salad which had a crunchy texture from the lotus stems and the peanuts (pictured below)

I chose steamed chicken with lime leaves-the meat was lovely and tender and the overall dish had a nice taste although I wasn´t too keen on the lime leaves which seemed to overpower the dish a little.

My husband chose a beef dish, hot and sour I think (sorry I´m so bad with the names!!) which was delicious and I actually preferred it to my dish!

We took the waiter´s advice for dessert and chose lotus seeds and dried longans in a syrup . The lotus seeds had a nutty, almost white chocolatey taste which wasn´t too bad and the longans were a bit like raisins.

We also tried agar-agar with dried longans in syrup. Neither of us were too keen on either of the desserts unfortunately but of the two, the lotus seeds were the best. You have to try these things!!

After a couple of days in Hanoi, we made our way to Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We stayed aboard a typical junko and took in the breathtakingly beautiful scenery of more than 2000 rocky islands jutting out of the sea.

As the food on the boat was mainly fish and seafood which I´m not that keen on we ordered something different for me. I got mainly meat dishes but one dish in particular looked a bit green around the edges but tasted fine. Unfortunately that night I started with bad stomach pains and both me and my husband, who had also eaten some of this meat, spent the vomitting and with diahorria!


Fabricando Delicias-all things sweet!

I´m finding it hard to be motivated to blog or even cook or bake in this heat, despite having more time on my hands. I thought I´d include some of my favourite foodie places, taking a closer look at some shops as living in a rather small Spanish town, it´s very difficult to find certain foods and ingredients and am constantly on the lookout for places where I can get hold of these things.

A new shop has recently opened in my city called Fabricando Delicias which sells all things connected to cakes, baking and cake-decorating, my new-found passion. Someone has already beaten me to it as I had the idea of opening a cake shop but with no business sense and not being totally convinced if this kind of shop would be successful in a little town I didn´t risk it. They have a wide range of silicone and metal cake moulds, muffin cases, cake racks and other baking and decorating equipment. They also sell prepared fondant, sugarpaste, vanilla extract, glycerine etc from the well-known American brand, Wilton. I was very surprized to find this shop where I live as I didn´t think fondant cakes, cupcakes etc were very well-known here so am hoping that it does well and doesn´t go out of business!I have already bought some Wilton´s Pure Clear Vanilla Extract and some Wilton´s Gum-Tex! Although the shop is really handy, its products are fairly limited and tend to be a bit on the expensive side compared to shops in England (mainly because there´s more competition I think!)so will still be getting quite a bit of stuff online.

They also are going to do some cake-decorating courses, one about Buttercream and another about Fondant/Pastillage. I´ve signed up for both but am waiting for other people to sign up too although with August coming up, the city tends to be a ghost town as everyone is on holiday and lots of shops close. Unfortunately, this is when I have more time so I hope I can still do the courses as if they end up being in September, I might not be able to do them because of work obigations.


My beautiful wedding cake

Here are some photos, courtesy of Amelia (who made my cake) of my beautiful wedding cake- she really did us proud and made a wonderful job of it. It was delicious too. My wedding cake was a typical traditional fruit cake with marzipan and icing. I was really worried about how it would arrive to Spain from Portugal after a long car journey with quite a few curves to go round. Luckily, it arrived without any problems, only for my boyfriend to trip up when my stepdad and him were transfering it from the car to a room in Casa Pepe!!! Fortunately, they didn´t drop the cake and it was unharmed!


Casa Pepe-Wedding Reception Dinner

I´ve been absent lately due to getting married and the honeymoon. The day turned out to be absolutely perfect, exactly as I had imagined it and everyone enjoyed it. We held the wedding reception in a hotel & restaurant,Casa Pepe (unfortunately their webpage is only in Spanish), located on the Ctra. of Carrión de Calatrava in Ciudad Real, which is famous for weddings especially the quantity and quality of their food. The hotel has two salons for weddings, one larger salon which holds up to 450 guests and a smaller room,which can seat up to 250 guests. As our wedding was only a small affair, we were in the small salon. However, they also have a wonderful restaurant, which is worth visiting if you are in the area.

This is the meal we chose as our wedding dinner:

Welcome Cocktail:

Appetizers: Mini regional tartelets filled with pisto (the Spanish version of ratatouille)
Iberian ham
Manchego cheese
Roasted Almonds
Mini regional tartelets with Lomo de Orzo (pork loin in olive oil)
Mini cornets of cod brandade
Chinese style tuna

Drinks: Choice of Beer, Wine, Soft drinks, Cava & orange or Martini cocktails

Three-dimensional starter: Octopus kebab with cream of cauliflower soup
Mini salad of goats cheese & cured venison
Cod Carpaccio with hake sushi

First Course: Lobster salad with truffle vinaigrette & tropical fruits

Main Course: Choice of: Roast suckling pig confit served with roast apple & chestnut purée
Sea bass loin in a Jerez sherry sauce

Dessert: Pineapple Carpaccio with tropical fruit and yoghurt ice-cream

After-dinner: Coffee, Cider, Cava and Liqueurs

Wine Cellar: Requiebro Verdejo
Barbarrosa Rosado
Altozano Tinto

As I am a fusspot and I´m not keen on fish or seafood, I had a special menu apart, which differed only slightly: in the three-dimensional starter I had the goats cheese salad, mini cornets of paté, porcini risotto and for my first course I had ricotta cheese and spinach ravoli. Everything was delicious but unfortunately due to nerves or excitement, I couldn´t really eat much!
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