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I sampled the local cuisine

Last weekend a group of us went to Dong Thap (Đồng Tháp) province.  The Consulate’s locally-engaged staff organization arranged for us to volunteer at a summer camp for at-risk teenagers.  It was a lot of fun, I got to interact with some young people, and help out with an NGO’s work to prevent human trafficking.

A team of us did a workshop on “soft skills,” which is a buzzword in Vietnam lately.  Schools here focus on academics, but don’t teach life skills like teamwork, communication, interpersonal skills, and professionalism.  The workshop we did combined English practice and communication skills.  Essentially, we played games.  Even though we were playing a game, I explained to the kids that in order to succeed in the game, they had to listen to what each other were saying, and strategize their own communication.  Yes, OK, we played “20 questions.”  Stop judging me.  It was relevant.  Shut up; it was, too.

We also got to do a little culinary exploration.  When I told some of my coworkers that I was going to Dong Thap, they smiled and nodded knowingly.  They asked if I knew anything about the local cuisine.  Of course I didn’t, because I’m an ignorant foreigner who doesn’t know the intricacies of Vietnamese culture.  That seemed to amuse people even more.

So the night after we finished the workshops, we all went to a local beer garden for dinner.  We got a lot of the usual goodies, beer with ice cubes (you get used to it), and then, a big plate of the local cuisine.

Yup, I ate rat.

And unfortunately, it was delicious.

Haha hihi

Kids’ helmets for sale on the street.

No arguments from me here.

At a coffee shop in Dong Thap Province:

Topped it

Question: what’s better than an avocado smoothie?

Answer: a homemade avocado and banana smoothie!

Thanks, Vietnam!

Guacamole Brownies

I read somewhere that you can substitute avocado for butter in baking recipes. Of course, that point is often moot.  Pound for pound, butter is a lot cheaper than avocados. But not in Vietnam, which grows a lot of avocados but which has to import all of its butter. Butter is about 25% more expensive here than in America, and avocados here are about 1/4 the price that they are in America.

I can’t believe it’s not butter!

I “needed” to make brownies, and I was out of butter, and I had avocados, and I was feeling adventurous (and too lazy to go buy some butter), so it was experiment time!

For your information, 1/2 avocado = 1/2 cup.

Once I mixed the avocado into the melted chocolate, you couldn’t see any green at all.

Looks normal…

The batter was stiffer than when I use butter. And pretty sticky. It was hard to spread the batter in the pan.

The batter would not pour out.

The batter also didn’t rise as much when they baked, so the brownies are a little flat and dense. But they taste just as great!

A little flat. But just as tasty!

I call this a successful experiment.  A little tweaking and it will be perfect next time.  Maybe next time I’ll add a third egg and more baking powder to add some liquid and leavening.  I “have” to try this again, because I “have” to perfect the recipe.  Right? Right!

They have everything pretty much covered here.

Pretty amazing color last night.

We don’t get many stunningly pretty sunsets in Ho Chi Minh City for some reason. But last night’s sunset was pretty amazing.

A season in the islands

Taking a break from cooking

Due to some unfortunate family circumstances, I’ve been by myself at post for a while.  Which means that I have to feed myself.  Cooking for one has a few advantages.  I eat what I want to, for example, and when.  But cooking for one also takes a lot of time, it’s harder to plan, and I wind up with a lot of leftovers.  Luckily for me, there are a lot of other people like me in the city, and the local market has responded.  Enter: meal delivery services!

Unlike food delivery from a restaurant, where you order something from their menu, and the restaurant delivers what you order, a meal delivery service delivers prepared meals based on a preset menu.

I tried one service last year, and hated it.  What I received tasted like the stuff you get on an airplane (note that I did not use the word “food” in that description).  But after cooking for myself for a while, I was really tired of it, and I wanted to free up some time to do more meaningful things.  So I rolled the dice and tried again with  different company.  After one week, I can say that the experiment has been a success.  The service that I used this week is called “SmartMeal.”  They have several options, including “healthy,” “body-building,” and vegetarian.  I opted for the low-carb plan.  Here’s the menu:

Menu for the week. I chose the lunch-dinner option.

I ordered the lunch and dinner option.  I like a plain breakfast, usually granola, which I make for myself.  Every morning this week, a delivery guy came with lunch and dinner.

The delivery guy came to my apartment every morning with this.

The delivery went smoothly, except for Tuesday, when the guy didn’t show up.  I called their “hotline,” and was told that the delivery guy (who, like most other people in the city, drives a scooter) was in an accident.  A different guy stopped by my office an hour later to make the delivery.  My regular guy was back in service on Wednesday.  On a different scooter.  I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that.

Anyway, the meals come in containers of microwave-safe plastic.

One for the office, one for dinner later tonight.

Here’s what I ate this week.  First, lunches:

Monday.  Yes, that’s quinoa!  Hooray!

Tuesday.  A LES in China called those mushrooms “see-you-tomorrow mushrooms.”

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

And dinner:

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

The food was very tasty, and the portions were OK.  The cuisine was sort of fusion.  Because it’s Vietnam, there was always a sauce of some kind.  That’s just the Vietnam way, I guess.  There was a lot more meat than I’m used to eating, and less vegetable, probably because of the low-carb option.  But more fish than I used to eat, which is good.  I’ll still have to buy fruit, and I might eat salads on the weekends to balance it out.  I might also try the vegetarian option.  But for now, I think it’s worth trying it for another week.

The price is pretty good, too, if you’re an ex-pat.  I pay 850,000 Vietnamese Dong for five lunches and five dinners, with no charge for delivery.  That’s about $37.  This is outrageously expensive by the standard of the local market.  I could cook for myself for less than half of that.  But by US standards, it’s a great deal.  I’m eating well, and healthily, for less than $8 per day.  Plus I don’t have to shop, cook, and wash dishes.  The company will also take back the containers (I hope they’re recycling them responsibly).

Now that food preparation is off the schedule for now, I have no excuses not to work on my own projects. Onward and upward.

 

Today is my Vietniversary

I arrived a post exactly one year ago today. Time has flown by, even faster than my last tour. Only one more year in Vietnam before I have to leave for my next tour. 😢