Singapore fling!

We’d left Vietnam behind, but we weren’t quite done with our travels yet.  Instead of heading straight to Sydney, we stopped for a week in Singapore.  What a way to round out our time on the road!  Singapore was also the 30th country that I’ve visited, so that was a great milestone to reach at the end of this trip.

(Side note- It’s a super fun game to count up al the countries you’ve been to.  Brings back tons of fun memories.  But, there are a few rules.  You can’t count places that you’ve only had a stop-over in.  So, even though I’ve been to the airport in Frankfurt, I can’t count Germany.  Also, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t count because they’re part of the United Kingdom and Great Britain.  Angry Scots, please don’t email me about this.  It’s just how it is.  So, how many countries have YOU been to?)

Anyway, after almost three months in Vietnam, Singapore was a little bit overwhelming!   Gone were the sweaty afternoons spent wandering amongst colourful local markets and dodging locals who spit all the time.  Instead, we went from mega-mall to mega-mall, never leaving the air conditioning in a country where spitting is literally against the law.  It was a culture shock to say the least!

Modern, sprawling and beautiful. The view from high above Singapore.

Our hotel was in Little India and we had a fantastic time exploring the neighbourhood. I was especially keen to pop into every single Indian grocery store that I saw.  It killed me not to fill bags with all the gorgeous spices and mixes that I saw, but I knew I’d never be able to get them past Australian customs.

My first EVER mango lassi. Won't be the last!

Our friends James and Briony, whom we last saw in Buenos Aires, were in Singapore for a few days as well, so we reunited over great food and many drinks.  It was messy, but great to see them again!

Dinner with James and Briony on our first night in Singapore

I was amazed by the buildings in Singapore.  It’s super hot there so people seem to go outside as little as possible.  Instead, huge malls and office buildings are all connected via underground corsos.  We went shopping one afternoon (shopping is the Singaporean national sport I think!) and we got off the train at one mall.  After walking and shopping for a few hours we went outside and discovered we were blocks and blocks away from where we’d started our day!  It’s like being a very pampered, very posh hamster!

One of the dozens of huge shopping malls in Singapore

Inside one of the constantly busy shopping malls

One of the most amazing things about Singapore is what an international little nation it is!  There are people from all corners of the world living and working in Singapore… and it seems like they all brought their favourite foods with them!  In the space of one week we ate Chinese food, Indian food, German food, Malaysian food, Singaporean food (duh), American food, Japanese food and Turkish food.  And that was just a sampling of all the cuisines available to us!

A massive dosai and curries in Little India

Steins of German beer

Chicken and mutton satay

Huge burgers with blue cheese, carmelised onions and pears

Japanese food and beer

Turkish dips and breads (first time I'd had hummous in more than three months!)

So, it was a culture shock to enter Singapore with it’s giant shopping malls and endless choices of food and drinks.  But, I think it was just what we needed to prepare us for our reentry to Australia!  Here we come!

 

Saigon Crab Feast 2012!

After more than two months of traveling in Vietnam, here’s something I’ve learned.  Vietnamese restauranteurs can be very tricky.  In Hue, there was a restaurant called Hang Me near our hotel.  Hang Me was famous for making some of the best Hue-style dumplings in Vietnam.  It was located on a block with several other restaurants which also served Hue-style dumplings.  And those restaurants were called Hang Me Me, Hang Mi and Hung Me.

These other restaurants were clearly trying to capitalise on the success and popularity of their neighbour by giving their establishments such similar names that some people (mostly tourists, I’ll bet!) ended up confused and eating at the wrong place.  Seems a bit dodgy to me, but from what I can see, it’s fairly common practice.

So, when we decided to go out for a meal of Saigon’s famous soft shell crab, I really needed to do my homework.  You see, most people agree that the best soft shell crab in Saigon can be found at Quan 94.  Unfortunately, finding Quan 94 isn’t as simple as it should be.  You see, Quan 94 is located at 84 Dinh Tien Hoang.  And at number 94 Dinh Tien Hoang is another restaurant, that also serves soft shell crabs and is called… Quan 94.

The busy and sometimes confusing streets of Saigon

We had our cab drop us off a few doors down so that we could scope out the street and make sure that we were in the right place.  We could see both restaurants, and both places had staff outside waving to potential customers and urging them to come on in.  Hmmm.  Once we’d confirmed the address with the staff at the restaurant located at #84, who seemed very used to people asking whether they were in the right place, we grabbed a table and got ready for our feast!

The entrance to Quan 94

A tray of live crabs greets you as you enter Quan 94

We were the only tourists in the whole place, but the staff spoke some English and we already knew what we wanted to order.  We started with a few very cold Saigon beers to celebrate finding the correct restaurant!  And then, we chowed down.

We began with an order of deep fried soft shell crabs.  We watched as the cook grabbed the fresh crabs, cut them into chunks with her scissors, dunked them in the batter and tossed them into a wok full of oil.  Literally moments later a plate of crunchy, hot crabs was delivered to our table, along with a sweet and sour type dipping sauce.

Piping hot freshly fried soft shell crabs

The crabs were almost too hot to eat, but we were starving and so excited!  The batter was crispy and light, not too thick and well fried so there was no glugginess about it.  And the crabs were insanely good.  Soft, full of sweet white meat and so flavourful that we didn’t need the dipping sauce at all.  We inhaled that first plate of crabs like we thought they might try to run away from us.

A mouthful of the best fried soft shell crab I've ever had!

Andy is enjoying his dinner of soft shell crabs!

After demolishing the fried soft shell crabs, we decided to take a little breather, order another beer and pace ourselves.  We sipped our frosty cold drinks and watched the cooks and waitresses preparing the food to order.  The glass noodles with huge chunks of fresh crab seemed very popular and I watched as they made order after order for the crowds.

The chef makes orders of glass noodles with crab for the busy restaurant

As we watched the food coming out of the woks, we got hungry again.  So, we ordered soft shell crabs in tamarind sauce.  This time the crabs were batter-less and stir fried with ladles full of tamarind sauce and some onions.  The sauce was sour and sweet and the crabs were the perfect amount of soft with a little chew to them.  I’ve never had soft shell crabs cooked this way before, but I’d certainly have them again.  This plate disappeared almost as quickly as our first round of food had!

Tamarind and soft shell crabs with onions and black pepper

This piece of soft shell crab looks like it's trying to escape! Don't worry, I didn't let it!

We probably should have stopped eating at this point.  We weren’t really hungry anymore.  But we’d been sitting in the restaurant for over an hour watching order after order of crab spring rolls pass us and be placed on other tables.  We’d watched the local customers wrap these piping hot spring rolls in lettuce leaves and happily gobble them down.  We couldn’t leave without trying some of the rolls for ourselves.

Crab-filled spring rolls with lettuce and herbs, rice noodles and a dipping sauce

And I’m SO glad we tried them.  The crab spring rolls were 100% crab meat.  No fillers of bean sprouts or mushrooms or cabbage.  Just a small roll crammed full of sweet crab meat.  We ate them wrapped with the leaves they gave us and dunked the rice noodles in the sauce provided.  These were probably the best spring rolls I’ve ever eaten.  Amazing end to our meal.

The crabby interior of the spring rolls! Delicious!

With our bellies full of crabs, our hearts full of happiness at finding the right restaurant and our heads full of thoughts of our pillows, we strolled hand-in-hand out into the sweaty Saigon night.

In which Andy gets “legless”

No, he didn’t drink too much of the local brew.  But, we were at a bar.  Here’s what happened.

A few nights a week we have dinner and drinks at a VERY local bar here in Hue, Vietnam. We’ve probably been there about eight or ten times in our month here in Hue and we’ve never once seen any other Westerners there.  The menu is entirely in Vietnamese and none of the staff speaks a word of English.  It’s called Quan Duc Ha and it’s our kind of place.

Quan Duc Ha... where nobody knows your name.

The first time we went I could literally not decipher ONE menu item.  And I’m pretty good with menus.  Whenever we travel I make a point of learning tons of food words in the native language.  That way, we never go hungry.  The menu at Quan Duc Ha made a mockery of my translation efforts.  Here’s what I was up against…

Yum??

What IS all this stuff?

But, we liked the vibe of the place.  We liked the smiling waiters and the happy crowds and the cheap beer and the smells of good food from all the other tables.  So we persevered.  I spent a few hours on the interwebs looking up some of the menu items and we went back and tried a few things, all of which were delicious.  We loved sitting on those little rickety blue plastic chairs, drinking our beers with ice and watching Vietnam flow past us.

Quan Duc Ha happiness!

And it was all going so well.  Until last night.  When Andy broke a chair.  He didn’t MEAN to break the chair.  He’s not fat!  If anything, he’s even skinnier than usual after spending two months walking around Vietnam and eating loads of fresh, healthy Vietnamese food.

But he still broke one of the rickety blue plastic chairs.  Andy has this habit of leaning back very far in chairs, putting all his weight on the back two legs of the chair.  He does this all over the world and usually manages to stay upright.  But this time, not so much.  The back two legs of the chair snapped and Andy plopped six inches down to the floor.

Legless chair

He was a very good sport and laughed along with EVERY SINGLE OTHER PERSON IN THE BAR.  Andy on the floor was probably the highlight of the evening for most of our fellow patrons.  The waiter who knows us best came rushing over with a replacement chair and Andy hoisted himself up off the floor and poured himself another glass of beer.  That’s my man!  We finished up our meal and left with as much dignity as we could muster.  We’ll be back to Quan Duc Ha for sure, but we’re going to have to go easier on the furniture.