A taste of Asia – and a great way to travel solo

Here’s a fun info graphic that explains the basics of cuisine in Asia. Thanks My Adventure Store!

Vietnamese food is an absolute favourite of mine – and only so after I travelled in Vietnam last year. I can’t wait to explore more of South-East Asia

Web

I have a few friends who don’t like the idea of travelling on their own – it’s not that they are scared or worried, but rather, they prefer to have a buddy to share experiences with. There’s a part of me that agrees. Whilst I’ve loved solo travel, that liberating feeling of knowing I can do what I want, when I want, without having to consult a soul, is the ultimate freedom. When it comes to eating out, especially dinner time, I don’t like to dine alone. That’s when doing a tour with a cool crew like Intrepid and My Adventure Store is a great option. Tours for people that don’t do tours. That’s what I tell my friends to do.  Best of both worlds – you’re on your own, but have company. Win-win!

What to cook when there’s nothing in the house – Pasta!

I love pasta. Not because I’m Italian, but because it’s my go-to dinner when there’s nothing in the fridge.

In our fridge there’s always a chorizo, and in our pantry is always pasta, canned tomatoes, and chickpeas.

Barilla sent me a sample parcel to try, but I already had a box of casarecce – a Sicilian short twisted pasta that was in the gift bags at the opening night of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival last year. This pasta is great because the sauce gets trapped in the twists.Barilla Casarecce pasta

For a fab midweek dinner, try this simple pasta dish:

Pasta with chorizo and chick peas

Chop 1 onion and 1 clove garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add a whole chopped chorizo and cook for about 3-4 mins until it starts to brown. Add a drained and rinsed can of chick peas, or two cans if you want a chunkier sauce. I like the organic ones. Cook for a minute, stirring. Deglaze the pan with a glass of red wine and reduce to half. Should only take 6-7 mins. Add a can of crushed tomatoes and stir. Season with salt and pepper. You can add some chilli if you like just before adding the wine. Taste and check seasoning.Chorizo & Chickpea sauce

Meanwhile, cook pasta following cooking guide on box. For the casarecce, 9 mins in salted boiling water.

Off the heat, add half the sauce to the drained pasta and a few glugs of olive oil and stir to coat the pasta.

Serve and top with extra sauce. Too with cracked pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the packet stuff from the supermarket please!)

Buon apetito!

Chorizo and chickpeas casarecce pasta, with a side of roast pumpkin

Chorizo and chickpeas casarecce pasta, with a side of roast pumpkin

Verdict:

This dish takes about 30 minutes to prepare and the chickpeas take on the flavours of the rich tomato sauce and spicy chorizo. It’s a quick and easy tasty pasta dish to prepare – and if like me you often have chorizo in the fridge, just in case, then this dish is a great one to keep up your sleeve. A pantry winner.

 

Aravina Estate: Tony Howell’s new kitchen

I gladly accepted an invitation to dine at Aravina Estate in Margaret River, keen to try the food of one of my favourite chefs in his new kitchen. Aravina’s new executive chef Tony Howell made a name for himself winning a legion of fans and numerous awards overs 15 years at Cape Lodge, listed in Condé Nast’s 2012 Gold List and named Best Boutique Hotel in Australia.

The Grounds:

From the moment I arrived, I knew I’d be impressed with Aravina Estate. A red Ferrari in the car park, a cute wooden walkway leading to lush lawns lined with eucalyptus, pretty gardens with two dams beyond, vistas of the vineyard, and a magnificent cellar door and restaurant that would not look out of place in the Hamptoms or on the set of hit television show ‘Revenge’. Outside white wooden railings surround a large alfresco terrace dining area that takes advantage of the stunning view. The beautiful grounds have hosted many weddings, including that of winery owner Steve Tobin just a couple of weeks ago.Aravina Estate15

Families will love lunching at Aravina. Eat in peace while your kids run around climbing, swinging and playing.

Aravina_play1

From the terrace, parents can easily keep one eye on the fenced children’s playground that would be the envy of many local councils I’m sure.

Aravina Estate13

My favourite part, the kitchen garden. Executive Chef Tony Howell was almost frothing at the mouth as he talked about the massive ten-bed garden growing seasonable produce including all manner of herbs, several types of lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, beetroot, chilli, capsicum and much more. More fruit trees have also been planted.Aravina Estate21

“That’s the great thing about working here, [owner] Steve [Tobin] is open to suggestions and when I said I’d love a kitchen garden, he made it happen. Check it out!” Tony said.

“Everything in the salmon dish, except the salmon, comes from this garden, freshly picked just hours before it is served.”

Inside:

Walking in, the classy white interior, large windows letting in an abundance of light, high ceilings, lantern-style light fittings, Italian tiled floor and French inspired decor is chic, elegant, and inviting.

Indoor dining

Indoor dining

The wine tasting counter takes centre stage, as it should.  Towards the back of the building is an opulent private dining room, perfect for a party of ten.

Private dining or wine tasting room

Private dining or wine tasting room

Shelves containing cookbooks, vases, photo frames, table ware, kitchen accessories and ornaments are gorgeously displayed around the wine tasting area and also in shop floor area beyond.Aravina_shop1

The restaurant and cafe is beautiful. White linen, fresh flowers, elegant glass ware, and quality cutlery and crockery instantly set the tone for the dining experience to come.

The surprise:

Enter the building, walk past the wine tasting area, past the cafe, through the stunning gift and home ware shop and you’ll find yourself in a sports car gallery. High school memories  raced through my head as I clocked a yellow S/LR 5000 Torana, a 1972 Valient Charger, and 1973 GT Ford Falcon.

Aravina Estate05

There’s also vintage Citroen, Aston Martin, and a Daytona Ferrari as well as several of sexy modern Italian makes. The rev-head in me was squealing with delight. Who would’ve thought a posh-looking winery would appeal to car lovers or those of us that keep our inner bogan suppressed?

Aravina Estate03

The wine:

Wine maker Jodie Opie joined Aravina in 2011 after gaining experience at Lenton Brae and Voyager Estate. I liked all the wines, having said that, tasting wine is so subjective.

The vintage sparkling was light and clean. The Vermintino, and Italian varietal, was clean with an acidic finish. My palate has gone off Sauvingnon Blanc Semillon in recent years, but I really enjoyed the citrus and fresh qualities of Aravina’s. The Chardonnay was my favourite.  

Of the reds, I was delighted to see an Italian varietal Nebbiolo on offer. The tannins were tight but with time it will open up to be a beautiful wine to enjoy with winter Italian dishes. The Cabernet Merlot was easy drinking, the Cabernet Sauvignon left a beautiful plummy taste in my mouth, and I really enjoyed the Shiraz Tempranillo blend. Aravina Estate23

“We’ve planted a special varietal of Tempranillo and Malbec – it’s good to have different varietals on offer, as well as the classic ones the region is known for. It makes us different to the other wineries,” Jodie said.

James Halliday named Aravina Estate as “one of the ten best new wineries” in the 2014 Australian Wine Companion.  The wines have also won a multitude of medals at wine shows across Australia.

The food:

I put my diet on hold and threw my gluten-free ways out the window when whipped truffle butter accompanied freshly baked bread arrived at the table. We shared a number of dishes so we could try as many things as we could possibly fit in.  Aravina Estate06

The pork terrine, mustard fruits, pickled walnuts and persian feta was fantastic. The terrine on its own was rich, but perfect when mixed with the mustard fruits and the phenomenal pickled walnuts.

Aravina Estate09

The seared Esperance scallops avocado tian, tomato and chorizo crumb were delicate, and cooked perfectly. Everything married beautifully.

Aravina Estate08The special of the day, ricotta stuffed zucchini flower and house smoked salmon – it was divine.

Aravina Estate07King fish sashimi, asian omelette and ginger jelly was sensational. The asian flavours were perfectly balanced, it was fresh, light, and I could eat that dish every day and not tire of it. It didn’t look as pretty as some other dishes, that look like art in comparison, but taste-wise, it was perfect in every sense.

Aravina Estate11Smoked goats cheese. Who smokes goat cheese? Chef Tony Howell, that’s who. And it was nothing short of amazing. I’m told he uses local off cut jarrah wood chips, not oak ones that are used in the wine marking process, to smoke things in-house. Teamed with beetroot carpaccio, sous vide celery, orange and some crunchy brioche, this dish is visually stunning. The smoked goats cheese was so delicious, this wins dish of the day for originality and presentation.

Aravina Estate17The Shark Bay king prawn, compressed pineapple, green papaya, herbs and won ton was crunchy, fresh, and perfect for a hot summer’s day. The Asian flavours were beautifully balanced with the sweetness of the pineapple. It felt healthy to eat.

Aravina Estate12

Time for a refreshing mouth cleanser. Lemon sorbet with lemon and lime sherbet and citrus peel.Aravina Estate16

Feeling absolutely full after sharing the above, we just had one main dish, steamed duck yellow curry, crispy skin, fried peanuts, pickled chilli and herb salad. It looked beautiful on the plate, and smelled fantastic too. One of my lovely dining companions, Sandra, loved this dish – for her, it was the dish of the day. For me, it was too spicy and hot for my chilli-intolerant palate. I don’t mind a bit of heat, but I’m a weakling in that department.

Aravina Estate18

How pretty is this dessert? Compressed watermelon, coconut sorbet, herb syrup, lychee foam, seasonal fruit and sesame crisp. Every element was fantastic and it was beautiful and light. The perfect ending to a decedant lunch.

Functions:

Aravina Estate just completed a new function room that can seat 160 comfortably. It features a bar at one end, crystal chandeliers, Italian travertine tiles, cathedral ceilings, and large bi-fold doors so the room can incorporate the outdoor terrace. Off the function room, past the guest toilets, is a bridal suite, complete with a lounge area, dressing area, and bathroom with plenty of mirrors and bench space for the all important hair and make up touch ups.  It’s a stunning space.

Verdict:

Add Aravina Estate to your Margaret River itinerary. Not only are there award winning wines to taste and buy, but you can shop, kids can play, you can wander amongst the vines, admire the vegetable garden, and best of all, have a meal you won’t forget.

Tony Howell is producing food as good as he ever has. Despite the increase in covers, the food comes from the same quality local suppliers, is treated with the same respect and attention to detail is evident in every dish. Do yourself a favour and book in now.

My score: 9.5/10 (just lost half a mark because the curry was too hot for my palate)

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Aravina Estate and all reviews are based on merit.

FACT FILE

Aravina Estate
61 Thornton Road, Yallingup WA 6282
Tel: 08 9235 4600

The Cellar Door and Cafe are open everyday 10am-5pm and the restaurant is open for lunch everyday 11.30am-3pm. Bookings recommended.

Aravina Estate Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Free Burgers in Cottesloe Friday

Grill’d will celebrate the opening of their newest restaurant in Cottesloe this weekend by offering unlimited free burgers to all guests on Friday 14 March from 5-9pm.

There are 30 different Grill’d burgers on the menu including 100% grass fed, free range beef and lamb, lean chicken trimmed of all fat or vegetarian burgers.

MC_3943

Wash your burger down with a selection of local craft beers, ciders and wine.

Sculpture by the Sea is on at Cottesloe Beach the moment, so before or after a free burger, wander through the sculpture park.

What a great free night out! Cottesloe is the place to be this Friday to get your weekend started.

FACT FILE

Free burgers Friday 14 March, 5-9pm
Grill’d Cottesloe, 6 Napoleon Street, Cottesloe

How to choose the freshest seafood

We all know that the Queensland’s coast is synonomous with seafood.

Just after ProBlogger, the most awesome blogging conference on the planet, I was invited by the host city tourism office, Tourism Queensland, to participate in some of the Gold Coast’s best food experiences.

We visited Peter’s Fish Market, around the corner from Palazzo Versace.  Under expert Japanese chef Yukio Itaba from the Palazzo Versace, I learned how to choose the freshest seafood.

FISH

Look at the eyes of the fish. You want the eyes to be plump, not sunken.

Is the fish fresh? Check the eyes

Is the fish fresh? Check the eyes

Is this fish fresh? This fish has a nice plump eye

Is this fish fresh? This fish has a nice plump eye

Is this fish fresh? This sunken eye tells me no

Is this fish fresh? This sunken eye tells me this fish is not the freshest

Next, look at the skin. Is it shiny? Or does it look dull?  Dull skin means the fish isn’t fresh. Look at the gills also, they should be a rich red colour. The older the fish, the darker that colour goes. Avoid fish with dark brick coloured gills.

Smell it – the fish should smell clean like the ocean. If it smells a bit rank or fishy, leave it.

PRAWNS

Buys prawns in their shell with the heads on. This prevent the meat of the prawn drying out. It’s okay to buy frozen prawns too.

Look at the prawn head. If it’s dark colour under the shell, leave it, it’s not fresh. You want it to look clear, or in the case of cooked prawns, nice and pink.

Fresh prawns do not have dark colouring under the shell of the head
Fresh prawns do not have dark colouring under the shell of the head. This prawn is relatively clear and it’s one I would buy
Fresh prawns do not have dark colouring under the shell

Fresh prawns do not have dark colouring under the shell – this prawn is not so fresh

Like fish, smell the prawns. They shouldn’t have a strong smell. If they do, don’t buy them.

CRAB

When buying cooked crab, same rules apply.

Look at the crab, it should be a bright pink colour.  Smell the crab, it should have a slight ocean smell but not reek. And check the gills of the crab – lift the flap on the underbelly of the crab to find the gills – if is it discoloured and dark, the crab is not fresh.

Chef Yukio Itaba from Palazzo Versace

Chef Yukio Itaba from Palazzo Versace

Checking the gills of the crab - lift the flap underneath the crab and if it is dark and discoloured, it is not fresh

Checking the gills of the crab – lift the flap underneath the crab and if it is dark and discoloured, it is not fresh. This one looks good.

A great place to eat seafood on the Gold Coast if you don’t fancy cooking it yourself is Palazzo Versace.  They have four restaurants at the hotel. We ate at Vie Restaurant and Bar. A great location with views over the water. The food focus is locally sourced fresh food prepared simply and elegantly. The food was excellent. I was thrilled to see a Western Australian wine  Leeuwen Estate Art Series Riesling on the list. They have a great selection of food and wine.
Vie Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Chef Yukio has 21 years experience making sushi and sashimi. The seafood he serves is beautifully fresh. They also run cooking master classes at Palazzo Versace – if you like sushi, then take a class to learn under this Japanese expert. 

How to roll sushi

How to roll sushi – Chef Yukio teaches us how

I won’t share photos of the sushi I rolled – put it this way, if this was an exam, I’d have failed! I’m not ashamed to say that I prefer to eat sushi than make it myself.

FACT FILE

Palazzo Versace
Sea World Drive
Main Beach QLD 4217 Australia

Toll Free (Australia) 1800 098 000
Tel +61 7 5509 8000
Fax +61 7 5509 8888

Enhanced by Zemanta

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

Duck liver parfait

Duck liver parfait

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen, Margaret River’s newest bar and restaurant, is serving up good honest food made with fresh local produce. Dishes are designed to be shared and the menu is categorised into light, plates, pizzas, sides, sweets and cheese. There’s a good choice of dishes and the prices are very reasonable.

The corner location on the main road in Margaret River town is about three hours drive south of Perth, and worth the drive – for those familiar with Margs it’s where Winos used to be. It’s casual but not slack. The service is fantastic and the food and wine gets the thumbs up.

The fit out is original with tables in the back area set under old-school Hills Hoists clotheslines suspended from the ceiling to double as light fittings.  The front bar is a great place to sit and chat, and the veranda that overlooks the street is a very pleasant place to sit under its covering of vines.

Cool interior fit out complete with good ol'Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting

Cool interior fit out complete with good ol’Aussie Hills Hoist clothes line light fitting

The duck liver parfait ($13) was silky smooth, rich and creamy and came with delicious wood-fired bread and some pickled veg called picadilli. It was hard not to wolf it all down at once.

Owned by Swings & Roundabouts winery that’s nearby on Caves Road, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen offers the same legendary wood-fired pizzas that the winery has become famous for.

I had to try the pizza and opted for the traditional margarita ($20) – my favourite. If the kitchen can get that right, then it’s always a winner. Swings’ version is good, but if I’m being picky (and nearly always am) for my palate it needed a bit of salt and probably could’ve done with another half-minute in the oven to really crisp up the base. That’s my only criticism of the food served at Swings. Everything else was bang on.

Wood-fired margarita pizza

Wood-fired margarita pizza

The King Fish ceviche with chilli, lime, avocado and coconut ($16) was fresh, colourful, light, beautifully seasoned and delicious to eat. Like a mouthful of summertime, if you could eat summer. The Swings Chardonnay ($7 glass) went down a treat with the ceviche.

King fish ceviche

King fish ceviche

The bright and bubbly pint-sized manager Annie really made my visit to Swings memorable. She answered all my questions, suggested dishes to try, and explained their tap wine. Yes, wine on tap. Read about their wine on tap delivered through ‘sight glass fonts’ – a world first in my previous post. If you’re not hungry, just go and try their wines – they are worthy.

There’s also a selection of ‘guest backyards’ wines, cocktails and beers, and the menu is simple and rustic, designed for sharing, and with an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainable produce.

FACT FILE

Swings Taphouse & Kitchen
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River, WA
Tel: 08 9758 7155
swings.com.au

Open from 10am daily, Swings Taphouse & Kitchen serves brunch, ‘brinks’, lunch and dinner
Swings Taphouse on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: Dianne Bortoletto was a guest of Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association and Swings Taphouse & Kitchen

The best way to prepare Turkey: Drown it

Guest post by Ben De Jonge

There’s nothing quite like the sinking sense of disappointment, embarrassment and frustration you get after spending $80 and several hours on a Christmas lunch for friends, only to find the turkey as dry as the Lancelin dunes. So, that was Christmas 2012, and we swore it wouldn’t happen again.

We considered our options. Move to Bali for Christmas. Two small birds instead of one beast. Prawns. We Googled. We searched. We read.

We found brining.

Brining made sense. What better way to get moisture into a bird than drowning it in a bucketful of seasoned water over night.

And so last year, for Christmas 2013, we bought our big bird and brined it.

Brining involves soaking your meat, it works for steaks, roasts, anything really, in a couple of litres of water with around 1/3 cup of salt added and whatever variety of spices and flavour boosters take your fancy.

We used cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, cardamon pods, orange zest and juice, pepper, sugar and a few other bits and pieces.

We went basic and to Bunnings. We got a standard plastic garden bucket and the mighty bird like hand in glove. We cleared the bottom shelves of the fridge and in she went, over night.

The next morning, remove it well before oven time so it can come up to room temperature. Shortly before you start to prepare it for the heat, remove from the brine and pat it dry inside and out with paper towel.

The brined Turkey, prepared and ready to be roasted

The brined turkey, prepared and ready to be roasted

From there, we employed the usual tricks. The bird was raised on a bed of onion, celery, carrots and garlic. We stuffed butter under the skin and wrapped it up nice and cosy in a blanket of full bacon rashers. Finally, we covered it firmly in foil for the majority of the roasting.

The result, I’m happy to say, was a turkey that was beautifully moist all the way through and superbly seasoned with the flavours of the spiced brine.

Take it from us, brining is brilliant. If you want to bathe in the glory of the best bird ever, try it next Christmas. Or if you can’t wait that long, try it on your next big bits of meat for the oven or BBQ.

Ben De Jonge is a husband, father, home cook and keen jogger. He’s also the Director of The Cut, a website design and marketing agency based in Perth, Western Australia. 

Beach wine festival – Sunset Wine

Sunset Wine on The Esplanade at Scarborough Beach, Perth held its inaugural event on the weekend (Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd February) from 3pm until 7.30pm.

When I arrived on Sunday, the crowd was big enough to be buzzing, but still felt intimate. Some people were relaxing on the cushions enjoying a tipple or a bite to eat, others were dancing with their kids in front of the band, and many were engaged with winery owners as they enjoyed tastings. The number of families there surprised me – loads of them with small kids. It was really nice to see. I think Sundays attract the family crowd.

There were about 30 stall holders all up including wineries from lesser known wine growing areas, such as Nannup, Pemberton, and Harvey. It was great to see some more new stands (to me) such as the Bare Crush Fruit Icicles, Miss Tartufo ice creams, and The Alchemists.

Talisman - one of my favourite Riesling producers

Talisman – one of my favourite Riesling producers

I was delighted to see Talisman Wines. They produce one of my favourite Rieslings – the 2013 is just $20 per bottle, while the more complex and toasty 2009 just $24. Both bargains. Purchase made.

Moroccon food stall Shak Shuka

Moroccan food stall Shak Shuka

Julie, Mark and daughter Jess from Fifth Estate Wines

The Maloneys: Julie, Mark and daughter Jess from Fifth Estate Wines

A foodie and wino friend tipped me off and told me to visit Fifth Estate Wines. I was impressed not only with the friendliness of the family behind the winery, but the quality and price of their Tempranillo, which was just $15. It was not tart or dry like some Tempranillos. It was smooth and very quaffable. I’ll be buying some of that next winter. Located in Harvey, the Moloneys have been producing wine since 2005. Julie Moloney was only too happy to chat when I asked her about Sunset Wine and what she thought of the event.

“It was a lovely event and the crowd has been really well behaved,” Julie said. “Sales by the glass were good, particularly yesterday [Saturday] and for an inaugural event, I thought it was great.”

Simply Paella

Simply Paella

The folk from Azure Ice cream in Fremantle have their own funky food truck

The folk from Azure Ice cream in Fremantle have their own funky food truck

SunsetWine08

Nannup Ridge winery stand

Nannup Ridge winery stand

The wines offered by Nannup Ridge Estate were also delightful. Their Chardonnay won me over. Subtle oak on the nose as a result of just 25 per cent of the fruit going into oak barrels during the wine making process. It was smooth, a little buttery that gave it a whole of mouth feel as I sipped it. The finish was clean. More purchases made.

SunsetWine10

The band creating some great vibes

The band creating some great vibes

Mark your diary for next February folks. This is likely to be an annual event. With a relaxed atmosphere, family friendliness, good wines available for tasting and purchasing that you probably won’t find in the bottle shops, and enough food stalls to tempt everyone, you won’t want to miss Sunset Wine next year.

FACT FILE

Sunset Wine
1-2 February, 2014 from 3pm until 7.30pm
The Esplanade, Scarbourgh Beach, Perth Western Australia
Sunset Wine Facebook page

.

Disclosure: CMS Events, the organisers of Sunset Wine, gave me two tickets to attend Sunset Wine. Ssssh, don’t tell them, but I would’ve gone anyway. I enjoyed Unwined – a wine festival in Subiaco also by CMS Events

Enhanced by Zemanta

The worst meal of the year – MON Serving your soul

Walking past MON on Newcastle Street in Leederville, opposite The Garden, I liked the funky tables and covered stools on the pavement. This little Japanese eatery looked cute. That’s where it ends.

The poor waitress behind the counter obviously didn’t have any training as she could not answer my fairly simple questions about the dishes, nor print a tax receipt from the cash register.

We ordered the tasting board and chose four dishes; chicken yakatori, pork belly skewers, lotus chips, and gyoza dumplings. Add two bottles of still water and the bill was a reasonable $41. The food however was not reasonable. It was the opposite of reasonable.

The chicken yakatori tasted like a jar or bottle of sauce had been tipped over the top of the chicken. The Lotus chips had no seasoning whatsoever and were crunchy, very bland and had not taste except that of residual oil. It was like eating cardboard. The pork skewers were pungent, dry, and unpleasant – I couldn’t finish one skewer. My guess is that they used cheap male pork which is far inferior to female pork, something my butcher in Mount Hawthorn taught me. Or that the meat was off. The gyoza’s were probably the best of a bad bunch and they were only average. Zorba hated them.

For the rest of the night, Zorba and I both felt sick. I had to get up at 2am, 3.30am, and 5am to use the bathroom quite urgently. I will never eat here again, cute fit out or not.

Verdict: The only thing MON is serving, is another four-lettered-word beginning with “S”. My soul does not want a bar of it. Ever again. Score: 1 out of 10. Mon_leedy1.IMG_6993

FACT FILE

MON serving your soul on Urbanspoon

Vietnam overview: discover, shop, cook and eat

Travellers are attracted to Vietnam for its natural beauty, its long history, fascinating culture and in my case, its fabulous fresh food. Not only is Vietnam an ideal location for those on a budget, it’s one of the few places for those looking to discover hidden gems off the beaten path. The friendly and hospitable nature of the locals makes this country feel like a second home – even if the old woman at the markets is smiling cheekily while offering you a taste of their special insects.  Here are some things to do on your holiday in Vietnam.

Learn to cook authentic vietnamese food

I did a nine-day Food Writers Tour in Vietnam with the Australian Writers’ Centre last April. Our teacher and guide, Carli Ratcliff, took us to the Hai Bā Trung District of Hanoi, home of Vietnam’s top female chef, Mai Tran Thi Tuyet.  Known to her students as Chef Mai, the gentle grandmother of three opened her home to share her passion for teaching straightforward Vietnamese dishes that anyone can cook at home.

Making Vietnamese spring roll

Making Vietnamese spring roll

The cooking class began at Chef Mai’s local market where we shopped for ingredients for lunch. Chef Mai led the way through narrow lanes flanked with stalls set up on tables, upturned crates or on plastic mats on the ground selling mounds of green herbs like Vietnamese mint, perilla, betel leaf, coriander, basil and saw tooth herb, stacks of tropical fruit including dragon fruit, kiwi fruit, watermelons, mangosteen and limes, every vegetable from bitter melon to cucumbers to tomatoes to yams, slabs of meat from every part of the animal, baskets filled with clams, shrimp, eels, and snails, trays of fresh fish from almost microscopic to trophy-winning in size, sacks of iridescent powders and gnarly shaped spices, and freshly-made rice and egg noodles rolled into neat bundles ready to take home. This is experience was an absolute highlight of my trip.

Markets in Hanoi

Markets in Hanoi

Eating in Vietnam

Pho is considered Vietnam’s national dish. It’s a soup with a clear broth usually made with of chicken or beef stock that has been infused with star anise, charred ginger, smoky shallots, roasted cinnamon, cumin and depending on regions, sometimes cardamon. Add to that fish sauce and a little sugar to balance the broth. Pho contains flat rice noodles, some chicken or beef, with a plate of spring onion, coriander, mint, bean sprouts and a wedge of lime served on the table for the diner to add as they like. It’s cleansing, moorish, light, and the perfect meal to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I’d need a whole blog-series to talk about the food in Vietnam, but for now I’ll leave it at my favourite dish, Pho.Hanoi_pho1.IMG_2102

The best Pho I’ve found in Perth is at Tra Vinh in Northbridge. The service is haphazard, the setting plain, and the atmosphere is busy. But the food is cheap and the pho ($11.50) is just like the ones I had in Vietnam.
Tra Vinh on Urbanspoon

In Vietnam, I found that the best food we ate was street food. When we went to “upmarket” restaurants, I found the food was good, but not as exceptional as the food I bought in markets or on the street, and about five times the price. Take probiotics though, just to keep your gut healthy.

Get clothes tailored in Hoi An

A trip to Hoi An isn’t complete without choosing some fabric and having a gorgeous tailored outfit made in one of the 400 boutiques available. The key to doing this successfully is by shopping around outside the main market street for the best price and fabric. I would also recommend bringing your favourite pieces for the tailors to copy – dresses, trousers, blouses and jackets. On of my travel companions had a a Gucci jacket that three others also asked the dress maker to copy. It’s fine to haggle, but try not to do it too much unless the prices really are absurd, remember, back home this kind of service costs an arm and a leg. One of the best known tailors is Yaly, 358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St – Hoi An. They also have shops in the city centre. You can  have shoes made in Hoi An also.

Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is the final resting place of Vietnam’s most popular leader (obviously named) Ho Chi Minh or Uncle Ho as the locals like to call him. Despite his wishes for a humble cremation, the mausoleum was constructed between 1973 and 1975 from materials reaching all across Vietnam. As you move through the quick lines and sea of guards, you’ll eventually make your way into the bowels of the building where the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh’s body lies in a glass cabinet. The mausoleum is closed for two months of the year while maintenance is performed on the embalmed body.

Explore the wonder of Halong Bay by Kayak

I wish I’d experienced the breathtaking sights of Halong Bay. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, Halong Bay has a rich history with pirates, bandits and revolutionaries claiming this territory as their favourite hiding place. Discover unspoiled beaches, towering limestone barriers, vast hidden caves, tranquil lagoons and floating fishing villages. Missing Halong Bay is just one of the many reasons why I have to go back to Vietnam. Have you been? What are your tips for Halong Bay?

Like hiking in Sapa in the north of Vietnam, kayaking can also be risky without a guide to show you the way, so make sure you team with a reputable company to help create this unforgettable voyage. If you want to stay safe in a new foreign country  http://www.travelmoneyoz.com/ offers good travel insurance deals.

Mobile florist

Have you travelled to Vietnam? What would you recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

FACT FILE

Tour
Food Writers Tour in Vietnam
The Australian Writers’ Centre Food Writing Tour in Vietnam  16-24 May 2014 .

Tailor – Hoi An
Yaly
358 Nguyen Duy Hieu St – Hoi An
Tel:+84 510 391 4995

 Perth – Vietnamese Restaurant
Tra Vinh on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: This is sponsored post containing original and provided content