Northern Vietnamese Rib Noodle Soup Bowl

*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post.

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I was silent last week on the blog because we went to Bangkok for a mini vacation. We had a lot of fun there just strolling around the city, shopping for cute, inexpensive hand-made T shirts, and eating mango sticky rice, a popular Thai dessert, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and after dinner snack.
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Just another day in Hội An

Last week my best friend from college was in town for a vacation. We hadn’t seen each other for more than two years, so it was so much fun to hang out with her in Hoi An. Actually the first time I visited Hoi An was with her back in summer 2008. We had just graduated from college and took a South-bound trip across Vietnam together. Hoi An has changed so much since then, and so have we. That summer night in 2008 we went out and ate Hoi An chicken rice and drank their bitter rice-based alcohol. Afterwards we walked back to our hotel at 10 pm, and along the way we got a bit scared and lost among the many dark, quiet, narrow back alleys of the old town. But of course nothing happened other than in our imaginations.

And we helped take a million pictures for each other. It seems like nowadays we don’t like being in front of the camera anymore. We’re a lot more interested in photographing other people and scenes. So this time we just walked the old streets that are so much more bustling than they were eight years ago, talked and took pictures along the way, stopped for a coffee here and there, and then walked some more. It was so relaxing to just do simple things with her. After all, it doesn’t matter where you are and what you do; it’s really the company that matters.

Here are some photos I snapped during the walk with my friend that day. I hope you like them.

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Hoi An is a popular destination for pre-wedding photo shoots. It’s not unusual to see brides and grooms here in the early morning, late afternoon, and even in the evening. It always makes me happy to see them looking so young and in love.

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Portrait | Hà in Hội An

Catching up with old friends is always so rewarding to me! It’s as fun to make silly bad jokes as it is to sit quietly and enjoy their company. It’s comforting to know that I can repeat the same stories that were told last year, knowing that I’m never judged. And in the sense of seeing old friends, this Vietnamese Independence Day long weekend was comforting! Three of my old friends whom I met at different times in my life were on vacation in town. I had coffee with each of them separately on Sunday, feeling like I relived three different lives.

Hà was my college classmate in Hanoi and then she went to school in the U.S. around the same time with me. We traveled together several times to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It was fun this time to hang out with her in this little town of Hoi An. I took her to a friend’s place to buy a bag, got some clothes made, had lunch with grilled squid at a local restaurant, and then bought some more bags. (They were just Hoi An’s local straw bags, not Paris’ or Milan’s leather ones!)

I think Hà has a distinctive and beautiful look so I snapped a few photos and shared them here!

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A simple Vietnamese butternut squash soup

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A typical Vietnamese meal with a soup bowl, a plate of protein and a plate of vegetable. Here I have butternut squash soup with minced pork, sautéed beans and carrots, and crispy caramelized river shrimp.

For some reason I’ve always enjoyed doing repetitive, mundane tasks. They provide a sense of peacefulness and contentment in seeing the results of my efforts. My mind quiets down and I get to enjoy a sense of oneness with my task.

When I was in tenth grade, my summer job was to put bra sliders into bra straps. My mother worked for a garment factory, and every day she would bring home huge bags of bra straps and bra sliders. Like a machine, I spent every single day of that summer putting sliders into straps. I didn’t get bored at all. In fact, I even found great joy in doing that. I didn’t have to think much, and I was content with the accomplishment, which was piles and piles of nice and neat straps in front of my eyes.
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Panna Cotta with Fresh Passion Fruit

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This past week the heat was so brutal that both of us got a cold from switching back and forth too often between a cool air-conditioned room to the burning heat. But we’re ok now, and I’m back to the sauna/kitchen creating and documenting recipes with great enthusiasm! Read more

Portrait | Quỳnh – Anh

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I’ve always loved taking portrait photos of people. It mesmerizes me how somebody can look so different from different angles. Rarely have I posted portrait photos on this blog though, but after a conversation with a new friend yesterday I decided to post portrait photos that I like here. I figured that as long as it’s something that I like, somebody somewhere might like it too.
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Beautiful Hội An | Chula House

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Laura in her Hội An Chula House, wearing her husband’s design. Her hair pin is a dried plant she picked up on the street while taking a walk.
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The house has Hội An’s signature yellow walls and roof tiles.

Laura and Diego are a Spanish couple living in Hanoi, Vietnam. Their fashion brand, Chula, makes lively, sophisticated couture designs with tropical inspiration. Last September I took a calligraphy workshop in their riverside house in Hội An and I knew I had to photograph it someday. The ground floor is dedicated to an Artists in Residence Program where artists can host workshops and art programs. The pictures below are of their second floor, which is the living area. Despite it being quite small, about 60 square meters (around 650 square feet), this space is very thoughtfully designed and charming because of its bright colors and unique furniture.
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Vietnamese Silk Tofu “Tempura”

*There’s a video tutorial at the end of this post. 

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My husband and I just signed a new house lease for the next quarter and began our 10th month living in Hoi An. Both our landlady and we couldn’t believe that it had been that long. We all remembered the first day we met at this house as vividly as it had been some time last month. My husband and I fell in love with the house the moment we saw it. For my husband, it was the beautiful furniture and airy rooms. For me, it was the light-filled kitchen and a garden full of blooming bird-of-paradise flowers. For one, it meant free flowers for me, which was awesome! But more importantly, I somehow believed that if the owner had cared to grow beautiful blooms in the back yard, she must be somebody who would take good care of the house too.
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Braised Baby Ribs & a Summer Meal

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Before starting this blog, I had never used cooking measurements. I measured with my eyes and intuition, or as my friend put it, “all ingredients are to taste”. The “everything to taste” rule worked well for me, except for when I had parties or guests over. Cooking for extra people without a recipe rarely came out as well. My guests might not have noticed (thankfully), but I just knew that the food didn’t taste the same as when I cooked just for my family.
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Vietnamese Mango Tapioca Pudding

*The Vietnamese word for mangoes is xoài, pronounced soai.

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If you happen to be in Vietnam in xoài season, you have to try them. Seriously!

The mangos here are one-of-a-kind. I remember that sentiment being expressed in an endearing scene from the movie “Indochina” where the main character, a French colonist, handed her adopted daughter a plate of mangos that looked so juicy and delicious. I don’t remember much else about the movie but that scene has stayed in my mind for years.
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