Friday, December 31, 2010

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Due to crazy snow storms in NYC, our anticipated 24-hours of travel — Toronto - Vancouver - Hong Kong - Saigon — turned out to be a 48-hour mis-adventure of flight cancellations, lost luggage and unexpected overnight sojourns in both Vancouver and Hong Kong. However, throughout the mishaps, the airlines (WestJet and Cathay Pacific) and their ground crew personnel could not have been more helpful, friendly or courteous, which made our delays much more endurable. What a difference a smile and positive attitude makes in trying situations. 

So one day later than anticipated, we were thrilled to be greeted with the warm sultry air of Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon — The Pearl of the Far East. Saigon (Sài Gòn) was the capital of the French colony of Cochinchina from 1955 to 1975, and after the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, the government renamed the city after their pre-eminent, but by then deceased leader, Ho Chi Minh. These days Saigon, the largest city in Vietnam, is adorned with wide elegant boulevards, historic french colonial buildings, bustling markets and lots of fabulous restaurants.

Steeped in history, Vietnamese cuisine is one of the jewels of South-east Asia. The style of cooking, which has evolved over many centuries, is a wonderful blend of Chinese and Asian spices, flavours and techniques. The French colonization of Vietnam has also had a deep influence on Vietnamese cooking, infusing the cuisine with many of the ingredients and culinary traditions of classic french cooking.

The geography and climate of Vietnam have always played an important role in the country's cuisine. Bordered by Laos, Cambodia and China, Vietnam is a long slender country, stretching from Hanoi and the Red River Delta in the north to Saigon and the fertile Mekong Delta in the south. With its ten centuries of rule and proximity in the north, China has strongly influenced Vietnamese cooking, from the use of chopsticks, the art of stir-frying, and a use of noodles and bean curd. The Chinese introduction of Buddhism in Vietnam also led to a vegetarian cuisine that is remarkably varied and extensive. 

The mountainous middle section where Hue, the ancient capital of the Vietnamese kings was located, features a highly decorative, very spicy cuisine, reflecting the pleasures of the country's royalty and the abundance of spices the region's terrain offers. The south, hot and humid, is where French and Indian influences are most keenly felt, for Southern Vietnam was once a common stopover for Indian traders before their journey homeward, leaving behind a taste for the aromatic curries and exotic spices of traditional Indian cuisine.

Sophisticated and exciting, Vietnam's culinary heritage has been a creative blend of delightfully complex flavours that have helped shape a cuisine that is distinctly Vietnamese. Over the upcoming month, Scrumpdillyicious will embark on a culinary journey that will explore the cultural and culinary pulse of these diverse and fascinating cultures, and hopefully a recipe or two!

Tomorrow: New Years 2010 in Saigon!