I’m writing this at my dining table, fans blasting against another 30°+ Hanoi night. I probably should be doing work, but I just can’t get my head into it.
There’s loads of other things that I probably should be doing, like throwing away half of the clothes in my closet, or watching this, or organising whatever it is that’s festering in the junk corner behind the door. Because after living in this apartment for 2.5 years, we’re moving in a fortnight. Luckily, we’re just going one floor up – this building is a gem in Hanoi, lovely apartments (with ovens!), quiet, insulated, with a landlord who offers rice wine, but understands when you don’t want to drink it.
Pizza with cheese, roasted tomatoes and basil
I used to make pizza for a living. While I was at university I worked in a popular local pizza and gelato joint and, as is often the case with such things, I rarely had any desire to eat pizza. And when I did, I had a pizza oven at my disposal. So there was no need to figure out how to make it at home.
Then there were those years spent in Korea where I lost my taste for pizza, after enduring one too many sweet potato, mustard and seafood monstrosities (Korean pizza is a weird thing). Back in Hanoi, there’s good pizza available for a price.
Ice cream made without proper churning is often a grainy, icy disappointment. As is most ice cream bought in Hanoi, unfortunately. Here’s the solution: no-churn frozen yogurt, made using homemade yogurt and super-ripe fruit, mango in this case.
Power outages happen occasionally in my Hanoi neighbourhood, but the poor quality of the frozen goods here seems to be a direct result of disdain for generally accepted freezer conventions. Things are changing for the better, but in my experience there’s a high probability that the ice block you choose in the mini-mart freezer lucky dip will have partially melted and refrozen at least once. Just last week we parked at a favourite lunch time spot next to a bike with a bag full of Celano’s hanging from the hook in direct sunlight. The owner was inside getting take-away, not a quick stop as every meal is freshly prepared, while the poor ice creams disappeared into oblivion.
One of the most beautiful things about living in Hanoi is the sudden appearance of unfamiliar produce in markets and in the baskets of roaming bicycle vendors. Even though I’ve lived here for so long, some things that I’ve never seen, or have seen and not noticed before, still pop up every now and then.
Just last week, our post-gym coconut spot was selling these unusual fruit. Shiny, fibrous orbs about the size of a large eggplant topped with overlapping leaves. We added one to our fruit haul and then watched as the seller starts slicing through one with a mini-machete for a different customer. He removed a few slices off the bottom to reveal 3 oval shaped translucent pods.
Later, at home, I fell into a google hole of research and have only just found my way out. This is the fruit of the Borassus Flabellifer also known as the Palmyra or Sugar Palm.
Apparently when ripe the white section can turn yellow/orange and is eaten as well. In fact every part of the tree can be used for different applications. They’re common in India and South East Asia, and it is the national tree of Cambodia.
We found cutting through the course outer layers more difficult than the demonstration indicated. When we finally got into it, the 3 seed sockets were filled with some bland liquid and a slightly bitter and quite firm jelly, easily removed with a spoon. These are similar to the palm seeds (attap chee from the nipa palm) that feature in iced desserts across South East Asia, just not nearly as texturally pleasant or delicious.
I have to admit that I didn’t get past a few tiny taste tests. Even a sprinkling of sugar did nothing to improve the flavour. It was bland with unpalatable undertones. The very limited amount of jelly in the fruit was therefore a blessing in disguise.
Would I spend 40,000vnd (~$2) on a random piece of produce again? Most definitely!
Would I buy this particular fruit again? Not likely. Not unless I had some palm fruit advice and a good recipe. I’d also ask the fruit vendor to slice it open.
There’s a great Japanese restaurant nearby that serves luscious lunch sets. Each set comes with an array of side dishes, some which change daily alongside constants: miso soup and steamed egg custard, chawanmushi. It took a while for me to get used to the taste of this delicate, savoury custard, which comes loaded with seafood and meat. The texture is more often experienced in sweet dishes and being served warm seemed strange. But after learning to enjoy chawanmushi I couldn’t stop thinking about a savoury custard tart, wibbly wobbly in the centre, served warm for breakfast. This slow cooked frittata recipe, is just that, but without pastry so it’s easier to whip up on a breakfast whim.