Food Glorious Food

One of the problems with  rapid tourist growth on an island is that things get thrown up in an hurry to meet the ever growing demand. Here on Phu Quoc the “strip” from what was the old sleepy fishing village  down to the end of Long Beach is just that a strip lined with restaurants and travel agents selling excursions. The local catch here is squid and prawns plus some local king fish. The rest is brought in from the mainland by boat.  So the locals who threw up a shack with tables and chairs and a makeshift kitchen with the loo in the middle of it were somewhat hampered for choice. Some bright spark ( all puns intended) came up with the idea of cooking the three staples on a BBQ and then tossing some rice or noodles onto the plate and serving it. The rest quickly followed and that is the choice down almost the entire strip. Great for a backpacker getting a few days of rays after a long trek through Vietnam before heading off to Cambodia some 3 hours away but not so great for the two week holiday maker. Then try us on our 4th week here and you realise why we are leaving before planned and also heading off into Cambodia.

I really haven’t been good at recommending places to eat on this blog unlike many other bloggers. One man’s meat is another man’s etc etc. But let me assure you that we have had to kiss an awful lot of frogs to get to being able to say where we most like to eat and we have suffered during the night and often all the next day in that quest to find a prince. Most Vietnamese just don’t know how to BBQ and of course what they don’t use that night goes back in a freezer and then is defrosted again the next day and so on until it is sold. health and safety would have a field day here.

However before we eat we have to have a sundowner or three so where do we go for those? Most restaurants are happy that you sit and just have beer but the majority are on the increasing busy main road so we look on the beach.

This one should be the king of all bars

Headland bar

 

it sits on the headland between the two parts of Long Beach and gets the cooling winds as well as some great views and sunsets

Sunset on Phu Quoc

 

It should be packed but it is run by a gloriously inefficient Vietnamese lady who rushes about doing almost nothing. 20 mins to order a beer and then 20mins for it to arrive. Who knows where she goes or what she does. It is a fact of life and maybe an endearing feature of the local people that they have no memory at all. It is not even the last person they talked to syndrome. Ten paces from the table they took the order it has gone from the mind as if it were never there they wander away and start on some other task and you sit there expecting within minutes a couple of cold bottles of beer to arrive. 10 mins later they wander past your table without a flicker of memory that they ever took an order from you. So you need a bar where the bar person  is close to you and the supply with no distractions in-between. This one is rough and ready but hits the two key objectives

Sundowner bar

 

Yes those are infant school class room chairs and yes you sit on them. It is like being back at the parent teacher meetings where the teacher in oder to rush you along sits you in little Freddies chair so you can view his scribblings, but the beer cooler is 5 paces away and the guy sits within feet of you and has nothing else to do and no real distractions. You can even get squids and fish from him and his BBQ is clever

BBQ

 

a kitchen sink !!! Now before i discovered the delights of an outside wood oven I used to do a load of BBQ and have a Webber at home. I went one time to buy the attachment they sell that gives you a workspace on the BBQ and realised that to buy it i would need to take out a fourth mortgage on the house. This local lad has solved that problem instantly clever fellow.  I’ve never been brave enough to eat anything from him but have seen others do it though to be fair i have never seen them ever again.

So after the sunset and the beer to the restaurant

Canadianand there is the champion after 4 weeks of testing. It is just by La Veranda Resort if you are ever down this way. The place is run by a Vietnamese family but they have a Canadian ex restauranteur as an advisor. He sold his house in Vancouver at the height of the housing bubble and bought a motor home for the summer to tour around visiting friends in Canada and invested the rest to pay for winters in the sun on Phu Quoc. He stayed at one of the cottages the family rent and offered to help out in return for beer and food. He also bought with him his 250,000 tune music library and each day he compiles two playlists one for lunch and one for dinner. As he says the music therefore matches his mood or hangover and we have sat there some evenings feeling maybe he wants everyone to cut their wrists. However the food is good, not a BBQ in sight and because as he in a very unCanadian way boasts that his place is by far the most popular on the beach or on the strip the turnover in food is very rapid.

A second place mention must go to Ganesh the indian restaurant who not only serve great curries but prove that you can take locals and turn them into good waiters. They bring in teams of Nepalese managers, head cooks and supervisors and train the local workforce. it is an impressive organisation with staff eager to serve you and never once forgetting why they are in a restaurant and wandering off to look at the sky.

All this is making me thirsty and hungry so I’m off

 

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One Night in Bangkok

The hectic life in Hong Kong has rather precluded any blogging . Suffice to say my daughter and son-in-law did a great job looking after us oldies poor things and the social whirl was exceptional.  I will return to the week in Hong Kong while we while away severn nights down at a coastal resort in Thailand.

So yesterday we boarded an Air Asia flight to Bangkok feeling somewhat hung over after an excellent evening eating Peking duck three ways and then doing the final round of bars in the Soho area .

Air Asia are a rather strange low cost carrier in that whilst their air fares are amazingly cheap when compared to the national carriers of the various S.E. countries their on board offering is completely different. You can order full meals on line if you so wish and there is a choice but also a fee to pay as well. However if you decide not to there is non of the hard sell tactics of say Ryanair nor the constant trolley work of cabin crew on other LCC airlines. Seats are allocated easily at check in as the on line seats are either emergency exit  or the first 7 odd rows  and they try hard to sit you together.

On board the trolleys come out to serve the few that have ordered the full meal and provide them with drinks and then retreat behind the ubiquitous aircraft galley curtain. The non orderers are left to use the call button to summon assistance and drinks ( no alcohol) and snacks are hand carried to your seat on a tray and monies taken. All savagely civilised. One very commercial but quite clever idea they have had is to sell each overhead locker door for advertising. It is actually quite colourful and rather reminds you of sitting on the London underground starring at the ads.

I haven’t been to Bangkok since 1989 having avoided it on my last few visits to Thailand so the drive into town was eye opening. The place like so many other S.E. Asia cities has grown upwards with apartment blocks and office towers sprouting like mushrooms everywhere you look.

We booked the Cabochon hotel as it looks like an old colonial place with lots of character and nicely tucked away from the main streets . It is indeed like a colonial place but was only built last year so though all the furnishings and even the light switches are from old houses the rest of the place works like a 21st century hotel.

Now schadenfreuders amongst you will be delighted to know that just after our arrival ( I have talked before about our effect on the weather in countries worldwide), the heavens opened and it started to rain cats, dogs and anything else that came to hand. We were at the time enjoying the happy hour twofers offered by the hotel ( buy one get one free) and were little concerned until I saw the price of the food in the restaurant. It is always the trouble when you get deals on hotels that are normally expensive as the rest of the clientele barely glance at the menu price as they order whilst the dealers get a certain look of horror and fear on their faces as they pretend to study the food choices. I quickly decided that umbrellas were the solution so off we set to sample the delights of the city.

Now the last time here the problem was finding places that were farang friendly in terms of heat as in the number of chilli in each dish as everywhere served Thai food apart from the odd hotel restaurant. How things have changed. Up and down our part of the Sukanvit Road we went past pizza places, tapas places, burger joints, wine bars, English and Irish pubs serving fish and chips and hundreds of Japanese restaurants.What was as amazing was every place was full of thai locals munching away and swilling down glasses of wine a drink almost unknown here in 1989. The search was exacerbated by the fact that motorbikes and mopeds are allowed to use the pavement as a kind of cycle lane and so you spend more time looking both in front and behind you on the pavement for them. Finally one glanced Geraldine a blow as it went by and with her soaking wet feet, damp trousers and now a bruised arm my quest quickly came to an halt. Enough she said and we repaired to the nearest restaurant. Anything spicy I asked in hope, maybe something Thai. The waiter looked astonished as if we had asked for the crown jewels for nothing. No he said but if you want something with a bit of a kick then try our spaghetti arrabata the chef puts a little dried chilli in it.

All this way from Puglia to Thailand to be offered  an italian dish as the really spicy dish on the menu. Foolishly we declined and ate probably the worst burgers we have ever eaten .  Thai cooks certainly in this restaurant don’t do western food.but clearly no one has told the local patrons who were hoovering it down. Maybe a Thai in London feels the same about Thai food in a Thai place there ?

Hong Kong

I am sitting in an Italian deli that is just across the road from my daughter’s flat drinking a cappuccino . It is considerably more than I pay back in Puglia for the same product however my South China Morning News costs much less than any of the Italian papers at home.

The weekend has been an hectic social whirl but everyone has now returned to work and the apartment is quiet. The expat life here is not for the feint hearted with almost every street seemingly crammed with bars and restaurants teeming with party goers. Meals out are de-rigour and drinks before and after the norm. It is not something i could manage every weekend but I’m sure my parents said the same thing years ago when they visited us in various places around the world.

Two things catch my eye in the paper. One is an article bemoaning the fact that children are becoming less well behaved. It is they feel because both parents in this highly competitive and expensive place to live are working and employing nannies. These nannies keen to keep their jobs allow the kids total freedom and the parents equally looking for a quiet life at weekends do likewise. The result is screaming kids having tantrums all over the place. I would better describe it as Italian male syndrome . These guys have seen nothing on some of the youngsters i see everyday in Puglia screaming their hearts out while their parents not any nanny cover them in kisses.

The other more serious item is the destruction of the old Hong Kong by an organisation called The Urban Renewal Authority which is a quasi-governmental, profit-making body, formed in 2001 to promote and undertake urban regeneration in Hong Kong. On Saurday we spent an hour wandering about a street market called the Graham Street market .

IMG_0002

It is crowded and you are hit by shopping bags and find lots of bottlenecks because of the crush of humanity trying to move around.

More Market Hong Kong

but boy do you get a feeling of being somewhere very foreign and very different with dried fish stalls, chinese vegetable stalls and spice stalls. The smells, the people, the atmosphere is fabulous and with the old buildings all around it is very Hong Kong as you would expect to find it.

But don’t delay getting here to see it ‘cos the URA are knocking it all down with all the buildings as well to make way for some huge tower blocks and an hotel. They were to have built a new market for the traders as part of the redevelopment but that has been quietly shelved and another huge tower block will go up in its place.

Hong Kong is rapidly going the way Singapore went years ago. Singapore are now regretting doing what they did and seem intent on rebuilding replicas of what used to be there.  Loads of resorts in Spain are doing likewise but the URA seem oblivious to the lessons that others have learnt the hard way. People even non tourist residents like a mix of old and new and heritage is important. The Kinks got it right

We flew in on Turkish airlines via Istanbul from Rome. I bought their economy plus product which they call comfort class and let me tell you they are not mocking. it is fantastic. Huge seats reminiscent of Business Class seats before the airlines introduced beds with loads of legroom. The 777 was configured 2/3/2 across and we got one of the two seaters. The service can only be described as outstanding . Attentive crew who really couldn’t do enough for you. The meals were all served with real napkins, glass glasses and china plates. The drinks were served from the bottle  as was the wine and they were all premium brands. Quite nicely from my point of view the crew were also heavy handed and so sleep came easily. However the seats were so comfortable that even without the generous whisky measures sleep would have been easy.

Istanbul airport as a stop over is good as they have loads of security staff so the queues to get into the transit lounge are minimal . The actual huge transit lounge is rather like being in a massive bazaar with more duty free areas than I have ever seen but prices were higher than our local Auchan supermarket so easily left for others. We did find the bar and had a pint of Efes beer for a price that literally made my eyes water. That was till we got here to Hong Kong and now it seemed that they were giving it away in Istanbul !!

For Puglia readers here is a tip. For some reason ( senility) I got fixated on Rome as a departure point. It was not until we took off from there to go to Istanbul that Geraldine leaned over and showed me the Turkish Airlines route map and guess what they also fly from  Naples !!

So my entire drive to Rome, the night stop there  and the food poisoning was for nought we could have driven to Naples in 3 hours and flown away.

Well you live an learn in this world don’t you.

Up and Running

For 7 months I have been writing a daily blog about life in Puglia at Here In Puglia whilst living in the heel of Italy. However I am now, with Geraldine, setting off on Wednesday to travel in South East Asia.

We plan to head from Hong Kong where we land to Thailand first and then over a five month period  work our way through Cambodia Laos and Vietnam to finish up in Hanoi before returning to Hong Kong to see the daughter again poor thing.

Planning is well in hand with a flight now booked to Hong Kong and some vague ideas about where we go after that beginning to take some kind of shape  which let me say before Geraldine says it is for me is the height of organisation. I have even ventured on to a few hotel booking sites and am already amazed at how full things are. Others clearly spend much longer getting their own trip off the ground than I do. Still I’m sure it is better to hang loose and see how things pan out. What is that saying about doing something in haste and repenting at leisure ?

I guess I’m having a very delayed gap year having missed out on one some 47 years ago. Mind you I went to sea straight from school and found myself sailing around the world on a P&O Orient line passenger ship which was probably as good if not better than many of todays actual gap year experiences.

I’ll be trying to post everyday and give you a flavour of the places we visit during this trip far away from the delights of Puglia. I shall miss my friends in Puglia my Italian food and more especially my Italian wine but probably won’t miss the cold and the rain and snow of a Puglian winter. Surprisingly it gets very chilly down here and neither the houses nor the bars and restaurants are made to cope with it.  Indeed a fair chunk of our spending money is made up from monies we are saving in gas, electricity and wood for the two log burning fires.

I hope many of you readers are gonna go my way too by just following me here on this blog