Oh darn HCMC (Saigon), why so unPHOghettable

T-shirts devoted to pho-puns — Pho Sure, Pho Real, Got Pho?, What the Pho? Just Pho You? — offer a glimpse to how popular the Vietnamese noodle dish is. Rightly described by Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, as “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip,” the noodle broth comes in the raw beef version (pho bo tai) and chicken pho (pho ga).

My first unforgettable, I mean unphoghettable sip of omg-this-is-goddamn-out-of-this-world-amazing pho was at Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam in 2011.

In fact, the alluring taste of the translucent, clear broth (comparable to consommé)  that hinted sweet tender beef and aromatic herbs, had me revisit Vietnam a second time.

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is "Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip."

Pho Bo_ In the words of Peta Mathias, author of Noodle Pillows, pho is “Vietnam in a bowl, heaven in a spoon, culture in a sip.”

Sherry’s love affair with Vietnamese street fare

But I was forever cursed. For afterward, no matter how hard I searched, I seem forever sampling inferior copy of that pho. And did I mention after factoring in the exchange rate, the omg-this-is-goddamn-out-od-this-world-amazing pho costs only 75 cents?

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Let’s talk coffee (especially when served in a bowl)

Between Monterey Bay and Carmel, I would go for the latter. While the Monterey Bay Aquarium showcases a spectacular jelly fish collection, Carmel, which is officially known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, beats the touristy attraction with its quaintness. The pretty town paints quite a picture.

A beloved brunch spot, La Bicyclette, boasts “rustic French fare” and is known for butternut squash pizza and flaky croissants. For me, I chose to start my morning with a cinnamon bun and latte.

Instead of a cup of Joe, the latte at La Bicyclette is more like a "bowl" of Joe.

Instead of a cup of Joe, the latte at La Bicyclette is more like a “bowl” of Joe.

Well, the plenty large cup of Joe was served in a large ceramic bowl. (Read more about why coffee is called Joe).

On a sheet of printed paper, La Bicyclette explains that it is common for the French (apparently the rustic kind) to drink latte in a bowl. Furthermore, it hopes to carry on European coffee house tradition and establish itself as a place where the intelligentsia, such as philosophers, artists, poets, come and interact.

The café in European culture has always been more than just a place to eat and drink.

The café is where people from all walks of life, whether they are artists and writers, or business people and politicians, can come and interact freely.

I highly doubt Carmel, a sleepy seaside city, will ever be a business and political center. Nonetheless, I did experience first-handly the charm of European coffee houses when I studied in Vienna (2007).

In search of Old Vienna, I stumbled into Cafe Hawelka. Continue reading

What’s in a name? A cup of ‘Joe’ by any other name…

Have you ever wondered why coffee is known as “a cup of joe”? Of the Daniel, David, John and Michael(s), why Joe?

According to an article published by Quartz, “Joe” is short for Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), former secretary of the US Navy.

Former US secretary of Navy, Josephus Daniels (image credit: electricscotland.com)

Daniels became secretary of Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In an effort to establish strict morality, Daniels banned the consumption of alcohol.

In a new biography, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Time,” Lee A. Craig wrote:

As a substitute, stewards increased their purchases of coffee, among other beverages, and Daniels’s name became linked to the daily drink of millions around the world. Continue reading

Early bird gets the sourdough

Suspicious of the so-called tourist traps, albeit I am myself a tourist, I was never a fan of Boudin Bakery. For one, the 165-year-old bakery’s flagship store sits right on Fisherman’s Wharf. Touristy, checked. Animal shaped bread, including koala, turtle, and alligator, checked.

Very cliche. Plus, (nose upturned) the soup bowl was a-okay.

But I was wrong. Boudin’s sourdough is quite solid. If I were to judge the bread based on the following criteria: crust (crispiness, flavor), interior body (stretchiness, chewiness), aroma and taste, I would give my chowder bread bowl a 9. It was crispy, but not hard. Soft, but chewy, and carrying a hint of tangy aftertaste typical of sourdough. But I suspect my favorable review has to do with the fact I was at the bakery when it opened at 8 a.m. Guess early birds do get the worms, including good sourdoughs.

Clam chowder in a bread bowl, Boudin Bakery (image credit: gold belly.com)

The San Francisco sourdough, which is basically a French bread made with a sourdough culture, dates back to the Gold Rush days. San Francisco-ans believe there are no place like the city that gives the bread its sourness. Supposedly it has to do with the makeup of the wild yeast strains native to San Francisco as well as the city’s air, temperature. But turned out that was what the natives would like to have believed.  Continue reading

How about we… live a high-cholesterol lifestyle by the sea

To tourists, San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf equates seafood restaurants, clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl, Ghirardelli chocolate and souvenir shops. But if you were to ask me about it, I would tell you one thing: crab stands.

Sure, some might call these restaurants and their affiliated sidewalk eateries tourist traps, but what’s paying a little more for the fun of street-style eating. And look at the proof:

SF Fisherman's Wharf: 2lb crab

SF Fisherman’s Wharf: 2lb crab

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