Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Snail Meal

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Snail Meal

Like many others all over the world, the Vietnamese cook snails for meal. The food doesn’t come cheap for the city dweller but in the countryside it is. They get the snails from their rice fields. Whoever included this dish in their kitchen must have been an intelligent person with a good sense of economics. The farmer would get both rice – the staple food, and mineral (iron, magnesium, potassium) and vitamin B12 rich snails from the same field. The meal, thus, is complete.

In Hanoi they get a kilo of live snails for about an equivalent of 3 USD and the final eatable product turns out to be around 200 grams. Effectively that’s 15 USD, a costly deal.

I happened to visit a kitchen for a first hand review of the preparation. A good amount of work and effort goes into cleaning the raw material before the delicacy reached the dining table. Wonder how many wayside eateries or shacks would be doing it that minutely. Here’s the procedure and a few pictures straight from the master chef’s kitchen.

Hot bath

Boil them for about 15 minutes and keep removing the floating scum. This will remove all the stickiness and accumulated waste. They say the variety of snails found in the fields is not sticky. It has solid meat.


For a raw hand his is time consuming part but an experienced cook knows the trick. Shell is hard and has to be cut at the rounded end. That quickly gets the meat out.

This is the tough but very important task. You have got to identify the digestive track and remove it completely as waste.

The final dish
This typical Vietnamese preparation is called ‘Bun Oc’. Bun (rice noodles) Oc (snail). The snail meat is light fried and then mixed with noodles and herbs and shoots (like green onion, red shiso - veggies) and vinegar before serving.

(March 2017, with input from the Master Chef)

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Some Pictures of Cambodia and Vietnam

The Bayon Temple, Cambodia

Terrace fields, Ta Van, SaPa, Vietnam

Sunrise, SaPa, Vietnam

Victory Tower, Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Cambodia waterscape

Terrace fields, SaPa, Vietnam
A Church in Hanoi

Ha Long Bay, Hanoi
The Icon of Hanoi

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Of Y-Ty and the Vietnamese army

(pronounced: E-T)

A village situated at an altitude of 2000 m in the highlands along the Vietnam- China border is home to six ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is about 400 km north of Hanoi connected by a good road network. The area remains covered by a blanket of white clouds all the year around. The sunrays hardly pierce through the clouds and, if at all, the Sun is visible it is only in brief stints and that too hazy.  Y-ty means the land of fog which truly it is. The visitors to the village have to make an early morning rush to the mountain ridge in order to view the fog / clouds emerging from the valley down below at the day-break. It is mesmerizing to watch the clouds rise up drowning the whole area in a big sea of pure whiteness. I experienced this blissful natural phenomenon one fine spring morning. 

The ridge is the borderline between Vietnam and China as it will decide which side you roll down if you fell over. Ironically, the fog doesn’t present that spectacular a view on the Chinese side. Perhaps the shape of the Y-ty valley is unique.

The Vietnam army an impression
 Y-ty is a border village but visitors to the area don’t require a permit to enter. However, there is a military check post in the village where all the outsiders are required to report. Foreign tourists to report alongwith their passports and the native with an ID card. The Homestay people would take you to the checkpoint for reporting. Ms My (pronounced: Me) the home stay owner took our group to the military room. An army personnel, maybe an officer as he had 4 yellow stars each side on his epaulets and a matching tie to go with the uniform, appeared soon after Ms My went to find him. The man was drunk as he reeked of alcohol. They don’t speak English. Fortunately a fellow tourist in the group knew English and she acted as an interpreter. The officer could only say two words – ‘India’ and ‘yes’. During about 15 minutes of our stay in the room he uttered these words about three or four times and shook my hand each time he said ‘Indi’ and ‘ys’. All that time he was a chatterbox. His other actions included holding hands of Ms My and putting his arms across her shoulders. Once or twice he held the other woman’s hand too. Another drunk man, without uniform, came in after about 10 minutes, shook my hand and flipped through my passport and shuffled the others’ ID cards. He was also of ‘India and Yes’ vocabulary.  Finally we were allowed to go. The man handed over my passport and the officer was kind enough to see me off to the gate and warmly shook my hand. Nothing recorded, no entry anywhere. We had just reported. It appeared a strange way of reporting to an authority.

 After about ten minutes or so the officer was at the homestay. Someone poured him a drink and they started chatting. I retired to my room. The next morning while settling the bill I was asked to pay 200,000 dongs more. That’s about 10 USD. The officer had collected the amount from Ms My the previous evening as my ‘registration’ fee. I wanted to know how much was the stipulated fee and where it was recorded. I was told that the army sometime charged an equivalent of USD 20 from foreign tourists for ‘registration’ and I was lucky to have it in less than 10. No one dared pose a question to them as their rules were strict. And I had to rush to the ridge.

The conduct of the Vietnamese army officer was so meanly cheap and substandard that it presented a dismal and sorry picture of an armed force which is considered second only to the Chinese army in the region. I kept thinking about the high standards of our own army. The Indian army is impeccably professional and disciplined that we are so proud of.

The Vietnamese women, however, are very beautiful.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Of War History and Beautiful Women

Of War History and Beautiful Women

A French Cannon

They say every Vietnamese is a fighter and they always fight to win irrespective of the means and/or who the enemy is. A visit to the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi will confirm this adage. They have proven the point a number of times by winning many wars against much stronger enemy. Since times prehistoric the Vietnamese have been fighting wars. It was against the Chinese in olden times and, recently in the twentieth century, against the French and the US. Their last recorded military action is in the late seventies in Cambodia against the tyrant Pol Pot.

The heroics of the Vietnamese fighters are well recorded and maintained in the museum collection. From the crude weaponry ranging from the 3rd millennium BC to the relatively modern one used to defeat the US in the mid-seventies of the last century, we can have a fair glimpse of all. The audio visual session in a small auditorium is well presented except for that it is entirely in the Vietnamese language. Wish they had an English edition as well.

On the display are weapons seized from the French and the US forces fighting in Vietnam. US fighter planes are displayed as are the Soviet made MIGs and missiles which helped them subjugate the Americans. Also there is the wreckage of an American fighter plane downed by the Vietnamese forces. And there is this picture of a woman fighter gathering / draging out the wreckage of the downed bomber.

Ms. Ha Thi Ninh collecting pieces
of a downed US bomber.
Vietnamese women are very beautiful. They are bold and brave too. What a better example of boldness, bravery, and beauty than this picture of Ms. Ha Thi Ninth a militia fighter, pulling / collecting the remains of the once fierce and firebrand US bomberThe international Women's Day was two days ago. A belated but appropriate tribute through this picture to the bold and beautiful of the world.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017


Angkor Wat Sunrise

After the Sunrise



Subscribing to an ideology is essential. An ideology that shows purpose, substance, and gives rise to ideas is a good ideology. And the one that doesn’t urge any new ideas and takes the once practiced old order as final, is nothing more than extremism. Humanity throughout its history has seen many cycles of extremism; political, religious, or racial, and has always suffered disasters that affected generations.

One such example of a political ideology taking extreme and disastrous dimensions was witnessed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. In a totalitarian system of political ideology almost 25% of the country’s population was exterminated in political killings. In a period just short of 4 years nearly 2 million Cambodians lost their lives in the killing fields.

The tales of horror and torture at the Toul Sleng detention centre in Phnom Penh are well recorded. One survivor Bou Meng also sits at a counter to narrate his story.

This used to be a school building that was turned into a prison / torture centre. If we remove those signs and tools of torture from there, the class rooms would look appear inviting and appealing to those wanting to learn peace and progress.

Some kilometres away is the killing fields where people were brutally killed. From children aged less than two years to the older men and women all perished in the ground that used to be an orchard cam cemetery. They say 17000 remains of the dead were dug out of the mass graves here. Even now sometime after the rains or inundation of the area it is not uncommon to find bones coming to surface.

A tree bears testimony to smashing of toddlers and infants against it. The regime, they say, believed that only cutting the tree was not enough, the roots ought to have been destroyed. That’s why the skulls of children were smashed against the tree.

A memorial stands there called the Choeung Ek memorial, which houses skulls, bones, clothes, and weapons of murder. The audio gadgets that narrates the story point wise reveals a chilling fact that apart from using the metallic and wooden tools of torture and murder, the palm tree leaf was also used to slit the throats. When you touch the serrated leaf that looks like a crocodile’s jaws the story appears believable.

There is no reason to believe that history will not or never repeat itself or the cycle of going to the extremes will ever stop, but one can only hope humanity finds a better way of conducting itself.

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