Our first stop in Vietnam was Saigon, in the south. Now known as "Ho Chi Minh City", Saigon today is the most populated city in Vietnam, with a glitzy skyline and seven million bustling inhabitants. The memory of that final helicopter lifting off from the roof of the American embassy here has faded- something mentioned in passing by a tour guide. The guides seem more interested in pointing out the shiny new Louis Vuitton, and the other high end boutiques that line the expensive shopping district. Business is booming here, the standard of living has been steadily rising, and people are optimistic about the future. The war, and its history, has melded into a tourist activity. The Vietnamese have no animosity towards Americans- why would they? They won. The war is a point of pride, first they successfully through off a century of French Colonial rule, then they drove out the most powerful nation in the world. North Vietnamese tanks are displayed in a park with young people anxious to have their picture taken next to them. Couples even get married at the war museum. The Vietnamese, always polite and accommodating, have arranged special tours for war veterans and anyone else who is interested. You can explore the elaborate network of tunnels created by the Vietcong, tour the presidential palace of the former leader of South Vietnam; Nguyen Van Thieu, you can visit the Hanoi Hilton- the infamous war-time prison where John McCain was held captive, you can even squeeze off a few rounds from an AK-47. For Art and I, finding ourselves in one of the world's most interesting food cultures, there was just one thing to do- cooking class.
if anyone deserves the title of the originator of fusion cuisine, it's the Vietnamese
Vietnam's food history is a very interesting one. The term [fusion" is thrown around a lot these days and is very trendy, but if anyone deserves the title of the originator of fusion cuisine, it's the Vietnamese. There is a very distinctive East-meets-West, style here that is no accident. For one hundred years, Vietnam was part of the French Colony of Indochina. Today in Vietnam, traditional French cooking has been turned on it's ear for the most part, but much of the foundations of the French style are still practiced here. In the mornings the bread venders can be seen lining the roads selling fresh baked baguettes, the hotels and restaurants here have the best selection of fine cheeses and wines in the region, the best cup of coffee outside of Paris is here, but the most important influence is in the subtlety of flavors, blending of ingredients, and in the variety of sauces that are created. It may be a stir fried noodle dish, but it will have chopped shallots, a delicate julienne of herbs and vegetables, and employ a reduction technique to concentrate the flavors.
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