No Place Like Home – Tucson

It has been a long time since my last post so I thought it only fitting to revive the blog with a post about my last trip home to Tucson. Also, speaking of home, great timing to mention that this is the same week we welcomed a new Abyad into the world, Justus Jeffrey Abyad. I am now an uncle for the 6th time and enjoying it. 🙂

Tucson ShotOne of my favorite food activities when staying with family is breakfast. When done Middle Eastern style, it will usually consist of a bunch of little dishes including a lot of cheese, bread, eggs, falafel, fruit, more cheese, and sometimes “ful” (an Arabic dish that is basically fava beans). And possibly my favorite cheese ever is Armenian string cheese. We grew up eating this constantly, also good toasted and melted on pita bread.

String CheeseHere is the ful, awesome with fresh tomato and onion.

FulJust to prep you, the food in this post will be really diverse but it is a typical showing of what is eaten when I go home. 🙂

Anytime I am home in Tucson, a large chunk of my time is spent with my Vietnamese family. This last trip, I got a chance to hang out with one my best friends growing up (Trung), and his girlfriend Paulina. Paulina very lovingly made us some homemade Pho which was awesome. I wanted to take a picture of them but they weren’t being so cooperative so I’ll just have to find one of Trung in Vietnam, drinking from a cup with his name!Trung and CoffeeHere are the Pho and condiments… done the right way with fresh meat and ingredients.

IMG_6768 PhoFortunately this trip was also the week of Thanksgiving so we spent Thanksgiving at my Uncle and Aunt’s house in Phoenix allowing for another Middle Eastern Thanksgiving experience which I can share with you here…

The TableAnd just to get closer…

BOOM tabouleh…

TabboulehBOOM green bean casserole…

green beansBOOM sweet potato casserole…

sweet potato casseroleBOOM kibbeh…

kibbehand finally grapeleaves…

grapeleavesAnd so you can have a view of the plate…

PlateSo Happy Thanksgiving a little late. And this last segment of going home was our visit to Old Tucson Studios, which every child in Tucson loves. It is an actual film studio that has been filming since 1939, filming movies like Tombstone and The Three Amigos!

Old TucsonCheck out the excitement on this child (Bethany); the excitement I also shared when driving/riding in these cars…

bethan in old tucsonFood wise, we had a pretty great experience here as well. There was an open grill with lots of good stuff including the infamous Sonoran Hot Dog which I love and can only get, legitimately, in Tucson.

Sonoran Dog SignSonoran DogWith some nachos…

NachosHere are some grill shots…

Flame broiled IMG_6916Cooked CornSo there’s a rundown if what just 3 days may look like in Tucson, always a good food experience. 🙂 How can you turn this down?

Tucson

 

 

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“Pho Real”

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted anything. If you didn’t know, I was in Vietnam and Singapore! I actually had a little countdown going on the side of the blog until I arrived in “Food Paradise,” aka Vietnam. Well I did arrive and it was fabulous. However I am now back in the US, freezing to death. I don’t think there’s an emoticon to express that so I’m moving on.

And what to say about the trip except that it was very very special, such a good trip and I miss it immensely already. More than I thought I would actually. I got to go with my Vietnamese family that I grew up with and meet a whole bunch of new family and friends. Then to top it off, I got to spend time with one of my best friends in Singapore. Good times.

Here I am with the fam:

Viet Fam

I have yet to post any pictures but I wanted to put up a new post as soon as I could so I thought, what better to talk about first then Pho?? The title is my lame attempt to incorporate the correct pronunciation of Pho into an English phrase so for those of you who don’t get it, it is supposed to be like, “Fo’ Real??” I just realized that it could still be pronounced the wrong way but nevermind that… because it was also supposed to be a pun for experiencing “real” Pho! Anyway…

I thought I’d give you a few pictures of the different types of Pho I had! Pho is my favorite Vietnamese food and I honestly don’t think I’ve had it as good as my Vietnamese mom made it growing up… but here is what I did have!

So the first night there we had eaten several times already but I couldn’t go to sleep without having some Pho so we went to a place across the street to have some before going to bed. This is still when my appetite was acting normally…

My First Pho

And there it is… taken with my phone camera. I was happy to be there, so we ordered two bowls each! How much for all three of us ordering two bowls? Hmm, like $5… now that’s the life.

So we flew into Ho Chi Minh City and drove south for a couple hours to Go Cong, that is where the family lives. Most of our time was spent there. We did get to see a couple other cities, Da Lat, and Nha Trang, all really beautiful, and food experiences in all of them. But before we get to those, here are some more Pho shots!

Pho

Go Cong is a small town so everything was so close and besides the first night of Pho, we tended to go to the same Pho place each time we had Pho, whether it be for breakfast (it’s a breakfast food in Vietnam) or for dinner. Here was the place.

Our Pho PlaceIf you look closely, you can see our table on the left there with Isaiah, Trung and Trung’s cousin Gi. That was our crew for most of the trip. Trung is displaying the very stereotypical Asian gang sign.

Anytime I stepped outside the house in this town, people were staring at me. I was the ONLY white person in town and remained to be the only white person. I was one of two anomalies in town: me (the white person) and the one other “not-so-skinny” Vietnamese person but no one stared at her, probably used to it. And since I cannot currently show you the face in which people used to look at me, I can only describe the stares. Imagine if you saw a deformed celebrity. Like Justin Timberlake but with his face melting off or something. That was the way people seemed to look at me; maybe you’ll catch a picture showing one of the faces.

Pho

So yes, this was still Pho. This place we went to also sold Bun Bo Hue, another great Vietnamese noodle soup, but it has more of an orangey, spicier broth. Trung and I were convinced they used the same pot or something because their Pho always looked “tainted,” or we thought so. It was still good.

Ho Chi Minh Pho

Here was another important sighting of Pho. We went to Ho Chi Minh City a few times over the course of the trip and on the way we always stopped at this same little stall to get Pho, I think the driver and family were familiar with the owners. What is sad is that the first time we went, I was sick and couldn’t eat any but I made up for it when we went again later. I think this was our decided favorite Pho spot.

HCM Pho

Our regular schedule while there involved sleeping late, eating, getting coffee, napping and then spending time with family and eating a lot more. We had a favorite coffee shop as well, we think it is called Go Cong Cafe… They always serve some tea, we’d order some coffee and maybe some fruit smoothies. The coffee was incredible as always, I love it sweet and the smoothies were really really good. Everything tastes so real and fresh. I even got to try some new Vietnamese fruits, one of them in smoothie form.

Coffee Shot

So this is while the coffee is still dripping over the condensed milk. You then stir it up and pour it over the ice. And on the left is the tea. There were usually two different types of tea, a jasmine tea (I preferred) and another one, that seemed root-y, maybe from sugar cane or something… After you finish the coffee, you can just pour the tea they give you over the remaining ice, it’s good. And they are continually adding ice since it melts so fast.

FYI guys, if you take a girl on a coffee date, you are supposed to make her coffee, as in stir it up and pour it! So don’t slack, she’ll think it’s disrespectful. (Why you so respect me???!?!) Inside joke

Here were our two favorite smoothies: Strawberry and Mang Cau,the new fruit I was talking about which I tried in smoothie and normal form.

Smoothies

And since our days usually involved a lot of food and family, here is a family shot. This was the day of the two grandmas birthdays. Almost everyone is in this picture and I’m taking it.

The Fam

I think that is it for now but there will be more to come with more food!

Waking Up at the Waldorf Astoria

At 4am! That is the time the fire alarm decided to go off in the Waldorf. At least it wasn’t an annoying sounding alarm, just a loud-soft-sounding beep; so even the fire alarm was upper-class. But it did give me the chance to get up and walk around a bit. I was in search of some tylenol but thought all the stores were closed because of the approaching Hurricane. I was wrong, the Hurricane wasn’t even close yet. It was still super calm outside and not too cold so I strolled down Lexington Ave to the closest Duane Reade which was still open and was treated to a nice night-time view of the Chrysler Building.

For those of you that didn’t already know, the whole reason I went to New York was to use a certificate I had for a free night at any Hilton Hotel worldwide. Hilton also happens to own Waldorf Astoria hotels so what better one to go to then the one in New York. I won this certificate via a twitter mini-scavenger hunt thanks to a friend at work that is in the know…

Anyway, the Waldorf was pretty sweet. It had what was probably the nicest bed I have ever slept in and you just feel generally taken care of there. Here are some shots around the hotel:

The large clock in the lobby:

So fun fact: Did you know that Red Velvet Cake was first made (invented) at the Waldorf Astoria in New York? I just found this out a couple weeks before my trip and was very determined to eat some at the hotel. Because ordering it via room service would have cost me around $25, I decided to try and get some to-go on our way out of the hotel. Mind you, this is the Monday of Hurricane Sandy coming ashore so the restaurants were a little off schedule. They only had a full buffet down stairs and I asked the hostess if I could get some cake to go. She was busy but made it happen and when I offered to pay, she just said it’s ok, go ahead and take it. Another great New Yorker! I just took this as another instance of the favor of God! So much provision, even with cake! haha. So here it is…

Basically, after leaving the Waldorf, we were a little more in survival mode. We found another hotel, the Da Vinci. And while it wasn’t too crazy outside, we walked around and I tried to get into a couple food places. We did make it to a Vietnamese place, called Saigon 48, close to Times Square. I was craving some kind of noodle dish, and I could eat Vietnamese food (especially Pho) every day so there we went.

A great meal on a rainy day… And of course we had to get the large Pho.

It was pretty good, I’ve definitely had better Vietnamese. I didn’t like the noodles they used, I prefer the smaller ones. The service at this place was great though and they made a good Iced Coffee!

After this, we did manage to see a little more of the city…

Notice the Naked Cowboy still performing, the day of the Hurricane! We then went back to the hotel after the winds picked up and a frantic message from Meghan alerting me that a crane had just collapsed a block from our hotel (see below). We thought that was a good time to get inside.

The next day, our bus was cancelled again so we decided to rent a car and drive back to DC in the afternoon. Luckily for me, this did give me some time to experience a couple more good food items. You can’t go to New York and not get a Bagel, so we stopped in at Bagel and Bean. I saw an enticing sign for Bagels with Salmon and Cream Cheese (with chives!) so I went for that! But they only had Blueberry Bagels left… alright, still good!

And I saw that another place had opened for the day, Pie Face. Apparently it is from Australia, and the whole staff was actually Australian. They provided me a very tasty mini-cheesecake.

And with that, we walked a couple more miles, picked up the car and headed back to DC. New York is always fun and I hope I can go back soon for some more food exploration! Please feel free to provide any NYC food recommendations as well!

Here was our moving shot from Jersey as we were driving away… Goodbye New York!