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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Eating Around Vietnam

Vietnam did consist of other foods besides Pho and Banh Mi so I wanted to share a few more things with you. Anyone who knows me knows that mealtimes are my favorite time of day, not just because of eating, but because of spending time with people. This trip consisted of a lot of mealtime and people time. Even though I still wasn’t able to eat every meal (sickness came and went), it was still good spending time with people.

Some of the best meals we experienced were at my friend’s aunt’s business. She had a chef cooking for them along with the employees and it was always reliably good home-cooked food. One of those great fresh meals were spring rolls. Always a favorite of mine, growing up, especially when they’re freshly wrapped.

Spring Roll Spread

Here I am enjoying my first roll… or maybe 4th or 12th…

Me Eating Spring Roll

Another good meal we enjoyed here was an omelet-looking thing (sorry I can’t be more descriptive, no one spoke English), but it was good! You just took the omelet mix in the lettuce wrap and put fish sauce over it like everything else.

Omelet Thing

This next meal may have very possibly been the same day. The noodles and rice were basic but the pork here was really good. The eggs always double the food appeal for me.

Noodles and Rice

Pork

 

At least half of the meals we had in Vietnam involved some kind of hot pot or hot plate. And most of these tended to involve goat or some kind of good meat!

Meat hot plate

 

And since most of our meals involved so much food, this one involved the hot plate and the  hot pot. So above you see the meat mix (goat) and of course a ton of vegetables and then you can also wrap this up like a Spring Roll.

Veggie Plate

 

Wrap

 

And then the hot pot with a goat curry.

Hot Pot Goat

 

We each had individual bowls to eat the noodles and everything else. Below you see my bowl with what was probably the weirdest thing I ate while there… goat’s blood. It was pretty spongy and didn’t taste that weird but knowing it was blood made it weird.

goat's blood

 

And then to finish it off, more coffee! Or Nuoc Mia which we had whenever we got the opportunity. Nuoc Mia is a really good Vietnamese drink that is made from pressing sugar cane.

Nuoc Mia

 

And I know I’ve already shown a lot of pictures of Iced Coffee but this one is special. It’s special because it has chocolate in it! This was in a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City; I had never seen one like that yet so I definitely ordered that.

Iced Coffee with Chocolate

 

And if you’re worried about going to Vietnam and not being able to eat anything “normal,” don’t worry, you can get really good “normal” food there as well; like this rice and pork below!

Rice and Pork

Banh Mi and Seafood (mostly)

One of my most most most favorite things in Vietnam was the bread! I cannot express to you how excited I get remembering that bread… 🙂 I think this was one positive contribution the French made during their brutal occupation that lasted for awhile. So, it might be debatable if it was worth it to get the bread, but I won’t get into that now…

Bread

Banh Mi was actually the first food experience I had after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City. We got into the airport, met the family, piled up in the van and started our drive home. FYI, this is what the traffic was like.

Bike Traffic

There was this one Banh Mi place we frequented every time we went to the city. Here is what it looked like.

Banh Mi Place

And this is what my first (of many) sandwiches looked like!

Banh Mi

And we went from that to our first meal. We got into town and went to my friend’s aunt’s business. Most of the best food we had on the trip came from this place. She had a cook working for her that made some great food. We would just lay out some cardboard on the floor and all sit around in a circle. This was part of our first spread!

The First Spread

These two dishes were seafood heavy as you can see. A lot of the trip consisted of seafood. It became a little much after the first week but the for the first week, I was still enjoying it!

First meal IMG_9068The next morning, for breakfast, we had something I had never had before and quickly became a new favorite, Hu Tieu. It’s another breakfast food in Vietnam, like Pho. There was a place across the street from our house that sold the best kind. If you didn’t make it there by 11am, they would sell out.

Hu Tieu

Almost everything, including these soups, got dressed up with more vegetables and sauces after they were served. These pictures are what they looked like before I did all that though. The Hu Tieu was served with a smaller plate of meat, also really good.

Side of Meat

Another favorite breakfast item included the Banh Mi but when they would give it to you with a fried egg… really good. And to make that even better, you would get meat with it sometimes. I guess I didn’t get a direct picture of it but you can see it in the background here.

Breakfast Banh Mi

And what better to finish it all off then with coffee again!

Coffee Pre-Mix

Coffee

“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!