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Tuesday, November 5: Day 197 – Saigon Culinary Arts Center

Khahn is our Avalon Cruise director. Our group consists of 22 guests from Canada, USA, England, New Zealand and Australia. He has been working with tour groups for 23 years and the last seven with Avalon. It is his first and only job. He loves what he does.

He was born in Saigon a few months before end of war. He lives six miles from the city center, and it is a 45 minute commute. He has a boy (12) and a girl (10).

Phi is our Vietnam local guide. He says that it is Phillip with no lip. He was born in the Mekong Delta in 1966. His family left in 1972 because of the war and moved to Saigon. He said that most people call it Saigon which is what he prefers, but for anything official, the city is referred to as Ho Chi Minh City.

Phi has a daughter (19) and a son (13). This makes him happy because it is a balance of yin and yang. His daughter will leave and live with her husband’s family, but when his son marries, his wife will come to live them. Again, a balance…and pressure for the children!!!

Phi is happy because his wife is a good cook. The women eat a big breakfast, big lunch, and little dinner for weight control so that is what the men eat!

He has a photo of his family, and many people can’t tell who is the wife and who is the daughter. This makes his wife very happy but his daughter very unhappy.

District 1 is the city center and is referred to as Saigon. There are many French buildings.

District 3 is elegant and residential with French-style villas. It is very expensive to live here. We had dinner at a French Vietnamese restaurant called Ly Club.

Christmas Day is celebrated by all but is not a public holiday. We are starting to see Christmas decorations in the stores.

We returned to a few points of interest in Saigon and learned additional information.

The post office was built by a young unknown man named Eiffel. He wasn’t very successful in Vietnam so he returned to Paris where he certainly made a name for himself.

On the front of the post office, there is a head of Mercury, the god of messengers. Makes sense! Also, these are original phone booths on the outside at least.

One day before the last day of the fall of Saigon, the city was in a panic. Americans were being evacuated by helicopter from the CIA Building in Operation: Frequent Wind. This was the largest helicopter evacuation in history.

Watch this short YouTube video about the last man out:

The French built a road to connect the Notre Dame Church with the Saigon River. It was called Catina Street. When the French were kicked out of the country, it was renamed Liberty Street. When the Communists took over, it was renamed Uprising Street. And it is now an elegant shopping area.

The central market began in 1911. Some of the stores are government controlled and the prices are fixed so there is no bargaining. The workers wear blue uniforms.

The first customer who purchases something sets the tone for the day. A quick, easy sell means a good day. A hard sell with lots of discussion means that it will be a hard day….so go early for a really good deal for the first customer. The Central Market’s hours are 8am-6pm. After 6pm the night markets begin setting up outside.


1) Vietnamese women are afraid of getting a suntan and will cover their faces. They look for lotions that say whitening. If that word is not present, it will not sell in the Vietnamese market.

2) Masks are worn to guard against air pollution and germs.

3) A mask doesn’t reveal your age. Many motorbike drivers are underage so they don’t want to get caught by the police.

Some women cover all of their skin including hands. Phi calls them Ninja women. Some women passengers ride side saddle. Woman drivers put on a motorbike apron for modesty and protection against flying objects. Every driver has a rain poncho which is needed daily.

Next we go to cooking school where we will learn to make Pho, the most popular Vietmanese noodle soup. It is gluten free.

If we earn a certificate, we are allowed to open a restaurant when we return home!! Rob was a finalist in the salad rolls making contest. He was the only male. He was the runner-up so if for any reason that the winner is not able to perform her duties of making salad rolls, Rob will need to step in. How proud! Now, how do we transport his origami crown for the next six months!

Here were the entries. You be the judge. Mine are in blue and Rob’s entries are in red.

For me, it was like making a lantern. I am all thumbs.

Our cooking instructor is named Dung which means beauty. The following are some tips:

Prior to cutting green onions, they are to be smashed.

Scrap the skin off of ginger with a spoon and then slice thin. Don’t use ginger on fish.

Smash or roll whole garlic with lots of pressure. Then put into a bowl with a lid and shake vigorously to remove the outer skin.

Put a whole onion, shallot and ginger on the heat to grill. Grill until the onion cries. Turnabout is fair play!

Pan fry spices. Big pieces first. The smallest will burn. Shake the spices around like Jiffy Pop. Move spices to the front and flip as high as possible…and catch as many as possible.

Don’t use olive oil. It doesn’t work well with Vietnamese food.

Fish sauce differs by country.

Put spices in a strainer and put in broth for 20 minutes before serving. Any longer and the broth will become bitter.

Blanch the beef bones first. Blood comes up from the bones. Clean in water then simmer not boil.

Simmer beef bone at least 6 hours but overnight is preferred. Then add salt, sugar and beef bouillion.

Herbs such as sword coriander and sweet basil should be broken into small pieces to release the flavor.

Salad vs Spring Roll

Salad rolls have cooked ingredients prior to rolling. Shrimp cut in half is placed red side down so that when rolled, the color shows through. The chive is the symbol of salad rolls. Use at least three or five.

Spring rolls have raw ingredients and then are cooked in a fryer. Sugar water, Pepsi, or beer add color when cooking.

Both are rolled tightly. Each one should be uniform. Use the marking on the rice paper as a guide.

Spring rolls can be frozen and deep fried. Halfway cook and then freeze. Deep fry prior to serving.

Here is Rob’s winning recipe for salad rolls:

When crossing the street, walk slowly, carefully, steadily…. and bravely. Don’t do anything unexpected.

When a man who ran a red light was stopped by the police, he was asked if he saw the red light. “Oh yes. I saw red light but I didn’t see you.” Ha!

There is so much traffic that sometimes walking allows one to get to the destination faster.

Keep your money and your honey with you. Take two pictures of your taxi – the front for license and the side for the company.

People sleep anywhere anytime. Hammocks are seen the most but taxi drivers are next with their doors open and feet on the dash. The oddest sleeping location seen was lying on the seat of a motorbike.

Just like motorbikes our local bus driver drove right up on the sidewalk to the front door of our hotel. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese do!!

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