2014 in review

According to WordPress stats, my blog was viewed approximately 13,000 times in 2014. In the big wide world of food blogging this is peanuts, but still, I’m amazed that people are interested enough to read my thoughts. If you’re reading my final post for 2014, then you are most likely one of my regular blog readers, so I’d just like to say thank you 🙂

My most popular blog of 2014 was Homemade Milo ice cream. I’m not at all surpirsed. Milo and ice cream in a title will always be a winner. This was also my most popular post in 2013 so maybe I should just concentrate my efforts on ice cream posts!

DSC00178When I reflect back on 2014 I realise how lucky I am to have had so many wonderful food experiences. Travelling to Vietnam and Cambodia was a highlight but I also had many memorable food experiences closer to home. Travelling to Adelaide for Tasting Australia, meeting Maggie Beer and developing new friendships with fellow food bloggers was inspiring. Two of my favourite meals in Brisbane this year were at Shouk cafe in Paddington and Catbird Seat Bistro in East Brisbane. If you haven’t already been, add these to your list for 2015.

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In July 2014, I challenged myself to make a Croquembouche. It was a tad lop-sided but I was so proud of my efforts. It tasted great and my friends loved it so despite a few burnt fingers and a little stress, it was worth it.

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2015 will see Al and I embark on the biggest project of our relationship. The birth of a coffee roastery/cafe in Logan City. It’s already been in the planning for eight months but short of winning gold lotto this weekend, it may take us a few more months to sort out the logistics of how we are going to make this happen without having to sell everything we own. Despite the stress of making this happen, we remain optimistic and I cannot wait to let you all know the details.

Extraction_BrownFinally, what is the last thing I baked in 2014?

A chocolate chip, sour cream orange cake and healthy date, dark chocolate and cashew nuts balls. I’m taking these sweet treats to a NYE gathering.

IMG_2596However you enjoy the final night of 2014, stay safe and enjoy some good food with your family and friends.

Much love, Heather x

 

Pho and egg coffee in Hanoi

After having chosen a suitable pillow from the extensive pillow menu at the Westlake Intercontinental, I was tucked up in bed, researching best food experiences in the Hanoi Old Quarter. I searched blog after blog and two names kept popping up, No 49 Bat Dan Street, for the best pho and Cafe Pho Co for raw egg coffee.

“Al, we’re having pho for breakfast followed by raw egg coffee”.

“Ummmm, ok”

I had read that 49 Bat Dan Street is so popular with the locals, it often sells out by 11am, so bright and early we were in a taxi and on our way.

Bat Dan Street is the street to go to for pho (ha, what a funny sentence). Pho bo (beef meatballs), pho tai (beef fillet) or pho ga (chicken) is pretty much sold in every eating house in this street so I’m pretty sure they would all be good, but I specifically wanted to try No 49.

It was busy when we arrived but we quickly ordered the most expensive pho on the three item menu (approx $2.50 AUD per serve). Chef had an efficient system going so we waited for no more than a minute before being presented with steaming hot bowls of broth, beef and noddles. We found two seats at a little wooden table in the back corner and settled down to enjoy the reward.

The pho was fragrant and full of flavour. The meat tender, the noodles silky. You could taste a depth of flavour that I’d found to be missing in many of the other pho dishes I’d tried. Hearty and satisfying, I understand why it’s a favourite breakfast dish and why number 49 is so popular. A few days later, we walked past at midday and the shop was closed. They were prepping the master broth for the next day’s serve.

DSC00937Raw egg coffee and coffee with yoghurt, certainly not my first choices, but I was so intrigued I had to search out Cafe Pho Co in Hang Gai Street. You’d never find this place if you weren’t specifically looking. It would be so easy to walk straight past but it’s a hidden gem.

You enter through a long dark hallway into a flora-filled courtyard where you are greeted by a waitress and given a menu (drinks only). You order and then make your way up the stairs, many stairs, including a spiral staircase, where you arrive at an outdoor terrace overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake. I suspect one of the best views in Hanoi.

Raw egg coffee (ca phe trung) is extraordinary, kinda like tiramisu in a glass. We opted for cold but apparently it’s also great hot.

Yoghurt coffee (ca phe sua chua) is equally delicious, a sweet but tangy combination of coffee, plain yoghurt and chocolate drinking powder (the menu said milo) but it definitely wasn’t milo.

We didn’t find Cafe Pho Co until our last full day in Hanoi otherwise we would have visited several times to try all of the hot and cold options.

Still feeling peckish, buy some of these fresh donut pastries from one of the many street vendors and go sit on a bench at Hoan Kiem Lake to people watch. Chewy, crispy, sweet, not so sweet, they’ll hit the spot.

Amazing pho: No 49, Bat Dan Street, Hanoi

Not your usual cup of coffee: Cafe Pho Co, 11P Hang Gai Street, Hanoi

Magical Halong Bay, Vietnam

DSC01166Four hours sitting in a mini-bus, on a bumpy road, while the driver played chicken with the on-coming buses and trucks is not my idea of fun. I was really hoping this eye-brow-raising drive would be forgotten once we were settled on our boat enjoying Halong Bay.

Sure enough, it was totally worth it!

Our home for the next two nights was Dragon’s Pearl, a well-maintained wooden junk with capacity for 20 people. Run by IndoChina Junk, the Dragon’s Pearl actually sails through the very busy Halong Bay and takes you to the equally beautiful, but much quieter Bai Tu Long Bay. Definitely choose this option if you prefer to see more scenery and less boats.

The smaller boat, pictured below, took us out to the big junk. IndoChina Junk pride themselves on guest safety, so every time we used this little boat (several times during the trip,) we were instructed to wear safety vests.

DSC01119DSC01125Once on board and while meeting the captain and crew we were served a hot glass of pineapple juice with a hot towel. It was a cool day so this was a nice touch. Our room was clean and more spacious than I had anticipated. The large window meant you could lay in bed in the morning and soak up the magic of the bay.

You won’t go hungry on the Dragon’s Pearl. Our first lunch consisted of eight different dishes shared among four people. Red bean and lotus seed soup (delicious), clams in pineapple sauce, deep-fried whole prawns, deep-fried minced oyster with herbs, steamed fish, stir-fried veggies with garlic, veggie salad with carrot sauce and fresh fruit. The dining room has communal tables which was a really nice way to meet the other passengers.

After breakfast the following morning, we braved the cool weather and took the option of  kayaking to experience the real majesty of the limestone cliffs and caves up close.

The highlight of the trip was evening dinner in Thien Canh Son cave. It’s a fairly steep walk up-hill (approx 10 minutes). By single-file you carefully climb the steps until you reach the cave entrance. What greeted us was a cavernous space, with a path softly lit by tea-lights and the crew of the boat welcoming us with smiles and hand-claps. It was magical, memorable and very romantic. An evening of six courses of beautifully prepared food, intricate fruit and vegetable carvings, ending with the crew singing us traditional folk songs.

The following morning, after breakfast, we visited Vung Vieng fishing village where we boarded a small rustic row-boat for a tour of the floating village, passing through the floating school, fish and oyster farms. The village community seem to have embraced tourism, incorporating it into their daily lives on the water.

Before arriving back at port in Halong Bay, we enjoyed another lazy lunch, cocktail in hand, on the sunny top-deck, taking in views of the cliffs and jade green water. Finally, we were transported by luxury van (seating six) to Yen Duc village in Dong Trieu province to enjoy a traditional water puppet show before being dropped off at our hotel in Hanoi.

Halong Bay is crowded with tourist companies and boat operators, from budget to luxury cruises, so it really pays to do your research to ensure you get value for money. IndoChina Junk is at the top-end budget-wise, but I think, extremely good value for money. It’s obvious this company cares about guest comfort and safety.

All of the crew were friendly and fun, but special mention must go to the youngest crew member, Harry, who entertained us nightly with his magic tricks.

IMG_2242China has The Great Wall, Cambodia has Angkor Watt and Vietnam has Halong Bay. If you travel to Hanoi, make the effort, it’s a ‘must do’ destination. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Photos just don’t fully capture the magic of this natural wonder.

Mia Resort, Nha Trang, Vietnam

After the buzz, bike horns and craziness of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Al and I were looking forward to putting our feet up to enjoy the calm luxury of Mia Resort.

DSC01618The website promises Mia to be the ‘perfect place to find peace, relaxation, and comfort’. It does all that and more! It exceeded all of our expectations in quality and service and provided us with six days to totally unwind, de-stress and prepare for the next leg of our journey.

On arrival you are led to the Mojito bar to enjoy a cold towel, welcome drink and sweet treat of creamy panacotta. The view is spectacular, the couches are comfortable and I would have been happy to stay there for the afternoon but I was also eager to see our ‘Clifftop Villa’.

Mia has 50 rooms divided into condos, villas and suites. Some have private splash pools while others have gardens but they all have views of the ocean. Click here for a virtual tour of a garden villa.

We were driven by golf buggy to our villa which was perched on the clifftop, approximately 150 metres from Mojitos bar, gift shop and reception area. The villas are beautifully appointed, spacious and very private. When you slide open the bi-fold doors, the view takes your breath away.

The main pool area and Sandals Restaurant is located at the bottom of the cliff. If you want the exercise you can walk up and down the 155 step staircase or you can call reception to send a buggy to collect you. Of course, if you are staying in a garden or beach villa, then it’s an easy walk to this area. We actually didn’t mind the walk but we also took advantage of the buggy on many occasions, especially after a few cocktails!

Accommodation costs include breakfast which consists of a full buffet, both Vietnamese and western food. You can also choose items from a menu for made-to-order food like French toast, eggs Benedict or Banh mi. Of all the accommodation we visited while in Vietnam, Mia had the best breakfast. If you don’t feel you can drag yourself away from bed and the amazing view, then you can also order a room service breakfast at no extra charge which comes presented in a bento box.

Sandals also has a daytime menu, just in case you didn’t have enough for breakfast and each evening you can choose from a full a la carte menu or a themed buffet. On our first evening we enjoyed the Italian buffet where you could roll your own pizza dough and add toppings to suit your taste. The food on this night was sensational, probably the best Napolitana sauce on lamb shank ravioli I’ve ever tasted. It was so good, I had seconds!

Mia has a shuttle bus three times a day that will take you into Nha Trang (approx 20 minutes). You could certainly do this if you wanted to eat out, but to be honest, once we were settled at Mia, we really didn’t want to leave. Here are just some of the food highlights.

Mia is very proud of Xanh Spa, a luxurious space to enjoy massages, facials and other treatments. The staff are professional and friendly and the whole experience on both of our visits was very enjoyable. As part of your accommodation package you receive two free 15 minute facials.

Mia, located halfway between Cam Ranh airport and Nha Trang is a hidden jewel. It’s not flashy and loud but under-stated and relaxed, blending beautifully into the surrounding landscape.

DSC01634Mia is a special place made even more memorable by the warm and friendly staff who really care about their guests. They are happy to chat and share stories with you and they’ll go out of their way to ensure you feel relaxed and happy.

Mia was the perfect way to recharge our batteries before traveling onto Cambodia. It’s certainly a place we’d be keen to return to for heavenly rest and relaxation.

www.mianhatrang.com

This is not a sponsored article. For the Love of Food paid for all expenses.