Thursday, March 20, 2008

culturedPRIMITIVE/style: Souvenirs of Indochine.

And so, with more than a little regret, we left Vietnam. We really had an awesome time in Hanoi- it's such an amazing city, with incredible food, intriguing architecture, and an engagingly artistic atmosphere. To console ourselves, we took a few things with us from Vietnam. Here are a few of the more interesting items that we brought back with us.

1. Highland Coffee and a Vietnamese Drip. The memory of Vietnam I most wanted to retain was of the delicious coffee. So the first essential souvenir we tracked down were the small metal Vietnamese drips. Later, we sought out the best coffee beans. After sampling several blends at an outlet in the Old Quarter, we chose the Highlands coffee (not connected to the same-named coffee chain). It had a particularly rich flavor, with strong hints of chocolate.
2. Hmong Boy bookmark. The beautifully sewn clothing worn by the Hmong appear in countless postcards and paintings in Northern Vietnam. For some reason, however, these images tend to focus only on the women. Despite being largely ignored, Hmong men actually wear a very intriguing outfit- boots, black shorts, a long jacket, and cap. So when we finally found a paper bookmark featuring one of the Hmong men, we had to get it.
3. Cooking chopsticks. At the end of our cooking course at Hidden Hanoi, Bordeaux and I were each given a set of these extra-long wooden chopsticks, which are perfect for turning spring-rolls in a frying pan.
4. Green pea cakes. It's hard to say what's so addictive about these little green pea cakes. Certainly it's not the chalky texture, or the vague flavor of dry peanut butter. Perhaps its simply the wonderfully unhip graphics on the box.
5. Cinnamon wood box. Our second hotel in Hanoi was located right next door to Marena Hanoi, a wonderful little homewares store that specialized in chic ceramics and elegant lacquerware. There, we found this square box of cinnamon wood, which gives off a deliciously spicy scent. It is currently at use in our kitchen, imbuing the coffee stored within with a cinnamon aroma.
6. Rubber stamps. On our last night in Hanoi, Bordeaux and I encountered an alley in the old quarter that specialized in rubber stamps. We couldn't help but pick up a few of the more intriguing ones, which had some iconic Vietnamese images: tigers, lotus ponds, and hooded cobras among them.
7. Hmong blanket. Leaving our hotel in Sapa, we were constantly hounded by Hmong women selling beautiful hand-sewn blankets. Though they came in many colors, from rust to electric green, the ones that most caught my eye were the blankets in deep shades of indigo. I finally found the perfect one, sold by a woman in thick-eyeglasses.
8. Golden Buddha. In the candy markets of the Old Quarter, Bordeaux and I encountered boxes and boxes loaded with sweets, wrapped candies, and boxes of green bean cakes. We also found containers overfilled with tiny gold Buddhas. We purchased one to investigate, and found that it was filled with an unusual gummy treat.

Editor's Note: Though this ends my sequential entries on Vietnam, I have much more to write about Hanoi. Look out for essays on Vietnamese coffee and the Colors of Hanoi in the near future.


Prêt à Voyager said...

I love how you're sharing your souvenirs and how much they say about the place. The rubber stamps are the best!


Yoli said...

Love your goodies! Great picks.