Banh Xeo and Coffee Etiquette - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

December 16, 2016

Banh Xeo and Coffee Etiquette

La Gi to Ven Bien, Ho Tram Beach

Dear little friends,

Our glimpse of La Gi’s culinary choices the night before had us thinking maybe we’d just move along in the morning. Our drinking buddy had said there would be pho and noodles along the same road but we didn’t see any which didn’t surprise us much. We crossed a bridge and looked at the huge fleet of fishing boats, a haze of blue and green, the most beautiful intense blue. Then we had to take a back road to hook up with QL55.

Fishing boats in La Gi.
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Time to dry a little rice.
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Bagging up rice.
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More rice drying.
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If only we could take back roads each and every day. You have the loveliest scenery, less traffic, friendly and surprised locals, and what we got today, an incredible breakfast. Along the road was a coffee stand and next to the coffee stand there was a woman seated next to a charcoal fire making banh xeo, the tiny egg batter omelets folded over sprouts and shrimp and other goodies, that you sometimes eat wrapped up in a rice skin, or sometimes just eat by themselves with a dipping sauce and fresh lettuce and herbs.

Our Banh Xeo breakfast.
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The Banh Xeo cook.
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We were a little confused about the routine but I watched somebody else eat their banh xeo the proper way and figured it out. The banh xeo maker had a beautiful, skillful routine of managing multiple tiny skillets at once and still maintaining conversation and making change for her many take-away customers. The coffee lady, who may or may not have been her daughter, had taken our coffee order but it was taking a long time to come to us until we realized that coffee is not to be drunk at the SAME TIME as eating, who knew? She brought it right over when we looked around for it but you could tell it was a breach of her coffee etiquette.

It was a jolly group at the coffee/banh xeo area, punctuated by welding sounds from the truck repair shop and a visit from a traveling salesman who unloaded interesting things from his motorcycle, such as a solar powered light and a cordless rice cooker. We have noticed very few imports in Vietnam. Yes, you can find Pepsi and 7up and Ovaltine in the bodegas, but outside of Hanoi and Saigon there are no chain restaurants or clothing stores, no American clothing except poorly done knockoffs, no Chinese buckets or soap or plastic furniture. Everything seems to be made in Vietnam, for better or worse. These new products he was selling were pretty cool.

A fancy new rice cooker.
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When the welding changed to angle grinding we got up and left. We were hoping QL55 would be a pleasant road but it had no shoulder and enough traffic to keep us a little tense. I know my little helmet mirror makes me look like a pirate but it saves my life every day. We were happy to get off of it again and eat at a Com Binh Dan and then join a smaller road that closely follows the ocean with some woodsy areas too. Bruce found a runaway conical hat that he tried on over his helmet because he needs all the protection he can get.

Our Com Binh Dan selections.
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Back on the road after lunch.
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Bruce tries one of these on for size.
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Then the road opened up and got a little desolate in spots with sand on both sides of the road but there were also many resorts that we did not bother enquiring at. We had learned our lesson. The Ho Tram beach area is famous and expensive, even the camping areas were out of our price range.

Big skies and big seas.
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The biggest resort area of all is a casino that can only be used by foreigners, we are told, since Vietnamese are not allowed to gamble. Tell that to the lottery ticket sellers who are haunting us every single time we stop in a restaurant or coffee shop. They are almost always kind of down and out folks. I’ve never witnessed anybody buying a ticket from any of them.

Since we were skipping the resorts and had to stay in fusty La Gi the night before I had scouted out a locals-mostly beach area where there were a few guesthouses. It made for an early stop, but again, even though it was a Friday night and all the seafood joints were putting out hundreds of plastic chairs and tables, the anticipated crowds were simply not showing up. It was kind of depressing, and because business was down prices were up so we just had overpriced fried rice and watched a herd of cows walk down between the restaurants and guesthouses.

Ho Tram beach restaurants.
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A wide array of choices for the grill.
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Momentarily tempted by the siren call of a Walls freezer.
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An enormous pile of seafood fried rice.
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The beach area was full of fishing boats but a few Vietnamese city guys were frolicking in the surf. The biggest restaurant had been built right on the water, and the beach had eroded so much that enormous waves splashed against the concrete foundation and over the plexiglass walls they had had to put up. There are no climate change deniers in Vietnam. Things are changing there.

We now had to decide whether we would be going into Ho Chi Minh City or not. Saigon’s reach is large and it’s difficult to skirt because of all the Mekong Delta waterways. I had been puzzling over maps for days wondering if we should just take a bus into the city. But we were hearing such dismaying reports about smog and traffic that it was quickly losing any appeal. We had finally escaped the rain, and spending our days in an enormous city seemed like a waste of good weather. We went to bed early and to sleep on our decision, and nearby doors started slamming. The weekend tourists had finally arrived.

Lounge chairs at Ho Tram beach.
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Dad gets a little help with his boat maintenance.
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A proper denouement to our dinner out.
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Today's ride: 32 miles (51 km)
Total: 1,003 miles (1,614 km)

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