The Supermarket Chronicles VI: Scarves and Snacks

Yep- Vietnam strikes again.  We were touring a silk factory, watching women laboriously boil silkworm cocoons in large, metal tanks, then expertly thread the cocoons onto a spinning machine.  Doing so, the cocoons bob and spin like tops floating at the water’s surface as their silk quickly unravels onto the spool above.  What’s left is the brown, alien looking pupae, which are skimmed from the surface and set aside.  I asked Mr. Chien what happens to the pupae once the process is complete.  You know that feeling when you’re shutting a locked car door while looking at the car keys laying on the driver seat?  As my mouth was asking Mr. Chien the question, my brain was screaming to shut up.

“We eat them as a snack,”  Mr. Chien said.  Of course you do.

Quickly I changed the subject to the next stage of silk production, the weaving machines, but the jinx had already been placed.  On our way out of the factory, just as I started to feel safe, I encounter this at the door:

Not roasted peanuts

Not roasted peanuts

Damn you, Supermarket Chronicles!  I liked this series better when I wasn’t doing any eating.

(Actually, I ate a few.  Warm and salted with a cold beer, they wouldn’t have been half bad.)


The Mainland Trilogy 2: Vietnam

IMG_0991I’ll admit it.  There are a number of places I’ve wanted to see in Southeast Asia, and Vietnam has never been a top priority.  In this region of the world, touring Vietnam is currently very fashionable, and despite the historical significance of the country for me as an American and the positive feedback we’ve heard from friends who have visited, it has never been on my radar.  I think part of the reason for my indifference was I knew nothing about where to go or what to do, so when Sarah announced Vietnam was one of our destinations this trip, I had no idea what to expect. Continue reading

The Supermarket Chronicles V: Seeking a Smoother Cup of Coffee

Vietnam has supplied me with a lot of Supermarket Chronicle material, and this isn’t the last one.  You’ll forgive me when some of these chronicles happen outside of a supermarket- you get the idea.

During a tour you’ll hear about later, we stopped at a small, family-owned coffee plantation.  One of the processes the family has perfected is known in Indonesian as kopi luwak (I’m not sure of the Vietnamese name).  I have been intrigued by this “flavor” of coffee for awhile, but have hesitated to indulge since it’s difficult to be sure the coffee is genuine in Indonesia unless you actually go to the source.  For the price, you want to make sure its genuine.  Here on the family farm, I was buying the real deal.

It’s probably best to explain the process step by step:

  1. Get yourself a civet cat.
  2. Feed coffee berries (beans inside) to your newly acquired civet.
  3. Let the civet digest the berries and shit the beans out.
  4. Collect said shit and dry it in the sun.
  5. Wash and roast the dried beans, then brew into coffee.

Traditionally, the civet shit was collected on the grounds of the coffee plantation, which is morally preferred over the “civet in a small cage” method.  The theory goes that the digestive enzymes of the civet work to break down the bitterness of the beans.  The civet also only chooses the best beans to eat.  This combination produces apparently superb coffee.  I’m embarrassed to say that a cup of kopi luwak at the plantation was the equivalent of $10, but for the Supermarket Chronicles and my dedicated readers, it had to be done.

Now, I was brought up in a gourmet home, where my mother would apologise if she made us hamburgers for dinner, so if someone is selling gastronomic snake oil, I’ll call it snake oil.  This was, hands down, without a hesitation of a doubt, by far, for a fact, dead sure, unquestionably, the most knock-your-socks-off unbelievable cup of coffee I have ever tasted.

It had better be, because I just spent $10 to drink cat shit.

The Supermarket Chronicles IV: For What Ails You

There we were, in Hoi An, Vietnam, rummaging through one of the many local shops for a few toys to keep the kids preoccupied so we could continue to tour the amazing, ancient city.  Right between the bracelets Áine was trying on and the miniature tuk-tuk Cian was crashing through the rest of the knick-knacks, I come across this bottle, which the young lady, desperate to have us buy something, holds up:

Oh, how sweet.  What's in that bottle?

Oh, how sweet. What’s in the bottle?

Upon closer inspection, I see this:

Oh, my God!

Oh, my God!

Yes, submerged in the equivalent of Vietnamese vodka and surrounded by ginseng roots, that would be a young cobra holding the tail of a large, black scorpion in its mouth.  The label on the other side says it should be taken daily in small doses to “cure lumbago, rheumatism and sweaty limbs”.  Now, I don’t think I have lumbago because I don’t know what that is and I’m thankfully still just shy of the age for rheumatism, but sweaty limbs? Shit, I live 6º south of the equator! I have sweaty limbs daily!  Maybe a morning shot of scorpion/cobra juice is just what I need to stave off those chronic limb sweats I suddenly realised I suffered from.

Cian is playing with the tuk-tuk on the hotel bed now, and Áine looks in the mirror every five minutes to make sure she is simply divine wearing her new bracelet.

The bottle is still with the young lady.