Phood in Phan Thiet

Trip Start Nov 23, 2007
Trip End Dec 11, 2007

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Another natural disaster averted
Just found out that we missed experiencing an earthquake last night (that's the 2nd such major event we've managed to miss during this trip!).  We are in Phan Thiet today, about 3.5 hours drive from HCMC, at this hole-in-the-wall restaurant ordering a mini-feast for lunch.  Phan Thiet is famous as the major manufacturing center of nuoc mam (fish sauce), a staple of the Vietnamese diet.  Millions of liters of sauce are produced here each year, but its odorous smell has forced production to be moved to the neighboring area of Thanh Hai.  There is a fishing harbor in the center of town where colorful ghe (small boats) anchor that becomes a center of activity at night as restaurants along the riverfront serve the day's fresh catches.

Driving to Phan Thiet
This AM, we got up at 4am and left by 5am after checking out of our hotel.  We won't have the comforts of our current hotel wherever we stay tonight.  I was exhausted and napped during the 1st part of the drive.  I awoke when we stopped into a rest area with a full service gas station and bathrooms with slippers for all patrons which you must wear in order to enter the facilities.  Back on our way, we saw fields of rubber trees, thang long, rice paddies, and oxen carts.  On the outskirts of Phan Thiet, we stopped by Uncle Huy's soon-to-be-fiancee's family home (apparently, Grandpa was asking them formally for permission for Huy and Lien to be public about seeing each other - yes, VN is oldschool).  It was pure backward country VN replete with the poorest dentition and hygiene.  A small country home off the side of the road, it hid huge hospitality and heart.  Here, again was a powerful sense of family.  The patriarch of the family had just arrived the night before because Huy's girlfriend's sister is getting married on Saturday, and we are attending her reception on Sunday.  We had 2 food items during breakfast at their home that are famous in Phan Thiet--fish cakes and banh canh ca (thick rice noodle in a fish broth).  Beautiful fruit trees abounded which offered the only color on an otherwise drab canvas of simple poverty.  While guests and elders ate at the main table in the 'living room', the rest of the children (all adults in their 30's and 40's) ate squatting in the kitchen.  I had some really ripe, juicy and delectable Thanh Long - sooooo good (this fruit grows on a short tree that looks like a mix of cactus and tree.  The fruit starts as a pineapple-shaped fruit in a green rind.  As it matures it becomese a purplish red and finally it regains some green color)

In Phan Thiet
Afterwards, we headed for the heart of Phan Thiet, visiting the nieghborthood where Mom and G-parents lived for umpteen years before they moved when Mom went to college in Saigon (HCMC).  There, they saw that their neighborhood had changed dramatically since my grandparents' last visit in 2000.  Last time, the large plot of land was still as it was when my grandparents left and the main house and rental homes were relatively untouched.  However, now a whole conglomerate of homes and even a school were built on the site and the area was unrecognizable to my grandparents.  Surprisingly, some of their old neighbors from nearly 40 years prior were still in their former homes or living nearby.  Several chance meetings occurred and my grandparents and Mom were overwhelmed with emotion.  I had the sense that Grandpa did not want to remain there long and be continually reminded of the losses he suffered.  Apparently when they sold their homes and land before moving, their property sold for $3Mil VND, an astronomical figure at that time.  We went on a manhunt for one person in the area and after much time consulting with natives of the area, we found Mom's old friend from the Legion of Mary.

We met up with one of Aunt Thuan's friends who treated us to our lunchtime mini-feast.  We ate Ca Kho To (Fish in Stone Pot), Tom (Shrimp), Canh Chua that featured Ca Bop (Sour vegetable broth featuring a fish found only in Phan Thiet), and Calamari.  Wow everything was delectable.
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