It’s back!

Hello friends! After a (very) long hiatus, I have decided to bring back my blog! Though I’m no longer living outside the United States (:/ ), I still have my fair share of adventures in both the U.S. and abroad, though mostly in the U.S at this time. My newly revived blog will likely feature a lot of hiking, it being one of my favorite pastimes and all, but I have plenty of fun non-hiking moments to share with you all as well, especially food related ones. Plus, after such a long hiatus, I still have so many past experiences that I have yet to blog about!

In my still newish (though not really, it just seems that way), non-expat life, I reside in Denver, Colorado . I’m based out of El Paso, Texas for the summer though, so expect a few semi-abroad Juarez related posts!😉

For my first post back, I’d like to introduce you all one of my newly found favorite foods (or  I guess condiments?) – chamoy. For those of you who are already aware of this deliciousness, congrats!

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Jamaica (hibiscus flower) flavored chamoy

Chamoy is a condiment hailing from Mexico and is an amazing concoction of fruit, chili, and lime. It’s sweet and fruity, but not overwhelmingly so, and it’s a bit sour, a bit salty, and has an every so slight hint of chile spiciness to finish it off. There are so many flavors going on that your taste buds don’t really know where to begin. So far I’ve mostly seen it drizzled over fruit, but I’ve also had it in popsicle and candy form!

My first introduction to chamoy is also by far my favorite way to eat it-drizzled over frutas locas. Frutas locas consists of a hollowed out fruit, that is then stuffed with pieces of different kinds of fruit, maybe has peanuts in it, maybe some sour gummy candy straws that I don’t know the name of, a chamoy straw, which is covered in tamarind paste and dipped in chili powder, and of course chamoy on top! Yummmmm.

The first one I tried was a frutas locas de piña (pineapple) that I got it at a baseball game. (El Paso has superior baseball stadium food). The one above is de sandia (watermelon) and was brought to a work party (El Paso also has superior work parties apparently-unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of all the other amazing food). I will be sad to go back to Denver where these aren’t a thing. Or at least not that I know of.

Anyway, that’s chamoy! If you ever see it somewhere I highly recommend checking it out. You will not be disappointed! And if you are, well, that’s a bummer.

Bye for now friends! I will be regularly updating my blog now so keep your eyes out for the next one!

-Ali

Happy New Year!

How about a quick 2013 post with my standard promise to post more in the new year?

2013 was a busy year for me. I moved three times, started a new job, started learning a new language, and did a fair amount of studying. Moving to Vietnam was definitely the biggest event that happened, but graduate school applications were a close second. I am SO close to being done with them and I cannot wait! More posts after I turn those in!😉

Anyway, here are a few highlights from the past year that I’d like to share:

An early Hanoi picture of Hoan Kiem Lake. My first apartment was very near here.

I learned to drive a motorbike!

I met too many of these. Ick!

I ate a lot of fun new foods! (Black sesame pudding maybe?)

I celebrated a new holiday, Tet, the lunar new year celebration in Vietnam. Here I am visiting the temple with Hien and her family.

Perhaps one of the more challenging experiences this year was teaching public school classes of 50 + kids. I’m not sure I will ever really get used to it.

Max and his family came to Vietnam. This is from a cooking class in Hoi An. I’ll make an actual post about this soon. It was so much fun!

Trekking in Cambodia with Max.

I attended (and was in) the wedding of one of my best friends. Congrats Hien and Duy!

I made a quick trip to Bangkok by myself. I could have sworn I made a post about this already. I’ll make one soon!

Quick trip to Austria. Hiking in the Alps.

Thanksgiving in Hanoi.

A new favorite winter food. Fried potatoes, fried corn, and fried bananas! YUM!

There were so many things that happened in 2013 that I did not capture on film or don’t have on my computer, including my trip to the States, but I think you get the idea. All in all it was a great year! Here’s to the many new adventures and friends I hope 2014 will bring. Happy New Year!

Summer in Vietnam: My New Favorite Drink

I have discovered a new favorite-sugarcane juice! Small stalls began appearing around the city sometime in April, and while I first thought the idea of sugarcane juice sounded a bit odd, I decided to go for it while visiting Ho Chi Minh City and I’m glad I did! It’s sweet, but not too sweet, with a bit of added lime and ice and very refreshing. Another fun thing about this drink is the way it’s made, like fresh squeezed orange juice, but with a huge piece of sugar cane instead, which is rather entertaining to watch.

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I wish I had a better picture of this, but the sugarcane is pressed through this contraption that’s cranked by hand. The sugarcane is pushed through several times until all the juice is squeezed out and it’s completely flattened. 

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Finished product! Yummmm.

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Or get it to go. If you’re lucky you’ll get a fun Hello Kitty lid! ;) 

2 week trip through Vietnam-Danang

A short while ago (okay, maybe a longer while ago…) I took a 2 week trip through Vietnam with my boyfriend. I had a blast and it was great to see and experience parts of Vietnam other than Hanoi, though I think the city still holds its place as my favorite. A close second though turned out to be Danang. I only managed to catch a quick glimpse of the city, but it was a great one. Danang has beautiful beaches, some that are almost completely deserted beaches and then less than a kilometer down, have more people crowded onto a beach than I’ve ever seen! (And I’ve seen a lot of beaches.) All along the beaches huge resorts are being built, which saddens me a bit. We stayed in a smaller hotel that was within walking distance from the beach. I’m not sure why this can’t just be good enough sometimes, but that’s probably best left for another post.

There are way more people in this crowd than the picture lets on. Check out all the people in the water. There are so many that they almost look like a solid line. Look at all that empty beach! Spread out!

The bridges in Danang are very unique, my favorite being a bridge that’s shaped like a dragon. The city has a nice blend of “modern” and “traditional” (I put these in quotes as I find the words rather subjective.), without overdoing either.

(Dead camera battery=subpar pictures from my iPhone 3)

One of our (not so) favorite, but memorable experiences involved durian ice cream from a small, sidewalk ice cream stand. I ordered it by accident due to my poor Vietnamese skills, picking chocolate and what I thought was vanilla. Max instantly began to complain that there was something wrong with his vanilla ice cream that tasted like “motor oil”. Since it had come from an old freezer and was literally cut off a giant block of what seemed like equally old ice cream, I just assumed that it just wasn’t very good, or had possibly started to go bad. I finally took a bite and he was right, but to me it tasted more like gym socks. Later on, whilst enjoying a beer to wash the bad taste away  from our mouths, we decided to Google something to the effect of “Vietnamese fruit that takes like motor oil” and lo and behold, one of the top choices was durian! I’d never tasted it before and to be honest, probably won’t again. I’ve since smelled it and it also smells rotten! Certainly not my taste at all, but many people here seem to like it. Maybe it’s an acquired taste?

No pictures of the durian ice cream, but here’s another picture of the gorgeous My Khe beach.

And since I took about 50 pictures of these things, here’s a sand crab. This is way zoomed in, they’re really only a few centimeters long.

Temple visits

It’s been awhile since my last post. My apologies! I’ve been rather busy since I last updated, as Tet holiday ended and I started up work again. I also moved! I’ll post pictures as soon as I have everything unpacked and looking nice!

The day after Tet, I visited two temples with my friend’s family. It was a fascinating, but overstimulating day with what seemed like thousands of people, motorbikes, sights, sounds and smells. 

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This picture really doesn’t do give the true feeling of the number of people at the temple. Lots and lots of activity!image

An altar filled with gifts of paper hats and shoes, fruit, sweets and fake money, with maybe some real money mixed in as well. 

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Gives you a better idea of the vast number of people.

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Burning joss paper to send gifts to the gods. Gifts include paper money, shoes, hats, coins and flowers. Read more about this custom here

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On to the next temple! This man is writing down the family’s wishes in the new year in ancient Vietnamese (using Chinese characters). 

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Heading into the temple. So many people!

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Food picture:

Bánh đúc lạc. So far my least favorite. The pancake/patty itself isn’t too bad; it’s made up of rice flour and tapioca (and I read somewhere lime…as in the mineral) and has peanuts inside. The sauce, made of fermented soy bean paste, is what really gets me. Perhaps my tastebuds aren’t sophisticated enough, but it just tastes rotten to me!

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Tết 2013

Vietnamese New Year, Tết, is  Vietnam’s biggest and most important holiday, and Hanoi is all decked out for the occasion.  image

The one on the left is the symbol of Hanoi. 

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The timing of the holiday is based off of the Lunar Calendar, and as you may know, each year has an animal representing it. This year’s animal is the snake. In the days leading up to Tết, people were busy buying new clothes, trees for the occasion and offerings either to burn or put on the family’s altar. 

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I was lucky enough to be invited to spend Tết with my friend Hien and her family. New Year’s Eve was spent watching comedy/commentary of all that had happened in Vietnam in the past year, stuffing lucky envelopes, “lì xì”with money to give as gifts and preparing the altar tables for various gods and ancestors, as well as one for Buddha. 

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The money in the envelopes should be new, and some colors are more lucky than others. Red is considered a very lucky color. 

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This is the altar for ancestors. The offerings include fruits, paper money, sweets, beer, cola and cigarettes among other things. 

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One important part of the altar is”Mâm Ngũ Quả”, or “five fruits”.  Even numbers are unlucky so it’s important that there is an odd number of fruits; this odd number rule applies to everything placed on the altar. To the left is “bánh chung”, which is made up of rice, mung beans and pork and wrapped in banana leaves. You can read about how it’s made here

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The altar for Buddha. There is no meat or alcohol on this altar. 

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Mâm Ngũ Quả with Buddha’s hand fruit.

At midnight, we passed out the xì lì and shot off some fireworks filled with confetti. image

Khanh with his lucky money. 

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All in all it was a great night, filled with lots of fun and many interesting experiences. If you made it all the way through this very long post, then congratulations!🙂 I’ll be sharing other great Tết experiences soon, including New Year’s Day, so make sure you check back!