Cheeseburger Gothic

Eating in Vietnam

Posted 42 minutes ago into Food & Drink by John Birmingham

Last time I was in Hanoi, it was for work and somebody else was picking up my tab. Apart from a few business lunches, I mostly just ate at my hotel, the fabulous Metropole. (It was French Cheese Week. Don't you judge me).

This time with the fam in tow and a long way from Cheese Week I was forced onto the streets. Most people seem to eat most of their meals on the footpath in Hanoi. As I mentioned last time, there seems to be little if no regulation of street level businesses – or more likely little to no observance of any regulation. Literally hundreds of thousands of punters simply open for business on the street out in front of the family home.

We had breakfast comped as part of our hotel deals pretty much everywhere we went, but that left us to forage for lunch and dinner. I ate well, but dropped a couple of belt notches, which I was happy about. Partly it was the 12-15kms of walking every day, but partly it was also eating like the locals. There's not a lot of muffin content in Vietnamese cuisine.

They do have bread, of course. The famous Banh Mi, adapted from the French baguettes of the colonial era. I had two worth a shout out. One at a Hanoi cafe called Banh Mi 25 in the northern reaches of the Old Quarter, which was nice but not a patch on the fiery pork roll I had at a place in Hoi An made famous by Anthony Bourdian in his Netflix gourmet travel series.

I'll fess to be being skeptical of Banh Mi Phuong. There was always a long line of tourists out the front—like always, every hour of the night and day—and they were there because Bourdain had been there. How could any business retain its mojo under that onslaught.

But it seems they have. Our last night in Hoi An we took advantage of a small drop off in custom to dive in and grab some rolls for dinner. I had a spicy pork banh mi that came generously slathered with Phuong's secret sauce. Repairing to the craft beer joint down the street, which invited you to wash your banh mi down with their beer, I was frankly fucking blown away by just how good a simple meat and salad roll could be. Good enough that it was lucky we waited until the last night to eat there, otherwise I might never have gone anywhere else and I'd have missed out on this lady's rice pancakes; cooked over a mobile grill in the Hoi An markets.

She ladled some mystery fish and a rainbow spread of spices, leaves and vegetables into the pancake before nuking it with bright chili sauce and yoghurt. Thomas and I knocked that one over while the ladies were off clothes shopping. (Every second shop in Hoi An is a tailor or shoe maker).

By the time we were done in Hanoi, we were inhaling all sorts of roadside food and I developed a taste for the little Vietnamese donuts that village women sell for a few cents each.

Developed a taste for cheap beer and cocktails too. Wine is super expensive and not easy to get compared to spirits and ales; perhaps a final fuck you to the French. I coped. We stumbled across Beer Street by accident, while out exploring the old quarter one evening. It was a bit of a zoo scene, full of western backpackers and I could imagine it getting very untidy.

But there was also a pretty sweet gin bar we found near the Cathedral. The Mad Botanist. Five flights of steps up above a bbq pork place. I wouldn't want to negotiate the climb down after a solid session, but for quiet visit at cocktail hour it was just about perfect.

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Back from the Nam

Posted Monday by John Birmingham

We spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam, flying out on New Year's Eve (when the price of airfares falls away for some reason) and returning about a week ago. Mostly we hung out in Hanoi, which is a crazy, crowded, joyous mess of a city that I'd happily return to next week.

Staying in the Old Quarter, about fifteen minutes walk from the lake in the centre of town, I was a fair way removed from the spendy tourist enclave of the Metropole Hotel where I fetched up last time, but only five minutes walk from the 18 cent beers of Beer Street. (There's plenty of pricier, imported beer options too, but who can go past an 18 cent mug).

I spent a lot of time walking the insanely busy back alleys, taking photos and notes which informed the copy edit of THE CRUEL STARS, mostly by filling in colour and detail for the space habitat scenes on Eassar. Turns out nothing brings a space hab to life like open air butchery and pour-your-own beer stands.

It's a weird place, Vietnam. Still a one-party state of course, but bizarrely libertarian in its economics. Everybody is running wild and free to make a dollar. I didn't see much evidence of any laws being enforced, alhough armed enforcers of the state are everywhere. In some ways it seemed people had much greater freedom. If you wanted to start a chicken strangling business, you just started strangling chickens on the footpath. Whether your venture lived or died depended entirely on the market demand for chicken murder. (But you better believe that if you did make a few bucks, the whole street would be overrun with competitors and feathery corpses within days).

I'll post a few pics and stories over the next few days. I never do live updates because I don't like telling the world I'm away from home and the golden hovercraft is undguarded.

9 Responses to ‘Back from the Nam’

Murphy_of_Missouri asserts...

Posted Yesterday
In some ways, sounds like South Korea in 1993.

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Bangar would have you know...

Posted 23 hours ago
Sounds like a good trip. I'm sure H could be trusted with the hovercraft. The hovercraft that is not the keys.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted 8 hours ago
The last time I did that he installed a stripper pole and YouTubed himself breaking it in.

Bangar swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted 1 hour ago
I figured he couldn't do anymore damage ... though that video does stay with you

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jason swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted 8 hours ago
Been to Vietnam three times traveled from top to bottom. Love everything about it. Hanoi is great fro crazy but try Hoi An for slightly quieter and food and coffee heaven.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted 8 hours ago
We did about four days in Hoi An. Loved it! Jane and the kids were all getting clothes made up at the BeBe Tailor Deathstar. I hunted out some off Broadway feeds and taught Thomas how to bargain. He turned into a much more ferocious haggler than I could ever hope to be.

jason asserts...

Posted 3 hours ago
I had a secret weapon. Red haired pale skinned cute eight year old daughter. The stall owners were falling over themselves to sell her something.

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Dave W reckons...

Posted 7 hours ago
The crazy micro/hyper commercialism of Vietnam just about freaked me out, even Hoi An.

And the heat. The goddamn heat. My pasty white skin can't handle that kind of sun.

I much preferred Cambodia, with just the right amount of hustling and hassling and a bit of a slower pace about things.

Is the street life colour a bit like the street scenes in Altered Carbon?

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted 6 hours ago

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Surrounded by sea

Posted January 15 by John Birmingham

I'm just back from a couple of weeks in Vietnam, part family holiday, part research trip. (Seriously,the backstreets of Hanoi are a perfect setting for a space habitat novel). This is my first day back at the desk and I wanted to share this vid I saw on the Twitz this morning. It's a recruitment ad for the RAN and it is brilliant because it doesnt look like a recruitment ad for the RAN.

5 Responses to ‘Surrounded by sea’

Leftarc has opinions thus...

Posted January 15
Nice. Very Thinky.
Extra points if the voice-over said girt instead of surrounded.
Or we need to change the National Anthem.

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Vovchara mumbles...

Posted Thursday
nicely done.

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insomniac mumbles...

Posted Thursday
It looks a lot less like a recruitment ad when the sound is off. The vibe is totally different.

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jl has opinions thus...

Posted Saturday
Different country, wrong area of interest, and much too late in life. And it still makes me want to join up. Effective.

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Dave W would have you know...

Posted 7 hours ago
I'm clearly not the target audience.

It was white and right. The lifestyle scenes that need to be protected are like some halcyon b.s.- where are the kids skateboarding, for eg?

As for the shipping lanes- I get that trade (and food supply) is important, but is military support for multi-million $ (and generally foreign owned transport companies) really what it should focus on?

Finally, the dead cat should be thrown onto the table- times of peace and war: yes to aid, yes to necessary war, but silence on sovereign borders. Well, ok, understandably that ain't going to make it into a recruitment vid, but ... but. That just doesn't sit comfortably for me.

I think this was actually part party-political advertising. The key line in it was "we are investing in the navy for new equipment". Submarines and other gear, I think. Which government do you trust to spend on military stuff? The recruitment line at the end seemed like almost an add-on.

I would also have liked, right at the end of the clip, after 3-4 seconds of silence, if the dude had said:


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Shorter of breath and one year closer to death

Posted December 31 into House keeping by John Birmingham

So that's good! Another year survived here at the end of our collapsing civilisation. Not everything survived, however. I pulled the plug on Alien Side Boob last night, something I'd been intending to wind down gently over the next week or two. But Gumroad does not do gentle. As soon as I hit the button to turn off the subscriptions, it nuked the entire thing.

Oh well... I guess I got there a little quicker than I imagined.

For anyone paying attention, you can get the collection of kinder, gentler (and to be honest... funnier) Monday columns on the Beast of Bezos for free right now. But not for long.

It's here.

One of the reasons I pulled up stumps at the Boob is that after a three pretty hard years I'm starting to get the wind in my sails again. I have a bunch of projects underway, some of them not at all the sort of thing I've previously earned my quids from. (And some, like WW 3.1, exactly that sort of thing). I want to get this year right and part of that means saying no to some shit so I can bring all my guns to bear on the main targets.

I'm taking a couple of weeks to chill and reset before the year spins up again, which I'm taking to mean Jan 16 when I launch Alicia Wanstall-Burke's Blood of Heirs at Avid Reader in West End. I finished it the other day. Really fucking impressive bit of work. I find myself in the unsual position of tapping my toes impatiently waiting for the next in the series.

Don't you fucking hate it when authors do that to you?

8 Responses to ‘Shorter of breath and one year closer to death’

jl has opinions thus...

Posted December 31
Totally agree on the Blood of Heirs thing- awaiting Alicia's next installment. Re: ASB. It was good while it lasted, and it was pretty darn good. Happy New Year to everyone at the 'Burger!

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted January 2
Ugh, authors taking their sweet time about releasing the next in a series are the WORST. Oops, did I type that out loud?

Blood of Heirs is in my To Be Read list, which is growing horrifyingly long. Looking forward to getting stuck into it after I finish the novel of Alice Isn't Dead.

Happy New Year good Burgerers!

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted January 2
i got no where near enough reading done in my break (zero) but i do have a shiny new lens for my camera to occupy me. I spent Chrissy doing that australian of all australian things - putting up a trampoline in 35 plus degree heat. Bugger that. Then i went back to work today sat down at my desk and realised i'd left the laptop at home. Not all bad as i could log in and tap at the keyboard looking at trees etc instead of working on my inner fluorescent glow.

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Bangar ducks in to say...

Posted January 3
The waiting is part of the joy of reading the new stuff, just don't do a Martin

Brother PorkChop has opinions thus...

Posted January 4
No, it's not part of the joy at all. There no joy in waiting for the next installment. The joy is in getting it, and settling in for the read. The only joy in waiting is when I make a nice coffee, maybe a piece of Christmas fruitcake or shortbread immediately before I put the barricades up to read. If there was joy in waiting, we'd all be in raptures by now waiting for George to finish.

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 4
I wish I could insert a Meryl Streep applauding at the Oscars gif into this comment to illustrate how strongly I agree with your statement :)

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Oldy ducks in to say...

Posted January 7
Happy New Year, JB. Can't wait to see what 2019 brings, and especially WW 3.1 (no pressure).

And moar End of the World!

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Brother PorkChop mutters...

Posted January 10
JB, thanks for the freebie!! Still reading it but getting funny looks in the lunch room with the laughs it is generating.

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Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night

Posted December 24 by John Birmingham

It's Christmas Eve here. A quiet one. In that weird Australian way we just had pasta for dinner. We're lunching with the neighborinos tomorrow, seafood and cold meats. I went to the gym this arvo to build up a deficit but then, you know, pasta.

Hope everyone has a good day and a better new year.

9 Responses to ‘Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night’

Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 25

Roast duck, that is...

I'll report in later on the success or otherwise of this ducky adventure.

Merry Xmas burghers, one and all.

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insomniac would have you know...

Posted December 26
Merry Christmas everyone.
Pasta for us too, and duck, man it seems so wasteful. I had to carve two for Christmas, and once you take the legs and breast off, you basically throw the rest away. We always go to ms insomniac's (large) family for lunch and there's a bit of everything. It's a farmyard smorgasbord.

If fake bacon is called facon, what do you call fake duck?

Dave W ducks in to say...

Posted December 26
Any experiment in new meat is worthwhile, we just didn't want chook or turkey, so decided to try duck. Good tasting meat, I must say.

I presume one calls fake duck 'dake', but I'm no scholar.

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted December 27
Belated Merry Christmas JB. I'm enjoying the 7 Stages of Drinking Martinis very much, I'd forgotten some of those columns and how funny they were. Hope you've had a lovely few days :)

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted December 27
Thx mate. I too had forgotten some of them. It's live on the Beast of Bezos now, but I'm setting it very quietly to free tomorrow for a couple of days to let anyone who wants to tweak my figures grab a copy gratis.

she_jedi would have you know...

Posted December 28
Awesome! I'm mostly an iBooks reader, but have Kindle for iPhone so will collect it for the Kindle too and boost your stats :)

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted December 28
Master I have taken advantage of the Kindle freebie for 7 Stages and left a 5 star review in return

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted December 29
This is why you are my Forever Favourite.

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Oldy has opinions thus...

Posted December 28
Hope it was a good Xmas and fingers crossed it's going to be a better New Year. Cheers JB and all.

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Everyday spaceships

Posted November 23 by John Birmingham

This is brilliant. Dude designs spaceships based on common household thingies.

And space stations!

Check em out here. (Props to YD for the link)

4 Responses to ‘Everyday spaceships’

Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted November 26
Excellent! It's like he illustrated my fantasies as a kid when all manner of objects transformed into spaceships in my imagination.

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pi would have you know...

Posted December 16
Ha. That's pretty good.

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Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted December 24
Merry Xmas JB. Hope you and your loved ones have a great time and that your cup doth overflow.

Cheers, Dave

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted December 24
Thx mate. Backatcha. I should write something for everyone.

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