My kind of Foodie

Up until this point, I have explained my love for travel quite clearly. But my other great passion in life is food. I LOVE food. Food is the only art to touch every one of the human senses. Even if that moment of actually eating is short and fleeting, it has the power to excite, to comfort, to seduce and to create powerful memories that will last a lifetime.

Today, it has become really trendy to refer to one’s self as a “foodie”. For those that don’t know, a foodie is someone that loves food and (claims to?) knows a lot about food. Around the world there is a growing culture of food fans that worship famous chefs like sports fans worship championship athletes. In big cities like New York and London, “foodies” pour out big bucks to get the chance to eat dishes made my superstar chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Eric Riper. And given the chance, I would join them.

High end foodie party

But there is another aspect about the culinary experience that these big city, local foodies are missing out on. Besides delighting all the senses, food has one more gift to offer, if you are willing to take it. Food holds the keys to thousands of cultures across the planet. Cultures vary from country to country, province to province, city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood. The best and most enjoyable way to learn about these varying cultures is via your pallet. In my opinion, when traveling, having an open mind and an empty stomach is almost as important as having a passport.

foodie map
Foodie map of the world

Some of my best travel experiences revolve around eating local dishes. I will never forget the wonderful taste of bistecca fiorentina in Florence, or of bun bo Hue in Hue, or of pork miso ramen in Tokyo.

Bistecca Fiorentina in Florence


Whenever possible, I avoid the restaurants that are designed for tourists and try and find where the locals eat. This practice has two advantages. First you will generally find the best tasting and most authentic food this way. Second, it is often the cheaper way to eat. And it is an exciting adventure. A number of times, I have walked into local eateries in a country that I don’t speak the language and when the server asked me what I wanted, I simply pointed at a dish I saw someone else eating. It almost never fails to satisfy.

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Bun Bo Hue being sold on the street side in Hue

I am sure someone from a city like New York will read this and think to themselves that they live in a city that has food from all over the world and that they have any culinary experiences available with a simple call and a take out menu. But sadly they would only be getting the tiniest part of the experiences.

Firstly, while all kinds of foods are available in major cosmopolitan cities, the choices are extremely minimal. Sure you can find the classic Vietnamese “phở” in New York, but could you find any of the amazing dishes from the central and northern regions of Vietnam? Not really. And even if you could, the experience of paying $15 for a bowl of mediocre “phở” in some restaurant in New York, will never come close to the experience of siting on a small stool, in a tinny street shop in Hanoi, eating freshly cooked “phở” that only costs $2, while watching the city go by.

Eating on the street
Eating on the street in Vietnam

So to all the food lovers out there, make sure you have your passports. If you really want to experiences the best food the world has to offer, much of it is far away, in amazingly exotic destinations. And to all you travel lovers out there, make sure you go with an open mind and an empty stomach. If you are one of those travelers that goes to Florence and eats at McDonalds, I promise you that you are missing out on some the best experiences out there.

Spice map
Spice map of the world




Learning Vietnamese

I always knew that one of the most difficult parts about moving to Vietnam, would be the dreaded “language barrier”. English is not widely spoken here in Vietnam, and Vietnamese is considered one of the more difficult languages for English speakers to learn. All challenges aside, I was determined to try my best to learn the language of my new home.


Why is Vietnamese so difficult? For starters, it is tonal. I have tried to explain this concept to my friends and family back in the US and Israel, but most don’t seem to grasp it. Basically, I can say the same “word” with 6 different tones and that would actually create 6 different words. Westerners often have a lot of trouble with this, which can lead to some very funny communication breakdowns. In Hanoi, the words for pineapple. watermelon, and coconut are spelled the same, but have different tones. I have yet to meet the foreigner in Hanoi that has not had the experience at least once of ordering a pineapple smoothie, and receiving a coconut smoothie instead (or vice-versa). There is also a common mistake between the Vietnamese word for grapefruit and the word for a certain part of the male anatomy, but I have never heard of this leading to an order mix up in a restaurant.

what the

The other really difficult thing about Vietnamese is the pronoun system. Off the top of my head, I can think of 25 different pronouns, but there are more. They change based on age, age difference, social situation, age difference of parents, type of relationship, gender, closeness, anger, etc. Trying to master the use of this complicated, yet culturally important pronoun system, is quite mind boggling.

tieng viet sad book

To being with, I signed up for classes at the National University, here in Hanoi. While these classes were extremely helpful, anyone that has ever tried to learn a new language will tell you, you can’t learn it in a classroom. You must “live the language” and talk with native speakers. There are the usual tricks of trying to talk with taxi driver and waiters. But that too was not enough.

Anyone that knows anything about gay subculture, knows that there are tons of apps and websites designed to help people meet, date, or whatever else they are looking for. The same is true here in Vietnam. I used apps like Grindr and Jack’d, along with Facebook groups for gay Vietnamese, to help meet local people. Some nights, I would spend hours chatting with guys from all over Vietnam. I was able to learn phrasing, syntax and all in all improve my conversation skills.

When I was still new at Vietnamese, it was always easier chatting online, because I could use Google translate for words I did not understand or could not remember. But, when I started meeting people in person, this was not always easy. Of course I have Google translate on my phone, but constantly looking up words on your phone, ruins the conversation. So I tried to keep the use of the translation apps to a minimum. We would rely on the good old classic options, like body language, pointing and describing. It wasn’t always easy, but I was definitely living the language, and that is the quickest and best way to master it.

Now, two and a half years later, I find myself frequently being complimented for my Vietnamese skills. I have many local friends who do not speak any English. In fact, my recent boyfriend of eight months does not speak English. We communicated solely in Vietnamese.

Of course I still have much to learn. I have continued my classes and am always looking to meet new people. And since I have met guys from all over the country, I have been able to learn to understand (somewhat) some of the different regional dialects, and have had many local guides for my travels around the country. But those are stories for another post. keep-calm-and-learn-vietnamese-1

So why Vietnam?

That is a question that I am asked quite often. Its a pretty fair question. While it is not unheard of for an American to come and live here, it is also not common. There is a decent sized community of expats peppered around Vietnam. But most of them came here because of a job of some sorts. Their reasons are quite practical and easy to explain. My reasons for moving to Vietnam will not be found on any resume. My story more closely resembles a love story.

My initial interest in Vietnam began when I was researching a topic for my MA thesis. At the time, I wanted to research military history and I wanted a topic with which no one else in my university was dealing. My thesis advisor recommended I start looking into the Vietnam War.

So I started to read, and read, and read some more. I was very interested, but two things constantly frustrated me. First, all the sources that were easily accessible only ever showed the American perspective of the war. Second, I was reading all these Vietnamese names, and I had no idea if I was pronouncing them correctly. So I set 2 goals for myself. I was going to to find out more about the Vietnamese perspective, and I was going to learn how to pronounce the Vietnamese names and places that I was reading about.

So I set out to find whatever sources I could in English on the Vietnamese side of the war and I pestered the staff of the Vietnamese embassy in Tel Aviv, begging them to help me find someone to teach me some basic Vietnamese. Both efforts payed off. I learned a great deal about Vietnam, both through new books, and from my new friends from the embassy, who not only taught me, but welcomed me into their home on many occasions.

Then came the summer of 2011, I decided I was going to go spend a month in Hanoi, studying and traveling. This is when everything changed.

I know many people do not believe in love at first site, but my experience coming to Vietnam for the first time is evidence that it is in fact real. Almost as soon as I arrived, my connection to Vietnam went from an academic interest, to love. I had never visited a place like Vietnam before and I was swept off my feet. It was exotic and unique, yet comfortable and approachable. It fused old and new, local culture with foreign influence, country side, with modern metropolis. And even though I was only around for five weeks, I managed to meet amazing people and make new, close friends that I am still close with to this day.

toi yeu viet nam
I love Vietnam

When it came time to leave and return to Israel, I was extremely sad. I knew that I wanted to spend more time in Vietnam. I knew that this wonderful country had much to offer and to discover. I decided that once I was done with my graduate studies, I would return to Hanoi to study, research and experience as much as possible.

Then the accident happened that left my parents killed, and me badly injured. My life seemed to be shattered. I remember lying in the hospital, feeling scared, depressed and not knowing how I was going to continue. And than it hit me; I was going to go somewhere I was happy, far from my old broken life. I was going to go to a place that offered me options for a future and I was going to start my life anew. I decided I was going to move to Vietnam.

This was the goal that I focused on throughout my four months in the hospital and through all the physical therapy and surgeries. I kept saying to myself, the sooner I get better, the sooner I can pack up and live my dream. Finally, in April of 2013, I arrived at my new home in Hanoi, Vietnam and I can’t remember ever being happier.

I am back!

After a more then 2 year hiatus, I find myself once again inspired to blog. Some of you out there might have come across, or even followed my old blog, Off the Path and onto the Road. While I am the same person that wrote that blog, I have changed a lot, my life has changed a lot, and this new blog will be quite different.

The inspiration for my old blog came from my struggles with leaving my former lifestyle, coming out of the closet, losing my parents and other difficult things that were going on in my life at the time. This blog will come from a more positive place.

Since last publishing, my life has been quite wonderful and many of my dreams have come to fruition and many of my fantasies have become realities. I have been living in Hanoi, Vietnam for nearly 2 and half years now. I have great friends, a wonderful boyfriend and I have traveled to many marvellous places. That is not to say that there have been no bumps along the way, but all in all, I can’t complain.

In this blog I hope to share some of the experiences I have had in Vietnam and around the world. The posts won’t necessarily be in chronological order, but I am sure you readers won’t mind that. I am very excited for this this new project. I look forward to writing many posts, and of course your feedback is welcome.

So won’t you join me down this new and exciting road?

Truc Bach Lake
My neighbourhood in Hanoi, Vietnam