“In Việt Nam, time is elastic.”

We’ve arrived smoothly dodging the super typhoon that missed Hong Kong, we’re very thankful and happy to be in the Old Quarter of Hà Nội.

Nguyễn Thanh Thưy, the first of many new friends I’m going to meet here in Hà Nội and who you see in the above photo, joins Jan, me and composer Vũ Nhật Tân for lunch yesterday at Ngôn in the French Quarter of Hà Nội.  She shared a riveting memory of her first trip to the West, which was to Zürich in Switzerland.

She became very nervous and confused when confronted for the first time with a Swiss timetable to use mass transit.  “Are these people insane?  Nothing needs to be this precise!  And people stared at their watches, annoyed if the bus arrived late!”  I think the Vietnamese version of “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore” started in her homesick young mind.

“In Việt Nam, time is elastic.”

Hà Nội is one of the top cities in the world for food lovers.  Since I grew up working in my parents’ restaurant, the Hi Ho Inn (they had a 30 year run from 1950 to 1980), at 2601 W. 6th St. in Los Angeles washing dishes, helping my mom and dad cook and prepare a brisk lunch business of 120 plates in about 90 minutes,  I’ve got a lifelong appreciation of food, its professionalism, and its, to me, odd celebrity status in the 21st century.  And truth to tell, a little boy’s baby sitter was often a dishwasher from Hong Kong, Harry Woo.  He would read his letters home written in Cantonese characters to me.  I still can’t read them, but whenever I’m in Asia I can remember his smiling face laughing at me as I tried to pronounce his language.

So foodies, listen up….I know from hard core experience in a work your fingers to the bone family restaurant that the real celebrity is your dishwasher.  Snarky Anthony Bourdain was right – send a tip back to that person at your favorite hang.

So here’s to all the Harry Woo’s on this planet…the Celebrity Dishwashers! As much as my blog is about new music, as I promised earlier I will pepper this blog with food and Hollywood stories, so I won’t be in one place all the time.  And to be in Hà Nội, let’s face it, means you want to know where the best street food is. Vũ Nhật Tân is your man.

Tan's fist food stop:  Little Hanoi at 9 Ta Hien Street

Tan’s first food stop: Little Hà Nội at 9 Ta Hien Street.

Most Vietnamese only eat on the street but this little place is a very old Old Quarter hang, and the numerous bird cages in the ceiling, plus the birds chirping, made Little Hà Nội a great first stop.  A green herb soup, eggplant, tofu in red sauce, and a simple fish meal related to cha ca, the unique fish dish of Hà Nội with dill and turmeric, all delicious.


Next stop was a must have when jet lagged Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.  Tân’s place was on the outskirts of the Quarter.  Best and favorite are rather silly terms here – the shopkeepers aren’t in business to sell you a bad cup of anything.  If you have any doubt, just try a place where the clientele is predominately Vietnamese.

I also have mentioned Hollywood in my earlier blogs, as my mom and her sisters worked at the 20th Century Fox commissary.  Mom also was a WAITRESS at Chasen’s.  Why the all cap shouting?  Because “girls” only were hired because of WWII, and mom got the call from Maud Chasen from the Fox commissary people.  I’ll have some great Golden Era Legend Stories to come (mom was the only server at a private wedding reception for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, so stay tuned.  Try to guess who saved mom’s job when a Baked Alaska slipped onto a celebrity lap!).  You’ll soon learn why I mention Golden Age Hollywood but let’s do the Vietnamese coffee photo first. New characters are always interesting.


The Man in the Blue Hat is one of the great souls of Planet Earth, Stephen Lesser.  He was our Vice Consul in the American Embassy in Japan.  Funny thing.  The Foreign Service wanted Stephen to transfer to the Vietnamese Embassy in Sài Gòn in 1968.  Stephen had a hunch the Việt Nam War wasn’t going to turn out well and left the service.  But continuing to serve, he is part of the Nôm Foundation, dedicated to preserving the ancient Vietnamese language and calligraphy.  French Jesuits made sure that the Vietnamese language would conform to the world of France, leaving the bizarre hybrid script you have to deal with, period.

Oh, and did I mention that Stephen’s grandfather produced, I kid you not, all the Tarzan movies?  Hollywood again in my life. Talk about a colorful point of view!

So Hollywood, diplomacy, music, food and friends are coinciding in this photo, as we had not coordinated being in Hà Nội together.  Vũ Nhật Tân took the photo above and I took the photo below.  Just so you know Tân is part of the fun.


Here’s the dinner coup de grâce (France is never far away here)…Tan’s best spot in the Old Quarter for phở soup, Phở Sướng or Happy Noodle!


And hold the presses: just learned that México is calling as Southwest and Gabriela Ortiz are nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for her ELEGIÍA!!  More on that in my next post.  Finding champagne in Hà Nội is one good thing about the French Hangover that is Việt Nam because……..

“In Việt Nam, time is elastic.”

Best, best, best,