About 10 days ago, I turned a year older.
Normally I let it pass without fanfare. I don't like to make a fuss. Being so near Christmas, I'm used to my birthday being swallowed up with the other festivities. I've received joint birthday and Christmas presents, many birthday gifts wrapped in Christmas paper. Rarely have I celebrated with a party.
This year I had two. Call it a birthday festival, if you like.
The two celebrations were a study in contrasts, one a drink-fest with eats, the other an eat-fest with drinks. After one, I suffered with hangover, after the other, indigestion and flatus maximus. Vietnamese mates joined me for the former while ex-pat friends enjoyed the latter.
Let me go into detail about the first.
A boozy, noisy beerhaus played host to celebration number one on Friday night. Our sober half-past seven entrance collided fantastically with the red-faced revelry of the after-work drinks crowd, all two hours further along the highway to a headache. It was kind of like the feeling experienced when arriving late at a party, having to down a few drinks to fall in with the atmosphere, to catch up to the 'in-jokes'. As I've mentioned before, beer houses tend to have that atmosphere of excess, as if, upon entering, a licence is issued to drink as much beer as is humanly possible. If one vomits yet returns to one's stein for more, hero status is bestowed. All jolly good fun albeit with a slight stagger and fewer brain cells to call on the following morning.
At this particular beerhaus, there are booths where beer gushes from a magic tap in the wall, each drop measured by a gauge not unlike those at a petrol station. These booths are essentially self-serve beer stations which of course cut out the need to go to the bar, to catch the waiter's eye and thus ensure that time between drinks is minimised. The problems occur when people attempt to stand up from these booths. There is a tendency to sway, for the legs to disobey instructions, for them to fold like those on a collapsible card table.
If a booth cannot be garnered, beer - black (den) or yellow (vang) - is delivered to the table in individual steins or tall four litre test tubes with their own taps.
Oh...and there is a food menu! The first round of drinks is delivered with threads of smoked Russian cheese on a plate, which disappears in five seconds flat, hardly enough to line the stomach for the beer onslaught to come. Serious sustenance has to be had and not necessarily healthy. There wouldn't be much point in that. Before we start to get too jolly, selections are made from the menu that ought to carry warnings from the governing health bodies.
First comes the salat nga (Russian salad), one of those salads that falls outside of the weightwatchers' definition of a salad, tiny bits of ham, egg and veggie all bound together by a whole jar of mayonnaise! Sure, lettuce, cucumber and tomato is scattered about underneath it on the plate but surely that's to take home for the rabbit. We don't go near it. Another giant test tube of black beer, instead!
Followed by some squid...deep fried in beer batter and glistening, clearly not drained or even rested momentarily on any paper towel before it leaves the kitchen. But the piece de resistance is a wicked delight that enjoys a kind of legendary status amongst my friends, a hors d'oeuvre of prawn encased in a fatty rash of bacon. We have tried on past occasions at this beerhouse to make do with one serving. The spirit of excess always gets the better of us, however. These pig covered prawns would be worthy on the finger food menu at a cocktail party for gluttons in hell!
We covet them, we gobble them down and we order more beer!
The main course, a communal seafood hotpot, also materialises at the table. This is a kind of birthday custom in Vietnam, especially when the winter is approaching. There is little ceremony on this occasion, not much thought given to custom or "kultcha". The boys do say cheers again though!
So here's what transpires. An artfully arranged plate of fresh prawns, squid and clams is stabbed at by drunk blokes with chopsticks and flung into a boiling vat of soup.
Miraculously, nobody is disfigured.
Deep fried squid, Russian salad, wicked bacon prawns X 2, seafood hotpot, loads of beer - 1.5 million VND (USD$81.20, AUD$91.45)
Hoa Vien Brauhaus
1a Tang Bat Ho St
Hai Ba Trung District
A note about the second party will follow soon.