Year in, year out, savoring the savoriest of pork

If you had to choose, what is the most Vietnamese dish? If you are a Vietnamese expat, what would make your mouth water the most just thinking about? What is the food, the smell, the taste that when you see or hear some stranger is savoring, you’d immediately think, “hey, he must be my fellow countryman”? One of my friends lives in Freiburg, Germany. There is one Vietnamese restaurant 1 km away from the University, der Reis-Garten, and it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in a 40-km radius (the next one is across the border: Le Bol d’Or in Wintzenheim, France). For over 6 years living away from home, he survived on pasta and tomato sauce, students don’t have time. One day, external circumstances have finally driven him to decide that he no longer needs to suppress his cravings out of consideration towards his Germanic housemates. He bought a bottle of fish sauce. The next day he made thịt kho. That makes it official: he’s Vietnamese, and he hasn’t forgotten it. “Success?” “Did you add coconut juice?” “Do you have eggs in the pot?” “Do you have chả lụa […]

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The night before Christmas at Kata Robata

Last night I was reading this manga, Oishii Kankei (“Delicious Relationship”), and two things there reminded me of my family: a family of three who love to eat out and explore new restaurants, and the girl who can’t cook (but she has a better sense of taste than me, it’s a story after all ;-)). I also got reminded of a ton of Japanese food, although the main plot revolves around French cuisine and a fictional restaurant in Tokyo called Petit Lapin (“Little Rabbit”). I’ve been in the mood for something comforting, and Little Mom wants to have some Japanese food that isn’t sushi, so we decided on Kata Robata for our Christmas Eve. Actually Oanh recommended this place to me just before my flight to Houston, and I trust her when it comes to the Land of the Rising Sun. My dad’s opinion today? He had to come whether he wanted to or not. That’s Beauty #27 of a family of three: odd number makes decisions come easy. 😉 Thank goodness, he liked it here. Or should I say, he *loved* the kakuni don. The rice, […]

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The zen in cooking

There’s nothing zen-like about cooking. It has fire, it involves knives and all sorts of dangerous weapons, it requires the death of plants and animals. It requires speed: bad timing means either a burnt cookie or lunch at 5 pm (if preparations started at 9). Its purpose is consumption. Cooking by nature is so active and outward that it’s the opposite of zen. But in today’s Western hemisphere, zen has become an attractive concept: something that every field could claim to have to romanticize itself: zen in skateboarding, zen in running, zen in pistol shooting (sure…), zen in the art of digital privacy (?!), and my personal favorite: zen of the alcohol stove. Naturally, why wouldn’t zen be in the culinary media? Just as I don’t appreciate the all-too-casual usage of “Buddha” in naming vegetarian concoctions, I don’t appreciate this “zen-ization” of everything from stove to pistol. The word is simply exploited. It’s become an eye-catcher. It’s commercialized. Most of the things with the title “Zen in the Art of [insert gerund]” have nothing to do with zen, which their authors […]

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