Afterschool treats

    First day of school is exciting. After a long break, we got up early again, felt motivated, felt ready to be hardworking. This may be the only day in the semester we get up early by choice, but let us not stress that. We checked our emails to see if the professor is in town and will hold class. Yes he is. He even came on time and commented on the president’s inauguration speech, not that there is much to comment. We hung around the undergraduate lounge, tried to read, but we were still in web-surfing mode. Our friends saw us for the first time after 5 weeks, some said they built a fence over the break, some said some said they shouldn’t have drunk so much the night before, some expected this to be an easy last semester. The usual day, the usual bunch. Our professor asked us what on earth is going on with our other professor, from whom we hadn’t heard since our last email 2 weeks ago, so we truthfully said we have no idea. We heard, but couldn’t focus during the lecture, mind wandering what should we blog about today. We forgot to bring lunch because we felt so motivated in the morning. We had only 1 class today from 12:45-2:00, but we were hungry.

    School kids in Vietnam have vendors waiting for them outside the school gate. As soon as they get out, they swamp the vendors’ modest environs. Clockwise from bottom southwest:

    banh khoai mi nuong (baked cassava banh): white, firm, sleek, sweet. Too sweet, maybe? Easily tiresome after a few bites.

    banh su kem (chou à la crème – cream puff): avec du chocolat pour la présentation seulement. More chocolat et less pastry would have been nice. Too little creme inside. But I do prefer these bite-sized hollow balls to monstrous orange-sized puffs in Vietnamese boulangeries.

    banh cam (“orange” banh): sesame ball is the commonly identification in America, which obviously makes more sense than “orange” balls, when the balls contain absolutely no orange or citric element. Perhaps it refers to orange the color, eh? Or the shape? Another item seriously shrunk after immigration. It was actually the size of a small orange when it was in Vietnam. Sugared bean paste inside, deep fried flour shell outside. Best freshly made. Soon afterwards, the crunch leaves and each bite is a stream of oil. The thinner the shell is, the less oily the ball is. Average snack.

    banh bo nuong (toasted banh bo): so… is beef (like pho bo, you know…), but fear not, this dessert does not contain animal product, much less animal flesh. Why call it bò? Perhaps because it looks like cow tripe? Who knows. Just leavened rice flour. I can’t tell if it has sugar or whatever else. It’s just light. Fluffy, lightly sweet, lightly sour. Untoasted banh bo is white like a feather ball. Toasting is supposed to strengthen both the texture and the taste. I had never liked it, because of the sourness, and I don’t now.

    This is what the dessert selection at Kim Son has become after they stopped serving dau hu nuoc duong (soft tofu in sugar water). Do I regret not eating from vendors when I could? Maybe. I don’t know most street foods, don’t know who make them best, don’t know how differently they taste compared to their Americanized cousins. But wherever it is, however it’s made, dessert is like the first day of school, not too much of a celebration in its honest self, simple or extravagant, it’s a delight we all look forward to.

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