Work at the Farmers’ Market

StonestownFarmersMarket

September was an extremely busy month. In addition to the usual school work, teaching, a part-time job and my editor job at the Daily Cal, I took on editing a special issue on Food (how could I resist?) and I worked for Sinto Gourmet for two weekends (again, it’s food work, I just couldn’t resist). The first weekend, Hyunjoo Albrecht, Sinto’s owner, asked me to be at the Stonestown Farmers’ Market at 7:30 am on a Sunday. I told myself that waking up early is good for me, and that after the Farmers’ Market finished I would have the rest of the day to study. That was all good in theory, until I couldn’t sleep the night before and ended up working all night, then begrudgingly got dressed to leave at sunrise. (My friend Nancy was so unbelievably kind to drive me all the way from Berkeley to Stonestown, otherwise, I would have had to take the bus at 5:30 am and made a few transfers) After leaving me with the kimchi, Hyunjoo rushed to another Farmers’ Market to set up her stall. Other vendors slowly arrived and filled up [...]

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Tet of a Buddhist Vietnamese expat

tet-2013

Mother said “you shall not eat meat on the first day of Tet“. And I said “yes, Mom.” It has been our family tradition that the first day of the lunar year is a vegan day. It’s not unique to our family of course, most Vietnamese Buddhists eat vegan on certain days of the lunar calendar, the number of days depend on the amount of devotion to practice the precept of not killing. To refrain from all of the festive food is also a step to train the mind against the worldly temptations. Normally, that would be difficult if I were at home, given the excess of pork sausage loaves, braised pork and eggs, banh chung banh tet, roast chicken, fried spring rolls, dumplings, et cetera. But I’m here by myself, it’s like expatriation on top of expatriation. To refrain from meat has never been so easy. My quick and simple vegan lunch: steamed rice with muối mè (a mix of sesame, salt and sugar, similar to furikake but Vietnamese ), steamed bok choy, shisozuke umeboshi (salted plum with pickled shiso leaf) and pickled [...]

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New lunar year, new me

tet-2013

Yesterday was Flavor Boulevard’s 3rd birthday. Today is my nth birthday. Back in 2010, a good friend of mine used to give me a ride to San Jose at least once every other month, sometimes more, when I got cravings for Vietnamese food, and especially when the Lunar New Year approached. When Flavor Boulevard was about one year old, things got complicated. Long story short, I hadn’t been back to San Jose for two years. – Why? You couldn’t rent a car? – Well… you know the stereotype that Asian girls can’t drive? It’s true for this one. It’s embarrassing. People, even those who don’t like driving, feel much more relaxed when they drive me than when I drive them. I’m also used to driving in Houston, where signs are helpful and people are friendly. Driving in California scares me. I’ve been here for 4 years, driven here twice, and both times reaffirmed my scare. So Vietnamese food cravings are satiated with the places in Oakland, where I can reach by bus. I don’t remember what I did for the 2012 Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year), and there seems to be no record of it on Flavor [...]

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Eat Real Festival – 6-sentence Recap

1. The kimchi I made with Kristen won First Place in the Kimchi category of the Puttin’ It Up contest. (Yes, the Korean fingers in the picture were intentional. No, that’s Sinto kimchi, not ours in the picture, but we didn’t get back our kimchi at the time this picture was taken.) 2. Via friend’s introduction (고마워요, 유경 언니 :-)), I ended up as a helper for Hyunjoo Albrecht at her Sinto Gourmet kimchi table on Saturday and Sunday. 3. Saturday was crazy, no spare second between chopsticking kimchi into sample cups for the festival visitors from 11 am to 6 pm. 4. Sunday was a bit more relaxing but we still sold out the big jars of kkakdugi (spicy radish kimchi) and the small jars of spicy pickled cucumber. [...]

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Why “Off the Grid” in North Berkeley?

After so many years, and it’s been only a little over three years for me, of actively paying attention to food, I’ve become, unrighteously and shamelessly, somewhat of a food snob: very few things can excite me. And yet, it doesn’t take much more than a sandwich to keep me up at night (that, and my research). Originally, I had a draft for Off the Grid in North Berkeley, then I let it stew for centuries because I thought oh well, it’s just a food truck event, a new fad in town, who knows how long it will last. I still don’t get the name of the event: ten or fewer food trucks and hundreds of Berkeleyans gather where Shattuck meets Rose every Wednesday evening, from 5 to 9. Lines form, some short, some long. I still don’t get all the raves for Cupkates (or any cupcake trucks for that matter). There were things I regretted buying, and things I would never stand in line for. But there’s this sandwich, powerful enough to drag me back to Off the Grid, to stand in line, and to finish my draft. Continue reading Why “Off the Grid” in North Berkeley?

SF SF Fest

Here’s the tongue twister of the day: SFSSFSFFFS, or “Saturday Food Snippets at San Fran Street Food Fest on Folsom Street“. I can’t swim, but I dived into this sea of people in the name of friendship: to meet fellow food bloggers Oanh and Dang of Rau Om for the first time. There was much struggle. Lots of aggressive walking, cutting through undeterminably long lines, being repeatedly separated from comrades, and flavoring my dress with beef juice. But there were joyous moments too. One was when I found Bob and Rob at the Commonwealth booth, sipping a watermelon gazpacho. Another was when some lady gave me her extra watermelon gazpacho. Lunch time started. Or so we thought. Thirty minutes in the sea of people and no food except for the gazpacho, I told Yookyung that the bloody long queues were our destiny and it would be fatal trying to look for a stall with no line. Seconds after, Yookyung found Delicioso Creperie, which had no line. Defeated, I hopped into the short line of its adjacent neighbor, Il Cane Rosso, and succumbed [...]

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Wurst, Lederhose and Mai Fest at Speisekammer

On one bright Sunday afternoon, I found myself spinning with a guy named Don in lederhosen to quirky Bavarian tunes. Black, red and yellow balloons swinging almost in sync with the “hoi hoi” cheers from honey-shining beer mugs. And I had my fill of meat. May started, lively and carefree. This part of Alameda is old timey. A short green iron bridge over a narrow canal, fading painted warehouse signs with German names, old cars… It’s drowsy, almost. ‘Cept for this one corner of Lincoln and Park Street today. The German restaurant bloomed like a Royal Poinciana in June. We felt flamboyant too. What’s this… deciding on a whim to get lunch together at Speisekammer, and it just happened to be the one day Speisekammer held their Mai Fest (my name makes me feel special at times like this :-D). Everyone sitting out at long wooden tables under the parasols, sleepy dogs lying under the sun. It hasn’t been this warm for weeks. A band, balloons, flags, traditional clothes, dancing, food. A special menu. [...]

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Kim Son’s Tet in woven baskets

Vietnamese *Guest post in Vietnamese by my Mom, translated by me* Back in the day, I seldom ate from street stalls or vendors’ baskets, my conscience imprinted with my mother’s unmovable doubt on the street food’s cleanliness. Nonetheless, I scurry with no hesitation to make it to Kim Son for lunch today, just because the TV news last night showed that Kim Son has a 9-day New Year food festival where the goodies are sold in baskets, mimicking the vendor stalls in Vietnam. Like usual, the display is a buffet style, but this week the dining hall is decorated with flowers, fruits, and Tet greetings, the food selection is also larger and more interesting than normal days. I notice thịt kho and dưa giá (slow braised pork and pickled bean sprout, two traditional Tet savory dishes), bánh xèo (sizzling crepe), bánh bèo (water fern banh), bánh bột lọc (translucent banh) bánh cống (mung bean fried muffin). In the baskets lie a few types of xôi, bánh tét, and mứt. A tightening mix of homesickness and [...]

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Candied fruits for a candy Year of the Cat

Its popularity might have declined over the years in Vietnam, but to the Vietnamese expats, mứt Tết remains one of the few links home to resurrect our new spring festival atmosphere on foreign lands. As far as I know these candied fruits are unique to the Vietnamese New Year (Tết), just like the tteokguk and the yakwa to the Korean Seolnal. They are holiday gifts to friends and family, offerings at the altars to ancestors and deities, little snacks for children, tea confections for adults, and vegan treats for those who refrain from eating meat at the year’s beginning. Mứt can be divided into two types: wet and dry. Visit any beef jerky (khô bò) and salted plums (xí muội) stores in Vietnamese shopping malls in the Tet season, you’d see a swarm of mứt in glass jars, the wet kinds wrapped in crunchy paper and the dry kind laying bare. The two most common wet mứt are tamarind (me) and soursop (mãng cầu). The former is kept in its scrawny form, with a few rope-like fibrous strings along the fruit’s length, [...]

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You know it’s Tet when…

…1. The kumquat branches bear their multitudes of gold baubles, the tangerines and pomelos swell and shine, the dragon fruits and rambutans are happily sought for because of their festive shapes and colors; …2. The white grey front patio of Grand Century Mall and its adjacents is blushed with firecracker remnants, and if you’re there at the right moment, your ears would be blasted by the continuous loud popping of an ignited long Chinese squib, its color matched only by the ruby peach blossoms in full bloom; …3. The usually dormant stores that sell Vietnamese beef jerkies and dried plums awakens in a sudden selling frenzy: tasting, weighing, packaging, paying, people queuing… [...]

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