Bánh bía from Tường Ký Fast Food. Filling: taro paste with salted egg yolk, would have been perfect without bits of candied winter melon. $13 per box of 4. I’m having writer’s block. Don’t know if that’s true (I once met an Ivy League law school professor who said, as diplomatically as she could, that scientists can’t write), but that’s how my friend put it when I told him that I’ve been sitting around all day producing nothing worth mentioning and munching Vietnamese snacks. As incredibly lazy as that sounds, I think of myself as savoring the cultural assets of my people. (Somehow that sounds even worse…) There’s this Taiwanese movie, Eat Drink Man Woman, I found it a little indelicate and got weirded out (the food looks great though!), but one line from the second sister in the movie stuck in my head: “Dad said that for a person who lives up to 80, he would have consumed 80 tons of food. People who enjoy food and people who eat without savoring it don’t experience the same level of happiness.” I used to think for sure that what he meant [...]
Continue reading Tuesday mind-wandering: food blogging is weight watching?
Rice porridge was my enemy. In elementary years, I got a fever about once every month. Aside from feeling tired and having weird dreams when the fever got high, I didn’t really mind that, but my mom did. She was so worried she wouldn’t sleep for days, not until my temperature went back to normal. And she made sure that I ate my rice porridge. She made rice porridge with ground pork and rice porridge with fish, she added vegetable, she seasoned it perfectly, and I still hated every spoon of it. I hated the texture of rice porridge: mushy and textureless. I hated both thick porridge and watery porridge(*). Every porridge meal was a battle between Mom and me, and I always lost, which deepened my aversion to porridge even more. But there were happy days when I actually liked my fever porridge and didn’t need my mom to prod: it was mung bean porridge on those days. Actually, there’s rice in mung bean porridge, too, but the mung bean skin makes the porridge all nuttier and better. Then it’s a sweet porridge (just rice, mung bean and sugar, no meat), so that’s doubly better. [...]
Continue reading Mung bean porridge
They aren’t banana chips. Those are crunchy, not very sweet, and make you thirsty. These are chewy and packed with honey sweetness. They’re as addicting as soft-baked chocolate chip cookies and as healthy as dried blueberries. At least I like to think so when I nibble twenty of them in one go. Chewy dried bananas come in many shapes and sizes. Some were pressed into flat sheets (3-5 bananas to make a sheet), laid on bamboo panels and dried under the sun. Cà Mau is known for this kind of chuối khô, the main ingredient of the other 101 banana snack things in the South, e.g., banana candies. Other bananas are dried whole, and they turn into finger-long wrinkly banana fingers. Eurasia Delight sells two kinds: the normal chuối khô – more caramel looking, shinier, sweeter, shorter and chewier, the “organic” chuối khô – whiter, dryer, longer, not as good. [...]
Continue reading Chewy dried banana
Little Mom and I… we just have different tastes. She likes seafood. She prefers crunchy to soft. She doesn’t like sticky rice (!) She thinks the mini sponge muffins (bánh bò bông, the Vietnamese kind) are sourer than the white chewy honeycombs (bánh bò, the Chinese kind). I beg to differ. The mini sponges can be eaten alone; the honeycombs are almost always stuffed inside a hollow fried doughnut that is more savory than sweet: their sourness needs to be suppressed by the natural saltiness of oil and the airy crunch of fried batter. That doughnut, brought to us by the Chinese and called by us “bánh tiêu“, saves the honeycombs. The honeycombs could go hang out with the dodo for all I care, but this Saigonese would always appreciate a well-fried bánh tiêu. At any time of the day, one would be able to spot a street cart with the signature double-shelf glass box next to a vat of dark yellow oil. The oil gets darkened from frying too many doughnuts too many times. Sure, it isn’t healthy. But should you really care about health when you eat fried dough? “Fried dough [...]
Continue reading Sandwich Shop Goodies 19 – Bánh tiêu (Chinese sesame beignet)
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 [...]
Continue reading Year in, year out, savoring the savoriest of pork
“It’s sweet, and it shines like honey,” my mom recalls. She was in fifth grade, her teacher, whose family also owns a fish sauce plant, gave each student in the class a sample of the condiment in a mini plastic pouch. When my mom took it home, it took her mom no time to see that this was the Ninth Symphony of fish sauce. It didn’t take the Vietnamese grandmothers in the Bay Area very long either, Rob Bergstrom said, and I quote, to “limp out of the store carrying a full case” of Red Boat’s. I met Rob because of a half-a-month-late comment that I left on Ravenous Couple’s glowing review. Rob is a man who goes around grocery stores and the world to taste fish sauce straight out of the bottle by the spoonfuls (I don’t recommend doing it at home if you’re under 18). And Rob was moved by my mom’s fifth grade experience, which, he said, is similar to a few sparse stories among the older Vietnamese about an excellent-quality fish sauce that some have once tasted in their lifetime and never again. Especially not in [...]
Continue reading Red Boat fish sauce – Good enough to sprout crazy ideas
What hits the spot in the morning better than a hot packed handful of sweet sticky rice with muối mè (sesame-sugar-salt mix)? A hot packed handful of sweet sticky rice with soft steamed whole peanuts and muối mè. Xôi đậu – my forbidden childhood love. $1.50 for a full tummy. Mom did not want me to eat too much xôi đậu in the past because peanuts are known for producing gas excess.
Vietnamese Of my two hundred fifty some posts so far, this Sandwich Shop Goodies series brings me the most joy when writing and also takes me the longest time per post. It’s a collection of the bits and pieces that cost next to nothing. You may say why of course, how can a mere grad student afford The Slanted Door, The French Laundry, or our local Chez Panisse et al. Now although my salary certainly factors in my grocery list, the truth is I’ve lost interest in the uptown food scene. It dazzles like fireworks, and also like fireworks, it doesn’t stay. The mixing and matching of the freshest and strangest ingredients has blended so many nationalities into one that it loses culture like a smoothie losing texture. Those fancinesses don’t have a home. Meanwhile, I can spend days googling an obscure street snack and still regret that I haven’t spent more time, because I know that someone somewhere out there has an interesting story surrounding its identity that I haven’t heard. With such food there’s more than what goes into the pot that I can mention. [...]
Continue reading Sandwich shop goodies #15 – Bánh quy (turtle mochi)
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