One of my retirement plans is to translate these books into English. This one is about Southern Vietnamese food. Most of these dishes are still there, some hidden behind coconut trees and around small branches of the river net, some popularized in Saigon’s expensive menus, national tour, and exported oversea. Some have vanished as the species of the land died out or became unfavorable, as time is too short to make good treats, as the abundance of resource and imagination is replaced by the greedy fight over benefits, and as people simply forget.
I remember bắp nấu. It’s corn kernels without the peel, cooked like rice, white, soft, and gently sweet, eaten hot with a sprinkle of salt and sesame mix. Mmmmm… I remember thịt kho nước dừa. “Kho” is to simmer meat or fish with water and nước mắm, preferably in a clay pot, believe it or not, earthenware gives a flavor to the dish. My mom used to kho pork and eggs with fresh coconut water (according to Tran Van Chi, and many Southern ladies, kho with coconut milk – the juice from the dried shredded coconut meat, is untraditional, the flavor would be too thick). The result is extremely tender (rệu) pork soaked in a clear, coconut sweetened, savory, golden brown liquid, the egg whites hardened, somewhere between chewy and crunchy, the egg yolk turns into a deep orange ball like the low moon, tightly packed with flavors. It’s a must-have, a tradition, an indicator of Tet…
The tastes of these revive in my mind, as I read Tran Van Chi’s book. Tasting memories, that is. My mom said she misses the atmosphere of Tet in Vietnam, even if we had the food, the mai tree, the firecrackers now, which we don’t, we would only be on the sidewalk looking at the party, we can never be in the party again. Christmas and New Year don’t have the same atmosphere. Like Thế Lữ wrote for Nhất Linh’s Đoạn Tuyệt:
Rũ áo phong sương trên gác trọ
Lặng nhìn thiên hạ đón xuân sang
(Shaking off wind and dew, from a motel room,
Silently watch people celebrating the new spring)
DISCLAIMER: I received no free product or monetary gift in exchange for this review.