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 Boulevard.
Then one day Mom decided: “Rent a car and go with Kristen to San Jose. It’ll be good for you to drive, and I wouldn’t worry as much as if you drive alone.” I asked Kristen, she agreed to join me (brave girl). I felt nervous and excited. I reserved a car. Step 1 complete.
I signed the paperwork and got the key. I turned on the engine. Yes! Step 2 complete.
I drove from Enterprise to Kristen‘s house. Minus the two times people honked at me and one strange male voice “where are you going baby?” that came from nowhere (there was no green light to turn left, I got confused and stopped at the intersection for god knows how long), I’d say it went smoothly. I parked across the street from her place. The phone call “I’m here” to her was the most accomplishing moment I felt last week. Step 3 complete.
There is a huge difference between driving alone and driving with another person. It’s more huge than the difference between I-880 from Oakland to San Jose and US-59 in Houston. We arrived at the Lion Supermarket. Step 4 complete.
Cold-cuts bánh mì (silk sausage and pate).
Grilled pork bánh mì (also with pate).
A wider-than-my-hand ice cream bar with frozen banana, jackfruit, coconut shavings and peanuts that sent both of us back into the car to rest. (While resting, we sipped on sugar cane juice (with a salted kumquat) and tried to figure out the flavors of two frozen treats that tasted durian one minute, passion fruit the next, and jackfruit the next next. Those were weird.)
A giganmongous plate of bánh cuốn (steamed rice roll), where the rolls (quite a few of them too) were completely buried underneath a thousand other things: an eggroll, an infinite amount of chả lụa (silk sausage), fried shrimp sausage on sugar cane stick, bánh cống (fried mung bean bread), and a shrimp wafer. (We couldn’t finish this plate. A mere $10, not the best banh cuon I’ve ever had, but the leftover was enough for my dinner.)
Bánh chưng for Tet.
Chewy sesame candy (mè xửng) and candied coconut strips, also for Tet.
Pickled mustard greens.
Banana bread pudding.
Bánh xu xê.
Some fermented tofu cookies (I haven’t tried them yet, but Kristen said she likes them, so I think I’d like them too…)
Eleven green waffles at the Century Bakery, because when you buy 10 you get 1 free.
And other food things…
We drove back.
Minus one tiny tiny incident where stupid me forgot the key inside the car, locked us out, had to call Roadside Assistance and waited 30 minutes for the rescue, I’d say Step 5 was wildly successful.
I dropped Kristen off. Refilled the tank. Drove to Enterprise. Tried to park between a gargantuan 12-seat van (or maybe 17?) and a car. Got myself halfway into the spot and literally one inch away from the van before realizing that I could either stop or crash into the van. This was 7 pm, dark enough that the pedestrians who were pointing and laughing at my ridiculous situation couldn’t really see my face (I hope). Step 6 very far from complete. I called Kristen for rescue. She and her boyfriend rushed over. It was one of those moments when your friends seem to appear with a shining halo and white wings. I felt forever indebted to them.
When that car got into the spot (Kristen‘s boyfriend moved it like nothing at all), I sighed in relief, and strangely, my fear of driving in California also evaporated. The last barrier between me and food removed. I thought about the next trip to San Jose with ease. Now I can go there any time I want. Now I can have banh chung for Tet again. Now I can go everywhere.
Step 8: learn how to park.
Happy Lunar New Year! Happy birthday to me. 🙂
1816 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95122
1816 Tully Road, Store #198, San Jose, CA 95122
Thien Huong Banh Cuon Trang Hoi
1818 Tully Rd, San Jose, CA 95122
Century Bakery (inside Grand Century Mall)
1111 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95122