Emerald green. Chilled. Clear. Leafy. Mildly sweet (sugar is added). Every time I pass by a patch of fuzzy spring grass, I dream of munching a tuft and inhaling the lush, youthful aroma of those dew- and rain-soaked blades. This two-dollar drink in this plastic cup is my dream come liquefied.
Lately I have been slacking on the blogging front, mainly because I took on an editing job to compensate for my unwillingness to cook. Ironically, now my eating out budget has increased but I have neither time to eat nor to write about the stuff that I eat. On top of that, the last few weeks of the semester are, naturally, the time to sprint at the end of the marathon and the professors make sure that slacking means death (no joke). But sometimes it backfires when you’re too stressed, you ditch your homework, set out on an hour bus ride to your Vietnamese sandwich shop, order a cup of pennywort drink, and drown your sleep deprivation in eavesdropping others’ conversations.
Little Mom used to make pennywort soup, the best remedy for hot weather and rising body temperature it was. Dad used to eat them raw. The plants almost grow wild, so the leaves cost next to nothing (I wonder why its English name isn’t “pennyworth”). On the streets pennyworth drinks usually get advertised on the same raggedy carts that sell sugarcane juice and fruit smoothies. Those “Nước Mía – Rau Má – Sinh Tố” surrounded with pictures of pineapple and avocado painted on the aluminum sides are a part of every Saigon school front.
But the cup at Bánh Mì Ba Lẹ was my first. There’s the familiar leafy taste in mom’s soup of years back, but the chilled sweetness is refreshingly new. A few tables away, a boy with Tintin‘s hair and two girls were also sipping their rau má. They speak in my mother tongue, yet somehow it sounds so foreign.
Address: Bánh Mì Ba Lẹ (East Oakland)
1909 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606