Candied cà-na (white canarium or Chinese olive)

It’s not the black stuff they throw on your pizzas or the green thing they toothpick on your sandwich. How many of us city kids have tasted the tartness with a tiny sweet afterpunch of this Mekong delta fruit? It’s addictive like fresh squeezed orange juice on a summer day. Speaking street tongue, it’s nature’s crack in oblong shape. Eat ’em fresh with chilipepper salt, or candy them with sugar and heat, it’s how kids down South do it with the cà na they shake off from bushes on the riverbanks. And argue if you may, kids know tasty food. The shape is really the only link cà na has with the Western olive (Olea europaea), though it’s at least two times bigger. Does the name “cà na” mean anything? “Cà” is tomato, and “na” is the northern word for sweetsop, two totally unrelated species to this ovoid fruit. So “cà na” is not a compound noun. I’m no etymologist but here’s my best guess: “cà na” |kah nah| is a shortened vietnamization of the Thai word “kanachai”, from which cultigen taxonomists derive the the scientific name “canarium”, a genus with about […]

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Spicy balls of fruit and salt

Let’s make it clear: ô mai |oh mai| is not xí muội |xi mui| (huamei), even if Wikipedia says so. The former is a cooked mixture of cut-up fruits, ginger, licorice and spices, the latter is a whole plum dried and salted. Now that’s settled, I got a bunch of ô mai from Vua Khô Bò & Ô Mai a while ago, all homemade or so the lady told. Guava, rose buds, sấu (no English name, it seems), mango, kumquat, cóc (golden apple), tamarind, and 5-fruit combo, 2 balls each at $6.99 per half pound. Sweet, spicy, chunky, velvety, gingery, tart, salty, it’s all there. The downside: they all have the same wrapper, so except for the guava one which is extra chunky, I can’t tell which is which if my life depended on it. Continue reading Spicy balls of fruit and salt

Toothsome nana tootsie

Last night I dreamed of these brown sticks in cellophane wrappers. The sound of crunchy plastic unraveled. The smooth yet sticky, dried-syrup-like surface that easily gives way to the pinch of two nails. An ever so lightly sweet, fruity, malty breath whizzing up as your nose closes in… I woke up feeling as though there were some of those pieces melting on my tongue. But the best part of eating a banana tootsie roll, if I may call it so despite it having no relationship to the Tootsie Roll, is, like with the real Tootsie rolls, the chew. You chew it and notice it get smaller, but not any less sweet or less gummy. And it’s only as sweet as a just ripe banana, yet with an alluring touch of coconut. The chewy banana candy is a Mekong delta specialty, where siem bananas grow more easily than rice. The stout, dense, supple bananas either make their way into che, bread pudding, wrapped and grilled in sticky rice, flattened and sun-dried, or cooked in some recipes that are only passed down from mothers to daughters. I just know that whenever we traveled to […]

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Chinese candy talking

Sometimes, very seldom, I feel the urge to learn Chinese. There are just too many little Chinese things going around without English labels. In fact, the harder it is to describe, the more likely its name is all in Chinese. Take these sweets for instance. They come in handmade red paper boxes at a wedding. This one shapes like a corn ear, smells and tastes like corn, and aptly has an English name: Corn Flavour Jelly. A nice chew but you gotta git it down fast or you git tireduvit. Continue reading Chinese candy talking