well, here we are again…stateside. it was a wonderful two weeks. i am having a hard time readjusting, completely jet lagged still.
our first day.
we got up at 6 am to make our way to long thành district, which is a little over an hour outside of saigon, to visit my uncle. the hotel served breakfast with all of your vietnamese fixings; rice crepes, spring rolls, bread, laughing cow cheese, fruits (the fruits were amazing!), yogurt, etc. you are probably thinking who can eat spring rolls at 6am? ha I can! i don’t think vietnamese food has a distinction between breakfast, lunch and dinner. we came back for seconds and thirds, couldn’t resist ourselves.
with our bellies full, we hopped in a van that was driving us to long thành. i know it has been a while since i was exposed to the traffic here, but seriously, people here put dc drivers to shame. it had been raining here the day we arrived and the flood hadn’t finished draining but people were still driving through it without being bothered by it dodging one another through traffic to make their way onward. incredible. scooters, scooters, everywhere causing congestion but driving here is almost like having a sixth sense almost. you immediately know what to do naturally. the three of us; munch, fox and myself successfully crossed the street during oncoming traffic, a mass caravan of scooters came at us like we were being lunged at by a massive football player. it was exhilarating at best. the trick here is you don’t stop once you cross, they will dodge you but it’s when you stop they don’t know what to do.
the ride felt short even though long thành is far. we turned into my uncle’s street, roadside vendors smiled as they see americans and việt kiều (loosely translated as a term that refers to vietnamese people who live abroad) making their way through the busy tiny street. we looked for a house with a bánh cuốn (thin rice cake) business and there we were, recognized by my cousins. we went inside and were immediately served refreshments. my uncle, the head of the house sat in a wooden chair greeted me with endless smiles, i was happy to see him. the man who partially raised my dad has become older, more frail, but still has ample energy. my cousins looked like they haven’t aged in years, what’s their secret?
one of my cousins who makes and sells bánh cuốn at the front of the house served everyone their own plate. bánh cuốn is a steamed rolled cake that’s made from rice batter. it is poured thinly onto a flat round surface. once it’s steamed, it gets stuffed with minced and seasoned meat, usually pork, and woodear mushroom. you take a chopstick to roll the cake from the edge on one side and fold it over. the cake is plated with chả lụa, sprinkled fried onion and garnished with chopped mint, bean sprouts and dressed with chilli nước mắm (fish sauce). it was refreshing, just like everything i remembered.
our bellies full for a second time, we took a stroll through the market to buy fruits and flowers to take to my grandmother’s grave. a moment i was dreading, not because i didn’t want to go, it just meant for me that she’s no longer here…permanently. it’s something i haven’t come to terms with. she passed when i was a junior in college. i still remember that phone call from my dad. i didn’t realize the last i saw her would be the last time. as i stood there by her graveside, i breathed in a moment to catch my breath. tears started to fall. i miss her…i said a silent goodnight.
we hopped back into the car to return home. my aunt prepared a marvelous feast. it was enough to feed an entire army of people. we sat together at the table feasting. i ate like a hungry vulture. her food was just as delicious as i remembered when i was little. i savored every bite, devoured every dish on that table. then i remembered why i returned home. every smell, every taste, every bite connected me back to my roots.
so now, how do i re-create these dishes?