I honestly have no idea how “a few days” became two months. One day I was unpacking my shorts and bags of dried chrysanthemum tea from my suitcase and the next it was the day before my microeconomics final and I suddenly remembered that oh hey, I own a blog.
This is probably the most productive activity I did all day, after watching ten episodes of Parks and Recreation. And so, long story short, I win the top prize for Worst Food Blogger Ever. New pitch for a reality show on Food Network?
The funny part is that I’m actually interning at Food Network this summer. Now you can tell from my pitch that I’m not in the writers crew. If I was, I’d be Lutz. Minus Blimpie’s.
Vietnam feels especially far away at the moment. Time passed slowly when I was away; every moment felt new and every face and place was unfamiliar and mysterious. In a way, I’m looking for this type of excitement in my everyday life in New York again. But how do you renew routine?
Food, friends, family. That’s the answer.
This year, I’ve not only opened myself to new opportunities to meeting great new people, but I’ve invited them into my life by sharing my insight and my appetite. And there’s no better way to get to know someone new (or familiar) through the sharing of sustenance and stories.
I always remember this one time when my high school friend came over my house and after eyeing the random cultural doodads in my kitchen, asked, “Wait, are you Chinese or Vietnamese?”
My parents were actually raised in Vietnam, but born of Chinese descent. My grandparents immigranted from China as children during the Cultural Revolution. So if you asked me where in China my family is from, I honestly don’t know. And so, I’ve called Vietnam the “motherland” because that’s the place my mother pointed out her elementary school, the streets my dad grew up playing street music for money, and the only country that I’d call my second home. I’m still not so sure where on the slider I’d place myself, but today, I like to say both. Yes I am both Chinese and Vietnamese.
And that fantastic seafood fest I call a family dinner? That was the first time I met my dad’s side of the family. After the hour long taxi ride out of Ho Chi Minh City in which I lazily sprawled out in for a delicious hour of air conditioning, I came in front of a large gated “house.” It was so strange to meet 10 new people for the first time in 20 years. Where do I even begin?
One thing I found extremely interesting is that unlike my mother’s side of the family, my dad’s sisters preferred speaking in Vietnamese over Chinese, even at home. Only I noticed this though, because I can’t understand Vietnamese. But after thinking about this for awhile, it isn’t too different from my choosing to speak English over Chinese in America. I would love to learn how to speak Vietnamese, but I was never any good at picking up new languages. Phonic systems baffle me.If you’re to go for street food, it has to be seafood and xoi. Some of my favorite things I’ve had in Vietnam are xoi (sticky rice), periwinkles, Hainanese chicken and rice (seriously!), peanuts off the side of the street, coconut jam (jelly?), and Vietnamese “sour soup.” Most of these names are a little lost in translation, but just believe me that you’d want to eat all of this goodness. In one day. Or sitting.
There’s nothing my mom loves more than xoi from the side of the street. Don’t let the dusty streets scare you. It will be best mound of rice you ever eat. It also helps that it’s a terrific almost neon green.
If there’s anything I’ve learned during my month in Vietnam it’s:
Before my blog explodes with Vietnamese food porn, let me first say that this week has seriously been wonderful, like Singing in the Rain kind of wonderful (cue Gene Kelly). If any of you Listserve-rs are out there, I want you to thank you all for your support and lovin’. When else would I get to share my story with 21,000+ readers?! When I got that “You’ve been selected!” email, I felt like I did win the lottery in a way. I fought the urge to shout, “I WON THE LOTTERY!!!” though, mostly because I think my mom would have yelled at me for getting her overexcited about an email. She would not have been amused.
Shoutout to the Listserve for giving overly sentimental people like myself an opportunity to connect with people all over the world. The best part about all this is that I was able to send a mass email that people actually read and didn’t click ‘spam’ on. I’m thinking of adding “Some people out of 21K read my email one day this year” to one of my accomplishments on LinkedIn.
I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 2am a few days after Christmas. Jet-lagged, running on Japanese airline food, and a little disoriented, I stepped outside of the airport to a wave of hot and humid air and a crowd of confused strangers holding name signs. My parents waved me over to a familiar-looking crew—-my extended family—-and I quietly greeted them as I was half-asleep and slipped into a taxi to my new home for the month.
The streets were lit by sporadically placed street lamps and illuminated storefronts that served bowls of hot, steaming noodles to insomniacs. Men sat outside on beat-up beach chairs and watched my taxi zoom by. The roads were dusty even at night, but eerily quiet. There were no mopeds.
When I arrived at the entrance, I felt like I was trying to enter a secret society. Not only was opening the door a challenge, but after that you have to walk down a long corridor before reaching the right room. The instructions included the following: Enter key, clockwise one time, wait for *click.* Put slight pressure on door and maintain this while removing the key (this is important). Use special flat keychain and insert into the secret spot to pop open the second lock. Voila! Now you are qualified to enter your own home.
I swear I could write a description about the entire process, but it would take an entire day to read. So, let’s talk about food (oh yeah, this is a food blog…).
So you want to know where to go to find the best food in the city? See the first three photos. That’s right. You’re going to be sitting on stools that will probably collapse as you eat your weight in noodles AND the chopsticks don’t come with paper cozies. Welcome to the world of Vietnamese food.
We’ll be exploring Ho Chi Minh City, where the best food is served on chairs meant for 3 year olds and out and in the open where it can breathe and release its delicious aromas to passers-by. Don’t let this scare you from eating all your pho. It will be worth it. I promise.
Stay tuned for my next post coming up in a few days.
There’s something awfully comforting about the vigorous boiling of my parents’ red tea in the morning, the light swish sounds from the passing cars down the block, and being alone yet together while quietly residing in my room. Spring break is here and it’s clear that there’s more than one type of paradise.
I wake up and look out the window to snow-covered cars and bare trees, like a silent reaffirmation. Light filters through the tulle curtains at 10am, bringing my empty, sleepy room to life. Breaks are never quite long enough.
Now that I finally have some time to think, I’m excited to finally post up some of my pictures from my time in Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore. I’m glad this is a food blog, because if I had to describe all of my experiences abroad, these travel posts would be neverending. I’m cooking up (ha) some cool stuff for you wonderful readers. Keep your eyes peeled (I love food puns).
Photo courtesy of mademoiselleamontreal.com
Watching Julia Child is like indulging in comfort food—the experience nurtures and fulfills one’s nostalgia for traditional and hearty food. Our appreciation for Julia Child’s The French Chef taps into the sentimental aspect of home-style cooking, when preparing food used to be considered an occasion rather than a daunting chore. Living ridiculously fast-paced lives, we yearn for the reminders of a simpler past to bear with the harsh realities of modern society. We are accustomed to the “I want it now” attitude to eating that disassociates the cooking process and complaining that we are too busy with our technology and fancy gizmos to give up hours to make food that feeds the soul. Our admiration for Julia Child inspires us to treat food as she does, but her words, however convincing, cannot fulfill the lifestyles that today’s society promotes.
For a person who names their food blog, Butter & Butter, I don’t really use that much butter. I would neglect that unused stick of butter in favor of my trusty bottle of olive oil for baking, sauteing, stir frying, and omelette-making. I thought having a shop two blocks away (the famous New York City coffee shop, Abraco) that sells moist, earthy, and scrumptious slices of olive oil cake was the ultimate benefit of living in the East Village until my buddy, Sam, forwarded me their recipe for Olive Oil Cake. Well, I don’t have much motivation to go outside anymore.
Also, I don’t think food bloggers ever mention how ridiculous it is to take photographs of themselves whisking and pouring mixtures at the same time. Times like these make me wish I had an extra hand (imagine how awesome cooking would be). Oh the possibilities of food porn would be endless..
Now before you scroll on down to get the recipe, you must prepare a hot pot of coffee to go along with the olive oil cake. And while it’s baking, you can scrunch up in a blanket by your windowsill, pretend to read that book you’ve put off for a month, and watch the steam rise and evaporate from your cup. Now if that’s not Instagram-worthy, I don’t know what is.
View the recipe