Hope you had a great Fourth of July holiday. That's America's Independence Day celebration for those of you who don't live in the U.S. In addition to gathering with friends in the evening for lots of beer and grilled foods, my husband and I also took time out to read the Declaration of Independence as a reminder of the values of this country. (My husband is a political scientist!) Many of those values are universal, and in fact, were included by Ho Chi Minh in his 1945 Vietnam Declaration of Independence. (Note that he mentions both the American and French Revolutions.)
Vietnam's current human rights record speaks differently, and we'll see how things play out, given the Vietnamese president's recent June 22 visit to Washington, D.C. Leading up to the visit, the Viet-American community was abuzz with speculation. In late May, a small group of Viet-American activists met with President Bush to voice their concerns. The day after the meeting, on June 23, Vietnam President Nguyen Minh Triet met with business leaders at a ritzy Southern California resort hotel. Busloads of people gathered at the resort for two days of protest (video from ABC News included). In the aftermath, the White House invited Vietnamese-American activist Dr. Nguyen Xuan Ngai (a key member of the Democratic Party of Vietnam, a group that advocates democracy for Vietnam) to D.C. for a State Department briefing on Bush's meeting with Nguyen Ming Triet.
Regardless of your politics, a lot has changed in the last 32 years. Those of you who've flown on Vietnam Airlines, a well run state-owned enterprise, will be interested in learning about how they produce their food for the jet set. Graham Holiday posted a link on his Noodlepie blog to an insider's look at the airline's food production process.
But certain things stay the same too, like the persistent corruption in Vietnam. People at every level of society have to battle such inequities. Here's a July 4 story on anti-corruption warrior Le Hien Duc, an 88-pound, 75-year-old grandma in Hanoi.
Indeed, the economic liberalization has brought easier travel, plenty of good food, and tons of exported ingredients to those of us living and cooking abroad. Daniel Tran, whose family owns and operates the Vien Dong supermarkets in Southern California, just told me that they currently carry 20 different kinds of fish sauce, mostly made in Vietnam and Thailand (!!).
Indeed, whether you're Vietnamese or not, there's plenty to explore. In our small pocket of the virtual world, new recipe postings on this blog include one for the classic Vietnamese snack, beef in wild betel leaf (thit bo nuong la lot). I posted the recipe to highlight my mom's instructions for how to efficient roll up the meat into small, neat packets. Summer begs for cooling salads and Rosa from Geneva, Switzerland, sent a link to her Vietnamese grapefruit salad with chicken (goi buoi thit ga), and I made a meatless rendition of a spicy cabbage salad (goi bap cai). Simon, who provoked me to post the chicken pho recipe, reacted to Andrew Lam's piece on the role of ethnic foods in America culinary landscape by sending in his original, fusion recipe for pho couscous (just scroll down posting on Andrew Lam's article).
This past week, I learned a nifty trick for growing moisture loving rice paddy herb (ngo om), which is an ingredient for Vietnamese sour fish soup. All of this has been happening on the blog. Peruse and join in the fray.
Not everything has gone to the blogosphere. If you want another tip from my mama, she gave me a terrific for how to freeze cha gio (fried imperial rolls). Refugees like my family came to America for many things, including potable water and refrigeration!
I'm a supporter of public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, California. One of the songs on their current playlist is an unusual version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" done with Vietnamese instruments. It's from an album called The Rough Guide Music to the Music of Vietnam, which includes old folk pieces and modern, Western pieces performed by the country's top musicians.
For all of these reasons and more, I count my blessings.