Tomorrow is Easter and you may or may not be celebrating with family. At my parent’s home, there will be a humongous main meal that my mother will have been concocting for days in anticipation of a table surrounded by us kids and our respective significant others and children. Everyone will groan as she pulls out one dish after another. For example, banh xeo sizzling rice crepes may follow stuffed snails which were served after a bunch of Viet charcuterie that she made and/or defrosted from one of her two freezers. (She has two of them!). After the crepes, there may be bun cha rice noodles with charbroiled pork, and fresh herbs; the crepes have a similar garnish so why not throw in a noodle dish right? The grand kids get sticky rice with slices of lap xuong (lop chong) Chinese sausages.
Are you full yet? You can’t possibly be but if you are, she’ll make us all pause for a moment to clear the tables. Normally, my father and husband keep chatting and sipping wine (it’s a midday meal but we’ve always been early drinkers). My sisters and I are usually relieved to get up from the table to remove the service ware. Meanwhile, my mom readies the desserts. It’s not just one dessert. It’s a mini tour-de-force. But it starts out with some kind of fruit.
The last time I was home, jackfruit was the fruit. My sister Linh went to her favorite fruit vendor in Little Saigon to pick up FRESH jackfruit. It’s grown in Mexico and she and my mom were giggling in the kitchen as they took apart the innards, saving the seeds and filaments and boiling them since they’re rather astringent and sticky. The prized sweet yellow flesh was presented raw.
The photo above is of the spread of homemade Vietnamese sweets that mom presented. Her dehydrator was kept busy with all the candied and preserved fruits she made last fall. That foursome in the center includes dried persimmons from my neighbor’s Santa Cruz trees, cranberries dusted with licorice (a New World version of Vietnamese cam thao candy), tamarind cam thao, which also contains licorice. Mom is smart to pull something out of her back pocket that she could augment the fresh stuff with. For the freshly made desserts, there were sticky rice dumplings filled with mung bean in ginger syrup (che troi nuoc).
That’s how it is at every family meal at my parent’s home. The sweets part of the meal is practically a meal in and of itself. I always try to wear comfortable clothing, lest I can’t get up from the table.
Guests at my home are not always treated with such extravagance. On the occasion that I lavish them with sweets, my game plan is this:
1. Start with fresh fruit to cleanse the palate
2. Whip out something made in advance, a cookie, candy, or sweetmeat that I’d made in advance and perhaps even defrosted
3. Knock their socks off with a freshly-prepared piece de resistance, a cake, sweet dumplings, or the like.
It’s the 1-2-3 punch that I’ve experienced all my life and it never fails to work.
Sweets in Asia are not just for dessert. They’re snacks and nibbles. They’re the host’s chance to titillate his/her guests till everyone groans and pleads for a break. You can’t just serve a cake or ice cream. That wouldn’t be generous enough. I've never been one to start the meal with dessert, but rather, you gotta end the meal with a meal of dessert.
What do you do?