Throughout my life, my father has always been willing to dispense his views on what I ought to be doing at any given time. He’d check how many layers of clothing I had on before I left for elementary school each morning to make sure that I was sufficiently protected in the Southern California environment. If I was sick, he’d prescribe slipping a eucalyptus oil-soaked paper towel underneath all my clothes. “It’s more potent than Vick’s Vapor Rub!” he said. I experienced aromatherapy way before it was hip.
When we first came to the United States, I fortunately had an opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with my father. As the youngest child, I was his pal and we spent hours together exploring the aisles of the Akron (a precursor to Cost Plus), munching on croissants and baguette at local bakeries (some owned by Vietnamese émigrés), and sipping cognac and sampling obscure French wines from Trader Joe’s. He and I would tool around in our blue Mercury Comet to make our rounds to the local thrift shops. We’d check the inventory and my dad would inevitably say to me in Vietnamese, “I wouldn’t pay more than X for that!” Then, he’d go to work on the saleswomen, who mostly fell victim to his persistence and charm. Dad knew how to stretch a dollar.
Whenever I visit my folks nowadays, my dad is ready with his latest theories about food. The photo above is from a lunch we had at my parents’ home in February 2009. Dad is emphatically selling everyone on his latest method of building a Vietnamese rice noodle bowl. The main dish was cha ca Ha Noi, a northern Vietnamese preparation of catfish seasoned by turmeric, galangal, and dill that’s served with bun rice noodles and a dipping sauce of fermented shrimp sauce (mam tom). We’d eaten that dish a zillion times before and my sisters Linh and Tasha and my husband Rory and I knew how to assemble the dish in our separate bowls. I don’t know how many bottles of wine had gone around the table but Dad insisted that his method – soak the cooked fish in the dipping sauce before adding it to rest of the ingredients – delivered a superior flavor punch.
Linh, Tasha, Rory, and I defended our throw-everything-into-the-bowl-all-once approach as being our favorite. But my father, who somehow got my mother’s support from the other end of the table, insisted that his was the ‘right’ method and ours was lacking. We verbally jousted for a while. Then he knew he had us when he said: “The cha ca tastes better with the wine if you soak the fish first.”
We each tried his method, and well, he was right.
Have some fatherly wisdom and/or wackiness to share? Don't hold back!
- * In Vietnamese, Bố Già literally means Old Daddy and figuratively means the Man in Charge.
- Read my 2009 Mother's Day tribute in "My Mother's Kitchen Quirks". The first photo on that post is of Mom dishing out the cha ca fish that I refer to above.