Today, I received this SOS email from “Suzanne”:
I love your website and read it everyday! I am Vietnamese too and my dad's 60 something birthday is coming up this Sunday. He's always saying how his only little girl never cooks and invites her parents over like every Vietnamese girl should. So I am feeling like I should make a meal and invite my family over to celebrate his birthday on Sunday. But I don't know what to make!!! I would really like to make something Vietnamese but I have a big family and need to make enough to feed 10 people and 7 little nieces and nephews all under age 5. Do you have any ideas for something I can make that they would enjoy and most importantly that I cannot mess up? A bun [rice noodles] meal or something I can grill or ???
I am a pretty good cook but when it comes to Vietnamese food I feel like i can never get it to taste right…maybe because Vietnamese parents are so critical – I don't know. :)
Anyway – I know you are a busy woman but if you have a moment and can help a good Vietnamese daughter out I would REALLY REALLY appreciate it!!!
I was just about to start working on an article for the LA Times but I dropped what I was doing to respond.
Theresa’s cry for help really got me for this reason: There have been countless times when someone recounts how their parents, aunties and grandparents tell them that the Asian food of their ancestors is TOO HARD for them to master as they are TOO AMERICANIZED. Sorry, I don’t buy that. Cooking is not rocket science but a craft that you practice. Among the great benefits of coming to America is having potable water and refrigeration, both of which are conducive to cooking well.
It may be that these older folks don’t know how to show the younger generation how to prepare the foods of their heritage? Or maybe there isn’t time?
Additionally, and this is awful to say, but Asian people can be the worst critics to their own. It's awful. Why does someone have to nitpick food to death when he/she didn’t prepare it themselves? It’s as if we think our views are correct, the best, and most authentic. Lord knows, my mother can tell stories about how male guests have suggested that they know what the right flavors and techniques are for a dish, despite the fact they probably never cooked anything in their life!
Older folks: Please stop dissuading young people from attempting to master your homeland’s cuisines. It’s a terrible disservice to your family and community. Instilling guilt and fear of failure in the new generation is like shooting yourself in the foot, if your actual intention is to secure the future of your cherished foodways.
If you have thoughts or similar experiences to that of “Suzanne” tell us all what you think!
By the way, here is what I advised to “Suzanne”:
From the Viet World Kitchen site, try making this 3-course menu:
– Chao tom — grilled shrimp on sugar cane
– Grilled lemongrass pork steaks — have it with bun rice noodles, lettuce and fresh Viet herbs, and nuoc cham dipping sauce
– For dessert, make the corn and coconut sweet soup (che bap)
From my cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (your library, bookstore, and Amazon.com has it) try:
Pick 1 or 2 of these as a starter:
– Baked shrimp toast or mini pate chaud savory puff pastries (totally make ahead stuff)
– Fresh corn and shiitake mushroom soup or asparagus and crab soup
– Cucumber and shrimp salad (goi dua chuot)
Main course (pick 1): something beefy would probably impress your dad
– Bo Kho — beef stew with star anise — serve with the best French bread you can buy
– Garlicky Maggi steaks — sear them in a pan, serve with rice or even roasted potatoes!
– Banana cake — killer easy cake, just use overripe bananas, make it a day ahead if you want
UPDATE: Monday, 9/21 — While we had our raging conversation here, Suzanne kept herself busy in the kitchen this weekend. This morning, I received this email report from her:
Hi Andrea!Guess what – at the last minute all my siblings bail out because
all their kids are sick and we don't like to get each other's kids sick
so it was just me and my husband, our two kids and my parents. So I
ended up making the Chao Tom which was delicious and since my dad was
craving a bowl of pho ga I decided to use your recipe. It WORKED!!!
The Pho was perfect! All they said was it was just a tad bit 'Lat' but
perfect because it allowed them to add additional nuoc mam as they like
it. So now that I know how easy pho ga is I am going to be making it
all the time. Thanks for the fabulous recipe – it's so nice to have a
recipe and not just a 'little bit of that and a little bit of this'.Of course only after we ate all the food did I remember to take
pictures. All I have is a picture of my toddler slurping the last bits
of his noodle bowl. I'll try to send you a pic when I get it
downloaded. 🙂I just wanted to tell you Thank you!!! I also saw your recipe for
Hu Tieu Nam Vang and I am going to try that next! I used to live in
Chicago and would go to this restaurant called Hai Yen and they had the
best Hu Tieu. I haven't been able to find anything that tastes like it
but your recipe sounds like it might be close. I can't wait to try it!Thanks!!!
Quite a turnaround, huh?