You may have seen this photo before on VWK or in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. That's me in the lower left, having a bad day. That aside, I was barely six when it was taken so I hadn’t started to really cook yet. However, I’d spent time in the kitchen with my mom and our cook, who would let me do simple things like operate the hand cranked meat grinder when they made pork liver pâté for banh mi. Then they’d let me disassemble it, which is how I learned that the grinding mechanisms were heavy, cold and sharp. That was Saigon in the early 1970s and we were among the lucky few to employ a cook and own appliances like a meat grinder and food processor.
When my family fled to the United States in 1975, my mom took over cooking for our family and my sisters and I became her helpers. I developed a thing for cooking and reading cookbooks. I watched my mom, listened to her conversations with friends, and made mental notes.
She was strict and I liked to slyly depart from her instructions. Mom must have had had eyes in the back of her head because with her back turned to me, she would sternly tell me to do what she told me to do. (I know she’s reading this post.)
I’m not a parent but I wonder if parents realize how much sinks in. The other day I had to purchase a bag of Mahatma rice for magazine story. That’s the supermarket brand of rice that my mom had to cook up when we first arrived in America. It’s so-so rice but reading the label reminded me of a slew of cooking lessons that my mom has taught me.