Two years ago, I had written what I thought was a rather ho hum post on "How to Cook Jasmine Rice." Who knew that it would be so useful? With more than two dozen comments, I guess rice resonated with many of you too.
Shortly afterward, I received an email from Robin, who lives, as she calls it, in the heart of Cajun country -- south Louisiana. She was dating a Vietnamese man at the time and had been searching for recipes to cook for him.
"I was in desperate need of a lesson on how to cook jasmine rice, since my three attempts were a disaster! ... Now, I know what I was doing wrong. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It came out perfect that evening."She told me the blog was useful to help her cook some of the foods her Vietnamese boyfriend liked, and seeing the various steps, and knowing what the dish was supposed to look like, helped her cook Vietnamese food more confidently.
I replied that if any of my recipes helped her to woo her man and got her a marriage proposal, I wanted to know about it. :P
In reply, Robin said he hadn't proposed yet, but that she finally met his mother when they were evacuated together during Hurricane Gustav. His mother started cooking Vietnamese dishes for her. Her boyfriend was actually a bit jealous of the attention his mother was paying to Robin. His brothers decided to capitalize on the situation by asking Robin to request that their mother make some of their favorite dishes. Haha!
Before they come over to his mother's house for dinner, when her boyfriend tells Robin what his mother is cooking, she looks up the dish on the blog.
"So when I get there I will know what to expect and hopefully not be too rude. If I know what something is, I am more willing to try it."An open mind and a willingness to try new things is always handy for any relationship, but I replied with two pieces of advice that I think is useful for Vietnamese relationships in particular:
1) Do the dishes. It doesn't matter if his mother pushes you away (She will as a token protest for politeness.), just get back in there, be insistent, and do the dishes.
2) Never show up on his mother's doorstep empty-handed. Yes, this includes coming over for dinner where you will be fed anyway. Bring a bag of whatever fruit is in season or something small, but bring something.
Trust me. Especially if you're not Vietnamese, or even if you are, those two simple gestures will make a world of difference in how his mother will regard you.
Six months later, we're up to April 2009 now, Robin updated me on her relationship with her Vietnamese sweetheart again.
"Proposal!!!!Aww. Congratulations! Best wishes to the happy couple - Chung and Robin!
We spent the entire weekend cleaning his brother's house (His too but he has lived with me for the past 1 1/2 yrs.) His mom had been complaining that the place was terrible and needed to be cleaned, and as the oldest brother he needed to make them do it. Since I was off this weekend, I suggested we spend the weekend there to clean. He was happy about that. He got to spend time with his dog that he misses.
We had lunch with his mom. She asked me if I wanted to go to Vietnam, and of course, I very excitedly said, "YES." Later, she came by to see what we (I) was actually doing. Chung (my sweetie) told me later that she was very impressed at how hard I was working and how detailed my cleaning was.
As we drove to my sister's house to pick up my 9-year-old son, he said that spiritually that he feels we are already married.
He wants to be with me forever.
Then he said, "I want to make it legal. And I don't want to wait."
No matter how little of a role you may think you had in this, you were very instrumental. I learned how to make some of his favorite foods and have not really been shocked by anything I have tried at his mother's.
Friday May 29, 2009. One of the happiest days of my life."
So, I really should have blogged this way back when, but you know I'm horrible with staying on top of things. Plus, I really wanted to do the story justice and posts don't write themselves until I'm good and ready, or until I get the information I need. I asked Robin to tell me more about her romance with Chung.
"Chung and I met about 3 1/2 yrs ago, in dance class. Ballroom dancing that is. He was new and far behind. We worked on just one movement for an hour after class for about a month. We were friends now.Awww!
After about a year, I could not afford to take lessons, but did not want to forget everything I had learned. By this time, he was really into dancing and had keys to the studio. We met every Monday night. We would practice whatever he had taken a private lesson on earlier that day. Never wanting to learn the tango myself (too seductive), he talked me into it. He had bought some DVDs on dancing and wanted to learn the tango. I gave in to his pleading. These Monday nights went on for about five months.
During breaks we talked about everything you could possibly imagine. I even tried to fix him up with some of the single girls I knew, but always found them not quite right for him. I knew I had some type of feelings for him when I read an email about him going on a double-date to the zoo with his brother and this "adorable girl," my heart sank, until I found out she was the 2-year-old daughter of his brother's date!
I knew I was smitten.
One Monday night, he called me and said he was hungry and did not want to practice. He wanted to take me and Tyler to dinner and maybe a movie. During the movie, Tyler fell asleep on me and the other half of me was cold, so he moved next to me, by the end of the movie, we were holding hands.
Then, a couple of days later was the 4th of July and we made plans to go to New Orleans for lunch. On the way home we stopped by the home of the little boy I took care of on weekends, I made the comment about him meeting my "boyfriend." He said he was jealous. Made me think. He did not want to end the day so he convinced me to go to the studio and we could just talk. Eventually (about 2 in the morning), I took a huge risk at embarrassment and asked him if we were dating.
He almost cried with his response, "What if I said yes?"
I said okay.
Here we are today. He wants to get married on the 4th of July, our two-year anniversary, and of course, our first dance will be the tango. I can honestly say I don't think we had actually had a fight, disagreements, but no fights. I am so spoiled that I don't think any other man would be able to live up to him. It is ALWAYS about me, and it has never been that way for me. If I am dreaming, please don't wake me."
I asked her about the connection between Vietnamese food and her courtship, such as her familiarity with Vietnamese food before discovering the blog (Hey! It's all about me!!! Wait, it's not?) and how her willingness to learn and eat Vietnamese food helped in her relationship with his mom.
"I knew NOTHING about Vietnamese cuisine before I met him. The first ingredient he introduced me to was fish sauce. Yuck! Then, I ran across your blog on fish sauce and read up on it. Needless to say, I now have two types in my cabinet and will be the first person to say, "It needs fish sauce."
My first attempt at making him some "home" food was fried rice. Horrible. I grew up in south Louisiana and have been cooking rice most of my life. How could I be making a mess of it? I really do know how to boil water, I promise. (His joke was always, "Are you boiling the water right?") There had to be a trick to cooking jasmine rice. I read how to cook it on your blog and voila, perfect rice.
I no longer cry cooking rice.
I am still intimidated to cook Vietnamese meals. I have tried a couple of other recipes: Cha Gio (Vietnamese Egg Rolls), Nuoc Mam Cham (Vietnamese Fish Dipping Sauce) (he likes mine better and will no longer make it himself), Mi Hoanh Thanh (Vietnamese Wonton Noodle Soup) (I cheated and bought frozen filled wontons at the Asian store in town. Who knew it was there? My brother! They seem to know him well there.).
Mostly, I come here after I find out what his mom is cooking for dinner. I look it up and if it is something I am so-so about I will eat a little something at home first. Only to be sorry about that later. I can't say there has been anything I didn't like, not crazy about maybe, but eat it anyway (Cajun upbringing).
Foods I do love and will beg him to go get are: Mom's eggrolls, Vietnamese crepes, and pork patties. Although I usually do try to get him to bring home anything she has cooked and is willing to send home to me.
I do think his mom's acceptance of me has to do with the fact that I am so eager to try any of her foods and learn her culture. I am always standing in the kitchen watching what she is doing. Asking what ingredients she is putting into the pot. She smiles and laughs when I tell her what ingredients she is using.
Of course, I have done my research before going over for dinner. She told him the other day that I must be a good cook since I could taste her unfinished soup and tell her what was in it, and also by the fact that he now has a belly.
I am also willing to take her to her favorite Asian market in New Orleans. She tells me to pick at least one new thing in the store and she will buy it for me to try. So far, I am still working on the fruits. Chung picks them out, I try them, if I don't like them, then at least he will eat it. Most are not too bad, just have to get used to the textures mostly.
I can't say which are his favorites. If I cook it for him, he loves it.
She also loves my 9-year-old son. She only calls him "boy," but he already knows she is talking to him. She laughed one day when I was having trouble using chopsticks and my son was trying to show me how to use them. She no longer gives him forks, only chopsticks, then hands me a fork!"
I reassured Robin that a lot of Vietnamese use the generic "boy" or "girl" as a form of endearment.
"We go to my mother-in-law's house every Sunday for dinner. Tonight was Vietnamese crepes. Chung told my son that his mom is now Tyler's grandmother, so when we left Tyler turned around and gave her a hug and told her thank you for dinner. Chung's brother called, after we left and he went home, to tell us she started crying because Tyler went and gave her the hug. Said it made her feel very good about him."We've continued a sporadic correspondence as Robin keeps me updated on her romance with Chung, her relationship with her Vietnamese in-laws, and her further attempts with cooking Vietnamese food, of course.
Robin has made more of my recipes and continues to do the dishes, even when her mother-in-law tells her to go home. She continues to bring little somethings each time she visits, such as limes or tomatoes from her garden. She even introduced her mother-in-law to new ingredients such as cuttings from her rosemary plant.
Her relationship with her mother-in-law is going so well that last Thanksgiving, her mother-in-law requested that Robin cook a traditional American turkey dinner with all the fixin's. Dinner was a huge success and her mother-in-law ate three plates of food.
She finally got over her fear and made my Crock Pot Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup). Her mother-in-law doesn't put carrots in her version, but Robin's husband and middle brother liked my version better because it was sweet without being sugary. (Yes! I cook better than yo mamma! Hahaha!) Her brother-in-law then asked for the Crock Pot pho recipe for himself.
But the best part had to be when Robin told me that the blog and emails have kept her from being rude to her mother-in-law and has brought her husband closer to his brothers. They now come over often for lunch or dinner. After all, she's the only one besides their mom who cooks Vietnamese food.
Earlier this year, she made my Crock Pot Bo Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) and shared some pictures.
"This was soooo easy to make! And Delicious to boot! My husband also loves the Crock Pot pho."Thank you Robin for allowing me to share your, and Chung's, story. I've only slightly edited her passages for grammar and consistency, but the words are all hers.
I started this blog as a way to share some of my recipes and favorite restaurants with others. Along the way, I've made friends and grown to be a better cook, but even better are the emails from readers who tell me how the blog has affected your lives. The woman who was able to cook Vietnamese food for the first time so she could take care of her dad after her mother passed away. The young mother who watched with pleasure as her kids ate a meal she had prepared herself. The non-Vietnamese who use this as a chance to learn more about the food and the culture of their Vietnamese significant others. The Vietnamese who, for some reason or another, have lost touch with our food and culture. I've always thought food was the most accessible way to learn and explore and I am always so glad to hear when it's proven true. But I'm more excited when I hear from readers who get that this blog, this thing I do, is not always just about the food. I really do read and appreciate every one of your emails.
Thank YOU dear readers.
Thank you for reading, for trying my recipes, for giving me feedback, and for sharing your stories with me.
1 year ago today, 7th Annual Malibu Wine Classic.
2 years ago today, How to Cook Jasmine Rice.
3 years ago today, J. Paul Getty Center and Museum (Summer) - Los Angeles - California.