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Friday, December 15, 2006

About This Blog

While I'm a completely open book in real life, somehow opening up my personal life to lurkers and strangers online wasn't comfortable for me. So when I decided to blog, I figured it'd be just about food and just that. But I was too lazy to take photographs because I was busy eating, darn it! So the blog languished for months but I still continued to look at other people's food pictures. Then I figured, OK, I can add in recipes and make it a chronicle of what I eat instead of an actual proper food review blog. Then I figured if people write about food, they must blog about gardens and I sure need gardening tips and ideas. And if people blog about food and gardens, surely they blog about their quilting?

And what did I discover from all my blog surfing?

Dude! That I mentally aged about 50 years.

Seriously, all I could think about was getting a little cottage where I'd plant fuchsia cosmos to spill over the white picket fence. And a brick-lined path in the back where I'd section off squared plots where I'd plant more flowers and vegetables. And then at night, I'd curl up and work on making quilts.

And when I told my little sister this, she laughed out loud and said, "Oh my god, when did you turn 81?"


So I decided this blog would be dedicated to things that give me comfort -- food, gardening, quilting. One of my friends said I'm a one-trick pony. But it's a good trick. I introduced her to good eats. Before we became friends she had never tried...well, pretty much everything. And another long-time friend was so giddy to visit me a few months ago because she knew I'd feed her and feed her well. And while I like my food, and like taking friends to good restaurants, and like sending people my extensive list of restaurant recommendations, I didn't want to take something I like and turn it into a chore.

So the end result is this hodgepodge blog. No mouthwatering food descriptions. My mind doesn't think that way. If I say it's good, trust me, it's good. No obsessive chronicle of where and what to eat. I don't have the budget or energy for that. I tried keeping a separate gardening blog but I don't compartmentalize my life, so I didn't feel like sectioning off my blog. And because I'm Vietnamese-Chinese, I think all roads lead back to food and family anyway.

Which takes me to last summer in Vietnam. Now, being a South-Central Coast Vietnamese-Chinese I've got inherent biases in my food.

  1. No com ga Hai Nam (Hainanese chicken rice) will ever taste as good as what I can get at home. Seriously. It's pretty much the only thing we Hainanese are known for. And while I know the technicalities of making the dish, it still doesn't taste like my mom's or my aunties'.
  2. Banh xeo. Forget that wok-sized yellow crepe that comes by way of Saigon. In my neck of the woods, banh xeo is about six inches in diameter, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and a whole lot more flavorful.
  3. While eggrolls are known as cha gio to Southerners and nem ran to Northerners, we call it cha ram and we only stuff it with shrimp and scallions. Anyway you called it or stuffed it, I was all over it.
  4. Nem nuong. That grilled ground pork patty wrapped in rice paper that everyone clamors to Brodard for? Easy peasy. The secret is using honey instead of sugar. I've been at the restaurant when they get buckets of it delivered. The owners are from an hour south of my hometown in Vietnam. I've been making nem nuong since I was a child. That crunchy eggroll wrapper they put in the middle? That's just how we South-Central folks eat it. We toast our rice paper too. I can't figure out how to make their dipping sauce though.
  5. And like a lot of Southerners, I think the food tastes a lot better down South. For example, every morning I ate pho for breakfast. (Pronounce pho as if it were a question because that's precisely what this ? accent makes it sound like.) In Saigon, pho comes with a plate of basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, lime, chili paste, hoisin sauce. The only greens in a Hanoi bowl of pho would be some scallions. While pho originated in Hanoi, the pho that's served in America is heavily Saigon-influenced. That's because historically, the South has milder weather and a better growing season so herbs were more plentiful. These days many Hanoi pho restaurants will offer the condiments and herbs too. But many others feature traditional Hanoi-style pho, no herbs and a much, much lighter broth. So light that if I spilled droplets on my T-shirt, it left absolutely no grease stains.
I also think Vietnamese-American food beats any food I had in Vietnam. Basically because we're a rich country and can afford to put better ingredients in our food. The exception is fresh fruit. Oh man, that's a whole separate post because I went crazy taking pictures of fruit trees -- jackfruit, durian, rambutan, lychee, longan, green coconut, dragonfruit, and others that I don't know the names of in English.
And buying the fruit in a sterile market here is simply not the same.
The picture below is Ha Long Bay, in north Vietnam. You may recognize it from the film Indochine. Or in the more recent Amazing Race. Majestic limestone cliffs. Floating village. World Heritage Site. Pretty. Pretty.

The villagers are so at home on the water that if you look closely, you can see this woman row with one arm and one leg while eating a bowl of noodles with the other arm. Man, all that effort just to get to my junk to sell her wares. So, of course, I had to buy some fruit from her.

Below is the Can Tho floating market in the Mekong Delta in south Vietnam. If you look closely at the poles, you can see which fruits or vegetables the sellers are featuring that day. Man, if I could figure out how to upload my video of this it would be awesome.

Close-up of a boat with dragonfruit.

If you want to see what it looks like inside, I also grew dragonfruit in my garden this year but it sure wasn't a crop like that.
Anyway, while the fun part of traveling is the people I meet and the sites I saw, eating good food and seeing good food, enhances the experience greatly. So expect a smattering of food/travel-related posts as well.
Seems like I get the most hits from people searching for Vietnamese recipes, San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants, and doughnut bread pudding. Is this because, so far, that seems to be all I blog about? Or do I not have anything else to say?
And now that I've said a little more about me, please delurk and tell me a little about you. I'll make it easy and simple.
How did you find me? Why do you come back (ie. what do you like)?


  1. yippie! i can't wait to read more posts. :) i have been looking for more vietnamese blogs because i am also of vietnamese heritage and i'm still a budding cook.

  2. Hi Budding Cook,
    Well, I can't promise that my VNese recipes will be all that. It's certainly not my mom's cooking, but it's edible. :)

  3. I quickly jumped back o the beginning, to find out why you started blogging and came upon this post. Bánh xèo and bánh khoái are two different things. What you are referring to (smaller, crispy) sounds like the latter, and is of central origin, I'm from Huế, so I know. =) In the south, the 'stuffing' for bx include shelled mung beans, whereas in the centre, you would never see anything with that. But maybe in the south-centre it's different?

  4. Hi L-K,

    No, I know banh xeo and banh khoai are definitely very different.

    The banh xeo I've seen from about Hoi An down to Nha Trang are about 6 inches in diameter, filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. Same as the stuff in Saigon, but the batter is slightly chewy in the center, crispy on the outside.

  5. Hi! Just delurking to tell you how much I love your blog!! I've been trying to find such a resource...like forever! You are right...I did stumble upon your site while googling for a Vietnamese recipe. Let me tell you...your Thit Heo Kho voi Trung Is just so, so awesome. This dish has always intimidated me but it turned out pretty easy...thanks to you :) I'll be back soon :)

  6. Hi Danielle,
    Thanks for your comment. I'm glad my thit kho recipe worked out for you.

  7. Hey WC which part of vietnam did you come from? you said in your Blog that you came from south central vietnam, just a curious question, Nha Trang may be?

  8. I found you by googling balsamic chicken pasta. Your recipe was terrific!!

  9. Hey there. I found a link to your blog at Kirk's site. I think your site, Yoso, Chubby Panda, Oishii Eats, and Eat, Drink, and be Merry are awesome. Great writing, cuisine I'm interested in, gorgeous food porn, good writing (oh, I said that didn't I?), great stories, and great ideas for tearing it up in my kitchen.

    Me? Pop and husband who was born in Southern California, grew up in Northern California, and now lives in Southern California. It started with slow cooking ribs before football games and slowly morphed into an obsession with anything chopped, mixed, and consumed.

    I was once afraid (VERY afraid) of Vietnamese food. But now I just can't get enough. And with a little one around, we just don't get out as often. So I'm eternally greatful that you post such wonderful recipes that are fairly easy to make. Thank you!

  10. Jan Frederick,
    Did you forget you've de-lurked before? But thanks for the nice words. And please feel free to comment again in the future.

  11. Hey there. Your blog is great. I am vietnamese and live in SF, where there just isn't enough good vietnamese restaurant. I tried my hand at cooking and found your blog. Until i found your blog, I could only make goi cuon. :) I tried your thit kho recipe and just can't seem to get the sugar to turn the brown color. What am I doing wrong?

  12. Teddy,

    I know! I think the food in SoCal is way better. Did you make the caramel sauce for the thit kho? That's what gives it the color.


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