My Mom

 

05.12.2016

0800

So this is blog post is going to be slightly different from my normal posts. In this post, I want to take some time to celebrate my mom.

My mom is a versatile woman, a woman of many strengths and many stories. She grew up in the in the 50’s and lived through the Vietnam War. By the time she had reached the young age of 23, she had established a well respected career as a flight attendant with Air Vietnam. During her young adult life, she also met my father (that story will be for another time). As a flight attendant, she got to travel around southeast asia and experience different cultures and met many people. She made her own money and enjoyed life tremendously.

I do give credit to my parents for being role models who always told me to grow up to make money. They never told me to grow up, get married and have kids. Perhaps they worried about my financial security, perhaps they simply didn’t want me to live paycheck to paycheck, but regardless, I did just that.

After my parents split, it was her strength that guided and paved the path of the following  years. She managed to balance being a single mom, staying sane and still taking care of two kids. I admire her strength and I hope that when I reach her age, I will still be as strong as her. To this day, when we sit and talk, I still enjoy hearing the stories of her childhood. As an adult, my relationship with her has become even closer and for that, I will forever be thankful. She has blessed me with my life and I’m so grateful that I get to spend one more day with her.

As children, we understand our parents are our leaders and rule makers. In adolescence, we test those rules to see where the boundaries lie. And as tenagers, we’re trying to figure out where we stand among the population of adults and our peers, yet we still test the boundaries between being deemed a child or an adult. As young adults, we’re still trying to get to that comfortable place to call ourselves an “official adult”, but we still seek guidance from our parents. Now as official adults, we can see the flaws in our decisions- and also theirs. Lastly, as adults, we can look at our parents as friends and maybe even peers. We can sit down and have a cordial conversation, with the understanding that where we sit now, is how our own children will view us as their leaders and their rule makers.

For a relationship between a parent and child to come full circle, is quite special to watch and be a part of. I value those conversations with my mom over dinner or in a phone call, because I know she still has many more stories to tell me, and I hope to hear each one of them.

SO HERE’S TO YOU MOM- HAPPY BIRTHDAY! May all your wishes come true, and know that when you look back on your life- you’ve accomplished so much and lived through so much more. I’m proud to call you my mom, and also my friend.

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End of the Vietnam War

 

04.30.2016

0800

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Horst Faas/Associated Press. A farmer helplessly held the body of his dead child as South Vietnamese troops looked on. March 19, 1964. The child had been killed as government forces pursued guerrillas into a village near the Cambodian border. Lens Blog, New York Times

Vietnam War November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975 (19 years, 5 months, 4 weeks, 1 day)

There’s so much history involved with this was that it’s too much to write about in one blog post. My family is from South Vietnam and my father was drafted into the South Vietnam Army. He was also held captive for 3 years by the Viet Cong after the Fall of Saigon. He escaped and was deemed a POW. He doesn’t speak much of his experience either, I think most POWs don’t. It was a rough time in history, for everyone. There were protests in the United States, families were torn apart, and refugees fled seeking asylum in the US. There was so much chaos and pain- it’s unimaginable.

It wasn’t until the age of 14 when my mom started revealing to me the details of our family members, including her escape from the Viet Cong.  She told me “You would run until your feet would bleed. You can see bodies dropping around you as the Viet Cong shot the refugees trying to escape. They didn’t care. You ran because your life depended on it and you hoped the next bullet wouldn’t hit you. Each time you ran from them, you would lose track of your loved ones because running in a group just means you’re a larger target. You had to disperse, to create the illusion of smaller moving targets. Dispersing meant you would be alone, but you could save your life as well as the others.” She attempted to escape 4 times because during the first 3 times, someone had informed the Viet Cong and the location to meet up was compromised.

I have an aunt, who always stood out in my mind. She was so sweet and doted on the kids when we would visit. She made you feel like you were the #1 kid in the whole wide world. During this conversation, I asked my mom why she never had kids, she was loving and kind and seemed to have so much love to give. My mom revealed to me that she once had two young boys and a husband when she was on the boat that was headed to the US. On the boat, the men were on the top deck and the women and children stayed on the bottom deck. The boat had approached a Korean oil tanker and the captain asked if they could board the tanker. It didn’t make any sense that he wanted the passengers to board the tanker because the refuges were not allowed into Korea, they were not granted sanction in Korea. For whatever reason, the captain made his decision. Unfortunately, as the boat got closer to the oil tanker, the wave that it had created while cutting through the ocean water, rocked the boat and shook it. The wave was strong enough that people were thrown overboard and injuries were sustained on the top and bottom decks. At the exact same time, my aunt was climbing the access ladder, with one of her boys in her arms, the other was ahead of her on the ladder. They were trying to get to the top level to be with her husband so they could be ready to board the oil tanker.

When the wave had hit the boat, she was knocked off of the ladder and so were her boys. When she woke up, she was on the lower level of the boat again, lying next to other victims who were recovering from injuries attained during the shake up. Another refugee informed her that they were rolling the deceased bodies into the ocean. They couldn’t carry the dead across the Pacific Ocean because they would rot horribly and the damage they sustained from the wave was already an issue. She informed my aunt, that my aunt had been placed with the dead bodies, because they thought she had died, but after another check, they realized she was breathing- so they brought her downstairs to recover. When my aunt got to the top level, she saw that her husband and her two sons were among those who were deceased. When the time came for her husband and sons to be rolled into the ocean, she helped roll them off of the boat. And that was it, they were gone.

When she arrived in the US, she was alone, and didn’t know any English. Inevitably, she was placed in a psychiatric facility for some time. So many had passed during that event, I’m not sure she ever recovered from the incident. I don’t know if she had time to mourn the loss of her family, or time to heal from the emotional scars, but I do know that she felt lost and alone in a strange land. She eventually met my uncle whom is now her current husband and they’ve been married ever since- but behind her smiles, she was never the same again.

The reason why I tell this story, is that there are so, so many stories such as that one, which have never been told. As first generation American, I have no idea what it took for my relatives to come here. Guerrilla warfare is hand to hand combat and  if you couldn’t stand your ground- you would easily be killed by the hands of the other. I look at my relatives now, and I wonder what stories they have not told. I wonder what life was like, the fear they felt as they watched their country collapsing, their homes being destroyed and the future filling up with unknown endings.

I have a deep respect for life and people. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a past. Please ask, learn and spread that knowledge. Every single one of us has a story, perhaps not about war, maybe trauma, maybe a moment that changed our lives- but every single person has a story. I always knew war was bad, and it took 14 years to finally hear the details of how bad it was through my  mom’s eyes. Some stories are so painful they they can’t be repeated, but for the stories that can, I hope each person takes something away from it.

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South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places on June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) CNN, 25 of The Most Iconic Photographs

Tết 2016- The Set Up and Food

02.08.2016

0800

So I just wanted to share the set up that my family uses for Tết. We use the alter, entryway dresser and dining table as our platforms. The alter is for Buddha (bàn thờ Phật), the entryway dresser is used for the Saint of the Property (Đức Đai) and the dining table is used for my ancestors (ông, bà).

Before the Tết ceremony begins: (Day 1)

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During the Tết ceremony: (Day 1)

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On the alter sits a bowl of dry rice in which we have placed many incense sticks (cây nhang) over the years during each Tết celebration. On the entryway table is the set up for the Saint of the Property (Đức Đai), which includes a small bowl of dry rice for the incense sticks, water glasses, a variety of foods such as soup (Canh), Vietnamese braised pork with eggs (thịt kho), Vegetarian stir fry egg noodles (mì xào chay), shrimp salad (gỏi tôm), and fresh fruit. On the dining table, there is a small bowl of dry rice for the incense sticks, three bowls of rice for my ancestors (one for my dad’s side, one for my mom’s side and the third is for all other ancestors), water glasses, candles and the same variety of foods as on the entryway table but in addition, there are also Vietnamese mung bean dumplings (bánh ít trần).

Tradition goes that when ceremony starts, each person always prays and greets Buddha first with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy) at the alter, then we move over to the entryway table and ask the Saint of the Property, permission (xin phép) to invite our ancestors to come and celebrate Tết with us with 2 bows (hai xá) and 2 prayers (hai lạy). Then at the dining table, we invite our ancestors to come and celebrate with us with 2 bows (hai xá) and 2 prayers (hai lạy). After each request, we each place one incense (cây nhang) into the designated dry rice bowl. At the end of the first round of bows, each person will visit each table again to ask permission to leave the ceremony, but using the same amount of bows and prayers per table that was used in the first round. This second round of bows and prayers will release the person to go on with their day as they please.

After the Tết ceremony: (Day 1)

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The bows, prayers and the placing of the incense sticks are repeated each morning for three days (ba ngày Tết), during the three day celebration. At the end of the three day celebration, there will be another feast that will be the same set up on each table and on the alter in which we bid farewell (tiễn đưa) to our ancestors.

In the late evening (close to midnight): (Day 1)

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In the late evening, we celebrate the New Years Eve (Cúng giao thừa) by lighting the alter candles and  welcoming the new year. This ceremony includes three separate steps by the owner of the home. The first prayer (lạy Phật) takes place at the alter to Buddha with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy). Then the owner will step outside on the front porch of the home and prays to Heaven and Earth (cúng trời đất) with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy) The owner will then come inside to the alter and will pray to the lord of Heaven and Earth (lạy trời đất) with 3 bows (ba xá) and 3 prayers (ba lạy). The owner of the home will then place three incense into the rice bowl at the alter after these last three bows are completed. This last set of bows will end the ceremony of welcoming the new year.

 This is an overview of what the set up is for my family for this year. There are traditional baked goods missing from this set up such as Bánh chưng (Vietnamese rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and other ingredients) and  Bánh tét (savoury but sometimes sweetened cake, made from mung bean or mung bean and pork filling), as well as tea in addition to the water glasses. Each family has their own variation of what foods they cook or how they set up their ceremonies, this is just my family’s set up for this year.

So,  Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! (Happy New Year) I wish you all a healthy and happy new year with plenty of wealth and triumphs throughout the year 🙂

Recipe – (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs)

Thit kho with hard-boiled eggs (Vietnamese braised pork) - great with rice and popular on Lunar New Years!

This thịt kho recipe is a low and slow braise so the meat is going to be reeeeally tender. In this recipe we’re going to use pork belly because the fat on the meat tastes awesome! If you can get pork belly with the bones, you’ll have even better results. My ideal ratio of pork for this dish is actually 1/2 pork belly and 1/2 of a leaner cut like shoulder.

Hard-boiled eggs for thit kho - boil and peel them first!

Near me in Southern California’s Little Saigon, I hear you can get a higher quality of pork belly at Quang Minh Mini Market. It costs more for the belly, but there seems to be a consensus that its worth the cost–something I need to check out soon!

Here are the brands I use for the seasoning: Rico coconut soda, Kikkoman soy sauce, and Three Crabs Brand fish sauce. The thick soy sauce brand is Koon Chun, to be used in a pinch.

thit kho seasoning

As a kid I enjoyed mashing the yolk with the rice and spooning sauce over it–it’s fun! This dish is commonly eaten with a side of dua chua (pickled mustard greens) which provides a fresh and crunchy balance.

Chopped yellow onions for thit kho, to add another layer of flavorNotes:
I have tried adding slices of yellow onion too and it adds a nice layer of flavor to this dish. You can remove the onion at the end of the braise if you prefer since it will have given up all its flavor to the broth. For the seasoning in this thịt kho recipe: tinker with the soy sauce, fish sauce, and salt after the liquid has finished reducing, to taste.

Thit kho with hard-boiled eggs and pickled mustard greens

5.0 from 2 reviews
Thịt Kho – Vietnamese Braised Pork with Eggs
Prep time
10 mins
Cook time
2 hours
Total time
2 hours 10 mins
Author: Hungry Huy
Serves: 5-6
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds of pork belly, cut into 1.5″ cubes
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs
  • 6 ounces coconut soda (I use Rico brand)
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (or replace this with fish sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 yellow onion, cut into large pieces (6-8 will be fine)
  • 4 tablespoons sugar for the caramel color (nuoc mau). This is to deepen the color of the dish. Depending on how dark your caramel sauce gets, you may not need to use all of it. In a pinch, you can use about ⅕ teaspoon of thick soy sauce instead, but the caramel sauce will tastes better.
Instructions
  1. Cut the pork into smaller pieces. I like 1.5″ cubes so it cooks slightly faster.
  2. Bring 2-3 quarts of water boiling on high, or enough to fully submerge the pork.When the water’s boiling, add the pork for 1-2 minutes just to clean it. Drain then rinse the pork under running water until the water is clear.
  3. Add the coconut soda, soy sauce, fish sauce and salt to the pot.
  4. Fill up the pot until the water just covers the pork. Turn the heat to high.
  5. When it hits a boil, drop the heat until you still see a slight boil, maybe about about 25% heat and let it simmer uncovered for about 1.5 to 2 hours. Check and stir the pot every 20 minutes. The longer you cook it, the softer the pork gets. Leaving it slightly uncovered lets the liquid reduce so you get a nice concentrated sauce later.
  6. Make the caramel color and add it to the pot.
  7. Make the hard-boiled eggs: add to a pot and cover the eggs with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and let it sit for 8 minutes. Cool in water then peel. Add the hard boiled eggs to the pot of pork in the last ~30-40 minutes of cooking.
  8. When there are about 30 minutes left on the timer, add the eggs. Eventually we want the liquid to reduce to about ⅓ or ¼ of the original.
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Comments

  1. SK says:

    Good job :) A good food in Tet’s Days at Vietnam, however, eating it in normal days is ok ! ^^

    • Huy says:

      Year round is definitely okay with me too :)

  2. Huy Vu says:

    Thanks! Just wish I had some Dua Cai Chua to go with this. =]

  3. daisy says:

    its so hard to find vietnamese recipes i understand and use online. more more more.

  4. Huy Vu says:

    =] sure thing.

  5. Jessica says:

    This reminds me of a Korean side dish called “Jang Joh Rim.” I wonder if they taste similar!

    • Huy says:

      Yeah it seems a lot of Asians share a similar variation of this dish!

  6. jason says:

    Huy, do i cover the pot with a lid? or leave it open?

    • Huy says:

      You only need to cover it slightly at the start so the liquid can reduce. Towards the end you can probably remove the lid entirely–adjust as needed.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Really great recipe, the step by step pictures are really appreciated. Thank you for sharing, and keep them coming!

  8. Jen says:

    Similar to adobo in the philippines:) ill try this recipe..

  9. Shay says:

    A friend made this as a comfort meal for me once and I loved it!
    Now I can try making it for my family. Wondering if this needs to be simmered covered with a lid or left open to boil? Thanks

    • Huy says:

      Lid open mostly, to reduce. If the meat is still tough you can add water as needed and continue to boil uncovered until it reaches a sauce thickness you like.

  10. LT says:

    This is way better than the Filipinos’ adobo.

  11. Eric says:

    looks similar to adobo but taste way different to adobo trust me this dish is heaps tastier

  12. steve says:

    make sure you use good fish sauce, like the one pictured above.

  13. Linda says:

    I love the pictures and the steps are very similar to my notes from my mom’s cooking lesson to me. The only thing is I just cooked it today with the country style boneless ribs and I compared it to the pork belly meat. Somehow the rib meat was more tough. Is there a way to make it more tender? I cooked 2hrs as your recipe dictates.

    Also, many people asked & I wonder also, do you cook your pot covered or uncovered?

    • Huy says:

      I cook it uncovered so the liquid can reduce (evaporate) to an amount I like. If you see it reduces too much you can put the lid back on or add some water.

      As for toughness of the meat, different cuts will vary in amount of connective tissue. Just cook it longer if its still too tough. At first I was afraid to overcook it, but giving it more time has always resulted in tender results. Just check it every 15 minutes or so.

  14. Tracy Le says:

    Just tried your recipe. Turned out so awesome. Thanks!!! :)

  15. foodiegal says:

    Is that a typo? This doesn’t take 20 hours does it? If so, can we cook this in a crock pot?

    By the way, I’ve had this dish many times at parties and IT IS TO DIE FOR! I love that the ingredients are simple and so are the directions. Is there a substitute for the coconut soda, if I’m not able to find it? Thanks!

    • Huy says:

      I’m DYING, that’s hilarious!! Yeah I meant to say 2 hours–oops, that’s been updated and thanks!

      The best thing you can use is fresh coconut juice, coco soda 2nd, then 3rd is cola or lemon-lime soda. Hope that helps.

  16. TrinityTrinh says:

    Can you substitute chicken or beef? I do not eat Pork. I’m sure it won’t taste the same but thought I would ask

  17. Trinity trinh says:

    Have you or can you substitute chicken or beef. I have taken pork out of my diet.

    • Huy says:

      Hey Trinity, I personally haven’t tried it but I bet it would be pretty good too. I’ve had this with tofu instead of meat and really enjoy that version too!

  18. Amy says:

    Super easy recipe to follow, and ended up delicious! I used pork shoulder only because the local grocery store didn’t have any pork belly left, and the end product was still absolutely delicious! The meat was so tender and flavorful without being too salty. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • Huy says:

      Hey Amy glad to hear you liked it! Yeah you can really use any cut of pork you want and it still turns out pretty well :)

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Tết 2016- Lunar New Year

02.03.2016

0800

DSC_3535Tết is the most important celebration in the Vietnamese culture.

It is also, one of my favorite holidays, Christmas being the other. I love Christmas because it marks the end of the year and that the new year that’s about to come. A new year brings new beginnings, new experiences and new challenges.

Tết derives from a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Sino-Vietnamese and it means “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” and it also marks the arrival of the spring season, based on the Vietnamese variation of the Chinese Lunar calendar. (The Chinese Lunar Calendar is four hours ahead of the Vietnamese Lunar Calendar.)

It is a time when families reunite and visit one another. Some may even go to temple and start letting go of their troubles from the last year. It is a time when customs such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people and even opening a shop.

As a child, I really loved this holiday. It was the only time when certain special dishes, desserts, and snacks were made and consumed. I also loved receiving money because… who doesn’t love that. Heading south to meet up at my aunts house was a thrill. I knew I would get to see all of my cousins and her little Chihuahuas. Although, the house had to fit up to 6 families which included, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, the food and the room to be able to move around the food table. In total, there was always about 12 kids at these gatherings. It was still awesome, we would always gather in one room to play a board game and we’d somehow would get into arguments about it. The boys never wanted to loose and I (being 1 of the 3 girls there) never really cared. After the arguments, we would all go to the nearby park and play as we waited for to hear the jingle of the local ice cream truck.  Then we’d all bombard our parents for ice cream money. It was a great time, and by the end of the party, the cousins seemed to part ways as best friends. We always knew we’d have to wait another year to do it all over again, and it never felt fair.

Now that I’m older, and I’m on the giving end of the crisp red envelopes filled with money, I’m realizing now, that working during the year means that I have to save up for Christmas and Tết because NOW I’m realizing how much money my relatives forked out for each kid. I’m impressed that they did that for all 12 of us- EACH YEAR.

Truth be told, I don’t spend a lot of money, and the joy of receiving money and eating food as a kid is a wonderful memory that I still hold dear. Also, kids stop receiving money when they start working, so you’re really looking at forking out those red envelopes from ages 5-16- not too bad right? And now the time of the year has come again, to celebrate the new Lunar calendar and new beginnings.