Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Vietnam in My Heart

18 Nov

Jet lag is in full control of me, as are the post-adventure blues. Anh and I just returned Sunday morning from two weeks in Viet Nam, which was such a remarkably moving experience. The country is breathtakingly beautiful from South to North and its people so hardworking, humble, and kind. And resilient. Everywhere you turn, people are building a better future for their families, community, and country as a whole.

Seeing where my husband was born and spent the first few years of his life was such an honor. We met some his babysitter, neighbors, and saw where his mother, aunts, and grandmother lived before marrying out to other families and starting their own home. The shack that he was born in is no longer there, but instead the concrete structures that line canals all over the country.

Standing in front of the place where his childhood home stood.

The green house behind him is where his family’s home stood. Just beyond the open doors you can see the water.

We were struck by the quality of life the people we met enjoy. They don’t have three cars, five flat-screen TV’s, and the trendiest new clothes, but they’re happy. There is a different measure of success and happiness in Vietnam – food on the table, family nearby, and maybe a Japanese motorbike, are most important.

Motorbike with a toy car strapped to the back.

I was constantly amazed at what the Vietnamese people are able to carry on the back of their motorbikes. There is a very happy kid waiting for this special delivery.

My father’s number wasn’t called in the draft, so we did not experience the war like many other families did. Still, I was unsure how the people I met would respond to me – an American foreigner in their country with whom we have had a complex relationship. The concern was only in my head.

Everyone was so welcoming, warm, and thoroughly impressed (and amused) by the Vietnamese language I have picked up and dishes I prepare at home.

Seeing my in laws in their home country, with their people and culture was such a joy. They are totally different people in their own environment and you can see that they, too, are happier when in Vietnam. It has something to do with the pace of life and priorities. They are a hard working people – families grow their own food and find a way to buy what they need that doesn’t come from the land – but they are not stressed. Everywhere we went, our days and nights were filled with conversation and laughter.

Women selling river crab and having breakfast at the Hoi An Market.

Women selling river crab and having breakfast at the Hoi An Market. We had a conversation with them about the cost of seafood in the U.S., and they of course were amused that I married a Vietnamese. A novelty for many we encountered!

We were fortunate to have guides in each stop who were all more than happy to shed light on the community mores, socioeconomic or political issues of the day. Although it is a communist country, everyone we spoke to said it has no impact on their daily life. They are able to do as they please and live their life free from interference. There is no north – south animosity, and any traces of resentment for those who left Vietnam after 1975 has washed away with the rains.

Guide looks out over the water by Hai Van Pass.

Anh, one of our guides from Ann’s Tours, look out over the water for a quick stop on the north side of the Hải Vân Pass (Ocean Cloud pass).

For the first time, my father in law was open about his experience in the South Vietnamese military throughout the war. His stories were matched by others we met from the south and the north who all said that for most, the war was not their own. When they received word that the war was over, they put down their guns and joined the other side in the fields to celebrate together. The post-war road was a difficult one, and families and the land suffered greatly as a result of the conflict, but the people have moved on.

As a foreigner, however, it was jarring to see such an overwhelming communist party presence everywhere you turned. There are official facilities in each village, town, and city – always the best real estate and buildings. No one is quite sure why they need to be there as there isn’t a lot of need for the services they provide, but that’s besides the point. There are roadside banners trumpeting communist philosophy and notable quotes from Ho Chi Minh as you drive through town or along highways flanked by rice fields. Not to mention the propaganda billboards extolling party loyalty and urging people to pursue certain careers or tend to the land. Quite like our own victory garden, war production, and war bond propaganda during WWII.

Propaganda poster in Saigon near Ben Thanh Market

Propaganda poster in Saigon near Ben Thanh Market

Banners and billboards lining the small road leading to Vi Thanh

Banners and billboards lining the small road leading to Vi Thanh

There is a romance about this lush, resilient country that is hard to put in to words. We will definitely be back, and I am excited to see how Vietnam continues to thrive in the future. My only wish is that they do not fall prey to other industrialized nations who almost always seem to lose sight of what really is most important – our family, enjoying life, and how we spend our time with the community.

The food of course was amazing, so stay tuned for posts on the cuisine and our adventures from our time in Vietnam!

Bo Luc Lac Shaking Beef Recipe

15 Jul

I had a craving for the super simple yet flavor-packed Bo Luc Lac, or Shaking Beef. It’s also one of my favorite dishes to say. I know I’ve made it several times but apparently never blogged the recipe. My sister in law makes a really great version of this simple main dish adding mushroom sauce in addition to the typical oyster sauce. Traditionally, the seared beef cubes are served atop crisp, raw watercress and tomato slices. I had arugula and cherry tomatoes left over from and Independence Day fresh corn salad and decided to use those. The arugula has the same peppery bite as watercress, and it easier to eat!  I’ve seen many recipes call for tossing the greens in a vinaigrette, but I don’t think it’s necessary with the muoi tieu chanh (lime, salt, and pepper dipping sauce).

Ideally, you want to marinade the beef overnight to achieve maximum flavor, but 30-60 minutes will do in a pinch. You want tender beef – steer clear of the time saving beef cubes that are usually stew meat. You’ll tire of chewing before getting full.

Prepare in the order below and serve with rice and one or two other small dishes to round out the meal. Now if this isn’t a picture of summer, I don’t know what is!

Dinner table set with Shaking Beef, bowls of rice, and lime dipping sauce. Continue reading

Chào! Hello!

3 Jan

In September 2009 I began a journey of discovering Vietnamese culture and customs, language and food. Dating – and now marrying – a Vietnamese family has been a learning experience coming from a baseball and apple pie American upbringing. The experience has been amazing – I have always loved international foods, culture and perspective. “Always” being a more relative term if you ask my parents – growing up they never knew if I would love or hate pork chops or meatloaf one week to the next.

At my fiance’s family gatherings – which happen often and are always large – his relatives are often shocked that I’m not somehow Vietnamese already. I love nuoc mam, mam ruoc (fermented shrimp paste – the greyish-brown stuff you often see in pots on tables at Vietnamese restaurants) and have even eaten some duck blood concoction, which both shocked and impressed his cousins and uncles.

In fact, I prefer Vietnamese food above nearly all American meals – with the exception of the occasional pasta cravings and Tex Mex. The food is more flavorful, fresh and healthy, and surprisingly easy to prepare.

Nearly all recipes require a mix and match of staples like fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce, lemongrass, cilantro and shallots. If you have those things on hand, you likely only need to pick up fresh veggies and protein. Trust me – it’s far more intimidating before you make a few dishes and develop your own preferences. Hopefully this blog will help you along, while I stash my favorites, tips and must taste lists.

Since we recently purchased our first home together, I can get back to learning Vietnamese. I’ve picked up some words and phrases over the past few years – I can tell you to turn the lights on or off, count to 10 and then some, and importantly order at Vietnamese restaurants. But we both believe it’s important that our future children know where they came from and be able to speak the language and communicate with their elders. My goal is to be conversational – even if broken – by the time we travel to Vietnam with his family in early 2014. Maybe you can help!

Whether you’re a friend, family (Hi Mom and Dad) or just an Interweb browser searching for your next dinner recipe, I hope you enjoy the blog! Cảm ơn!


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