There are all sizes of prawns right outside the castle door in the market...huge ones, large ones and small ones...but I have yet to purchase any, and here's why: they are alive and wriggling. When you order them, do they kill them for you, or must you do the deed? This ignorance has kept me from buying what I love most. After tonight's cooking lesson, I finally have my answer.
Thuy arrives at three and we begin to mince the pork with our seamstress' big cleaver. While we are doing this, I tell Thuy that we will have to make some without pork since Tarn is a "pescatarian." (Cool word, huh?) She puts her hands to her face, "I forgot!" and she gets on her cell phone to call Sweet Seamstress again (whose name is Ms. Hoa). Ms. Hoa runs over and the two of them have a conversation. They try to tell me something, but I can't make it out. Ms. Hoa makes a face and holds up her hands like claws.
They give up trying to communicate it, and Thuy just says, "Stay here, Maggie, I'll be right back." In about ten minutes, she comes through the door with a bag of medium-sized, live shrimp. "For Tarn," she says. I say, "Oh!" and I make Ms. Hoa's face with the claws. "Shrimp!" They ran to the market, not our market- ours closes at 11 am- but to some other market, to get them. One shrimp escapes from the bag on her way in. She scoops it off the floor and she throws all of them into the sink. They are hopping up and down in our sink like Jack Russell Terriers. Katherine comes in and her jaw drops. She takes a video of them and Thuy thinks this is so funny.
We are making spring rolls with pork, taro root and onions, and now we are making some of them with shrimp instead of pork. We are going to wrap these deep fried spring rolls up with lettuce and basil and rice noodles and dip them into the fish sauce...and you know what I will say here: Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, fresh!
I'm still wondering, though...what are we going to do with these Jack Russell hopping shrimp in the sink, because she lets them jump for quite some time. Well, here it is: you RIP off their heads! They are still alive, and you just RIP them right off! Katherine's face is all scrunched up and she says, "I had better get this over with." So she begins to rip them off with Thuy and me. Their little feet wriggle after their heads come off, just like chickens, or so we've all heard (my mom has done this). Within a few minutes, the shrimp are dead and minced on the cutting board.
I need to clarify with Tarn why he is a pescatarian. Is it because of cruelty to creatures? Because, um, we are RIPPING their heads off (Mila's mom, are you reading? Sorry!!!)
She shows us how to roll them up while she makes the fish sauce, then we deep fry them. Katherine and Tarn take a seat on the couch and begin to watch K's new Abba DVD, and Thuy and I try to talk.
"Maggie, do you remember your home?" She means "Do you miss your home?"
I have to think about how to answer this. I want to say that I miss some people, but that I feel very happy and at home here, in this neighborhood, especially, and that since I feel very content I don't feel sad about home...but it's too complicated. So I just shrug. "Hmmmm...not really." It sounds cold the way I am writing it, but Thuy gets it. She is good like that. She just laughs and says she is happy that I am happy in Vietnam.
I ask her more about her work. I learn that she and her sister get up at 5 to sell each day. Her brother takes her to buy fabric every day after work. She was born in this neighborhood and it's all she has ever done. I ask her if I might be able to join her someday to see where she buys it, because she says it's a huge warehouse. She thinks this is a great idea.
The four of us sit down for Sunday night dinner for the third week in a row and I'm telling you, the meals just keep getting better and better. They are the best spring rolls I have ever tasted. Thuy eats quite a few with us and then announces her standard, "I go now." She looks at Tarn, and before she has a chance to say anything, he says, "I know, I know, Tarn, wash up."
We all laugh. Yes, Tarn, wash up!
When she leaves, the three of us wonder: is this life we are living real? And then we put on MY new DVD: Carpenters Karaoke. Tarn is a fan, but Katherine is younger so is not too familiar, but knows she must learn since The Carpenters are HUGE here...and so we eat fresh coconut ice cream and sing, sing sing (many songs) together. Another great Sunday night in the castle. And, get this, it's Lyle's birthday today. Lyle Lovett for your poor souls who don't know him by his first name. He's 51, but to me he is older, younger, ageless. Thanks, Chris Brown, for alerting me to that.
Now, tomorrow, how am I ever going to butter down the heads of 6E? (Isn't that the saying?)