Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tet with Thuy and Thanh

This morning the doorbell rings at 7 am. K and I both hear it ring three more times before we can make our way all the way down (for K) three or (for me) five flights of stairs.

It's Thuy, and she is quite animated. "We must go shopping now. The market is closing." K, still in sleeping clothes, looks at me like "you go and have fun" and Thuy ushers me out the door, as she barely allows me to throw shoes on with what clothes I managed to roll into when the bell rang. (Later I find out that the market was open for many more hours; I equate Thuy's excitement with that of Christmas morning excitement.)

We do a whirlwind tour of the market and buy eggs, shrimp, pork, and vegetables. She tells me her father and mother want to give me a Tet greeting, so we go by her house. I greet them, "Ciao Ba" (how you greet those older than you) and try to say "Happy Lunar New Year." Their ancestor altar is filled with flowers, fruit and food: Singapore noodles, egg and pork soup, more boiled rice cake, greens and rice.
Thuy's father (who always says "America very good" to me) invites K, T and me to come back to eat the ancestor food with them. I tell him T is in NZ, but that K and I would be happy to come back. Thuy is still on fast forward mode...rushing me back to the castle and saying, "Maggie. Come back at 9:00. Get ready" and, when she sees the mess our kitchen is in, she says, "wash up for cooking."

When we return at 9, we are greeted with Lucky Money envelopes (later we are relieved to discover that there is only 10,000 VND in them - 60 cents) and the ancestor's food has been put on the table; after the ancestors have enjoyed it for a few hours, the family gets to eat it. The father gives us a warm Tet greeting and leaves. "He go drink with friends," Thuy says.

But there is another man staying in the house to drink with us: John - Thuy and Thanh's five year-old nephew. They take care of him on weeknights, and today he and his sister Tu are eating the ancestor's food with us. But John gets to drink beer today, too, and I'm telling you, he chugs that beer down more quickly than I ever could. It's one of Vietnam's

beers, "333," and though Thanh says he never drinks beer, he could have fooled me. He loves it.

As soon as he is done, he begins to fly and stagger around the room. He is a torpedo, a pinball, jumping into K and my arms. We are not quite sure how to react to this drunk little human, but we play and play and play with him. He puts on a few dragon masks and prances around the room; it
is quite a show.

If you look into the background of these pictures a bit, you can see how small their living space is. The table is a fold-up one and must be kept against the wall. The cooking area is about one-third the size of my small kitchen; the living area is about one-half the size of the living room in my condo. They store all of their fabric in piles against the walls, then there is a staircase that leads to a small landing, and another staircase leading to a small room which T and T share. The parents put a mattress on the floor to sleep at night. I've been told many times that wealth is often measured by how many stories you have. They represent 90% of the world, we in our castle - only 10.

Fast forward to 3:00. Thuy and Thanh are at our door- our very own Tet Cooking Elves. On the menu: Banh Xeo (ban se- ow), a egg/coconut crepe filled with pork, shrimp, onions, and bean sprouts. Here is the finished product:

I have eaten quite a few of these, and I would have never guessed that they could be made in a wok. Thuy makes my favorite taro/shrimp/ground pork/onion spring rolls while Thanh takes charge of the crepes.

First, she stir-fries strips of pork, shrimp and onion in really hot oil. Then she puts a scoop of the egg mixture (we used a batter mix, two eggs, water and coconut, but here is a recipe that you can use that uses coconut milk and self-rising flour: and swishes the batter around until it is really, really thin. She turns the heat way down, adds the bean sprouts, then and allows it to just sit there and cook for a long five minutes. When it's done, she flips it over and it is perfectly browned.

How to eat it: rip off chunks of the crepe and wrap lettuce around it, with basil inside, and dip it in the fish sauce mixture.
During dinner, both Tu and John come and ring our doorbell. They are carrying little plastic piggy banks, which seems kind of Halloween-y, doesn't it? We give them 5,000 VND each and they come in for a while. Thank goodness, John has moved on to an orange drink and does not seem to have a hangover.
When our cooks leave, K and I decide to hold our own Tet cleaning party. We have tried everything to get rid of our ants, yet they remain as prosperous as ever. OK, well, I have not yet tried Chris Brown's Cheeto method. He reminded me recently that when we ran a little ant experiment in our class ant tunnelling thingy last spring, the one deadly element that killed that entire colony (it was not on purpose) was the simple placement of a (crunchy) Cheeto right on top. I just hate to think about why that was the deadly element.
Anyway, I had asked Thuy a while a go, "How do we get rid of ants?" Are you ready for her ancient Vietnamese secret? Here it is: RAID. So our Tet cleaning looked like this:

I am leaving for the beach tomorrow, but I have figured out how to schedule posts for the week. Here is the schedule:

Monday: Scenes from Tet in the 'Hood

Tuesday: Dress Competition Winner Announced

Wednesday: A Video Tour of the Castle

Thursday: Blog Contest Thursday (with a prize!)

I told Band Member AmyT that I really missed her comments the past few weeks and she told me that she got out of the habit when I left over Christmas. So AmyT, I created the scheduled posts just because I rely so heavily on your cool comments. And I had a lot of free time today.
OK, have a good week everyone!


Carol said...

I think it's back to the Tamarind Tree for me; that crepe looks SO GOOD!

Tim Baker said...

You are so lucky to have the supporting cast you have acquired in HCMC. I can hardly wait to see the market and sample the fares. And meet some of these people.

Dad said...

Neat blog, Marjie. Have a good trip.

Mungo said...

So, does that mean Cheetos and RAID have the same ingredients? Yummy.