For weeks, T, T and I have been talking about making "Purple Tomato Soup." "Purple tomato" is the direct translation for "eggplant"...I adore eggplant, more than any other vegetable except for the beet (I think they are equal). So a few months ago when I saw eggplants being grilled over an open fire on Saturday and Sunday mornings in our market, I was ecstatic.
At about 20 cents per plant, they are a real bargain, and they come with a little pouch containing a green onion mixture. You know what I just realized this morning? The woman and her daughter who grill the eggplants are the ones who just started the ban xeo business in our alley. They are a mother/daughter dynamo team, in my opinion!
So one day after buying the eggplants, I drop by T and T's stand and when Thanh sees them, she tells me they are meant for purple tomato soup. When they arrive for cooking Sunday - Thuy, Thanh and Tu all dressed in pink - I have a brand new huge pot to make the soup in...another market find. But they look at me kind of funny and say they don't need a big pot. I'm confused but I just go with it, as usual.
Here's how the preparation goes:
Cut up roasted strips of eggplant into bite sized chunks and put the sauteed green onions over the top.
Clean the biggest prawns you have ever seen and saute them in oil, garlic, shallots and more green onions. When they are finished cooking, add a mixture of hot water and sugar. Stir it in a bit longer, and remove from heat.
Serve everything over rice, and top it all with the sauces.
So simple, so delicious. And nothing whatsoever to do with soup.
I suppose it's another one of those "pa goat a" day miscommunications. I keep trying to clarify what the "soup" part is, but never quite get it. Oh well, I have a really nice new pot for all kinds of soup making, which I'm sure is in my future.
After dinner, we all go to the roof and eat the banana jello that Thanh has brought once again.
It's a really fun afternoon, and I get to share the pictures of my new niece with them, and they appreciate her rightfully. They especially like my brother's cat's testing of all the baby equipment:
Part Two: The Stern Orange Robed Monk
The Moon was Round on Saturday. I love it when the moon is round because the market is filled with goodies that are only available once per month, such as my favorite: deep fried mung bean rolls. Many vendors stay home or close early so they can go to temple.
My usual Saturday morning visit to Thuy and Thanh is especially good, too- they are both enjoying some special vegetarian thick-noodle soup when I get there, and they tell me to go and get my own bowl, fill it up and come back to join them for breakfast. I have always wanted to BMOB (bring my own bowl), but have felt too self-conscious to do it. But with specific intructions, I go back to the castle to get my polka-dotted deep bowl, have it filled at their favorite stand, and when I get back they have made a space for me on their fabric table and have set a metal stool out in front of it. I draw many strange looks and comments - one made by a foreigner I have seen in the market a lot lately (I really hate seeing foreigners in my market...) An older gentleman, he introduces himself as "Alan" from Australia. He asks me if T and T serve both "Suits and Soup"?? After we chat for a bit and he walks away, Thuy leans into me and says in a whisper, "He has a young Vietnamese girlfriend." They don''t approve.
Thuy tells me they are closing early this morning, too. Would I like to go to temple with her? I have a five-hour "Dorothy" rehearsal beginning at noon, but how can I pass this up? I meet her back at her stand at ten and we spend the next hour and a half temple-hopping. At the first one we light the three sticks of incense, but we pray once at a hundred handed and hundred-eyed Buddha, once at a Little Buddha, and once at a Regular-Sized Buddha. Each one is located in a different garden or room; we climb the stairs to bow at a few other buddhas after walking by hundreds of people who are slurping the vegetarian noodle soup that is served at the ground level of the temple on this day of the month only (I think).
When we go to free her motorbike from parking, she asks if we have time to see a new, beautiful temple down the "new road." A road was just completed that connects district one with district four; T and T both seem very excited about it because Thanh took me there last week after we got the banana jello with tapioca sauce. The temple is beautiful - Thuy especially likes the Buddha here (you can just barely see it in the top photo).
We climb some stairs and enter another beautiful room with another huge Buddha. The walls are covered with thousands of gold-plated Buddha tiles, and Thuy is pointing at the walls in the whole room and saying, "Look, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha" - she is very proud of this temple - when we turn to grasp the beauty of the whole room, we see a very stern, serious, orange-robed young - maybe-30 year-old-monk, hands on hips, glaring at us.
When he beckons her over, her whole body stiffens; she walks toward him like a kid in trouble and bows her eyes as he scolds her. I turn away so I don't add to her embarrassment. When she comes back, she says, "Maggie. Next time, you cannot wear skirt in temple." I look down... yeah, I guess I am wearing what might be considered a "short" skirt. "And he say I was loud when I show you the Buddhas," she says, ashamed.
I know Thuy's language capacity and sense of humor well enough now so that when I answer with a whispered "Well, he is not a very fun monk" she breaks into giggles. She tries to stifle them, but they are the kind that cannot be stifled. We are both laughing and of course, the stern young monk doesn't find any humor in it. His hands are back on his hips. "I think we had better go!" I say. She nods and we get out of the beautiful temple and back on the motorbike, fast.
I'm typing all of this in the hammock on the roof on Sunday night...the power is off and it's cool up here. Last week the water was off, tonight the power. You just learn to live with it, if you have buckets and a flashlight on your keychain, everything is good.