Well, it's been a long while since I've posted, and I've noticed my output this year is not as prolific as last year (when I first started). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that since I've been interning in Syracuse this semester and covering local events in a small city, my life has been less eventful (and not as much of a fodder for a blog post).
Though with the approaching deadline of graduation looming ever the closer, the stress seems to be melting. Not completely, but dripping down bit by bit. Maybe it's the frog effect and I'm not really feeling the heat because it's rising ever so gradually. Or perhaps I've become desensitized to it at this point (more on that later). Which gives me more time to blog about something completely random: Vietnamese food!
Two weeks ago, I hosted my first dinner party, in honor of the coming of spring (though you cannot tell in Syracuse, what with the constant rain and thunder). But in California, it's been spring for a long time. So I made a dish that, ever since coming to the East Coast, I have not been able to find (not even in NYC): bún riêu.
One of my regrets about leaving California is leaving behind my mother's cooking. It's not my biggest regret but it's right up there with beaches, sunshine and family.
Bún riêu is one of my most favorite things to eat. Not all Vietnamese like eating phở all the time. And for me, bún riêu, unlike phở, is already perfectly flavored, and not with beef, but with a mixture of shrimp, pork and crab. A light, fresh and slightly sweet flavor.
Bún means noodles and riêu are the meatballs that float gently to the top as the soup is simmering (there really isn't a English counterpart for the word). But it's a pork, shrimp and crab meat mixture, held together by egg, floating in a gentle sea of tomatoes, tofu and fish sauce. Can you say yum?
Or as my housemate, James, said via Facebook, "Diep Tran is filling up the house with the delicious smells of the Pacific Ocean." And in this instance, he wasn't wrong. It was almost being like home.
You pair it with vermicelli noodles and fresh herbs (mint, perilla, water spinach, beansprouts). This being Syracuse, I forwent the herbs because basil and cilantro just didn't have the same effect. Traditional recipes will also have blocks of congealed pigs blood and sea snails in the mix but those aren't very easy to come by either. And I like to keep things as simple as possible (that's why I have never been able to eat phở with topped beef tendons).
The thing, either horrible or amazing, depending on how you look at it, about Vietnamese noodle soup is that it calls for making amounts in bulk, a large pot of it either to eat for a week straight or to feed to a large group of people. I chose the latter.
Of course, this being a recipe I got from my mother, there was really no set measurements for anything (except for 1.5 pound of pork, 1.5 pound of shrimp and 2 cans of crab meat - we use fresh crabs back home). But this is one of those times where you just followed your intuition until you got a taste that was close to home.
And it was very close, a very bittersweet movement.
The party was a success, I fulfilled my obscure-Vietnamese-noodle-soups requirement for a while until I can muster up the energy (and funds) to do it again.
Here's a recipe for it via Wandering Chopsticks who, like my mother, does not use crab or shrimp paste in the recipe (something the regular recipes will advise you to use in place of real crabs). Her recipe is pretty close to the one I used, except I forwent the snails because, once again, a bit hard to get when you're so far away from the ocean.
I also served shrimp spring rolls with peanut sauce as an appetizer.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a day. I felt like my mother but in a good way.