vietnamese watercress salad

zoom in of watercress salad with

Another of my favorite vietnamese dishes. Instruction below courtesy of my sister-in-law, with a slight modification. I had to go shopping for olive oil, vinegar, and filet mignon for the first time in life too.. only because previously they have always been handled by little sister who either had the ingredients or used the former hausmate’s.

1 bunch of watercress
1/5 to 1/4 kg of filet mignon
20 grape tomatoes
1 small white onion
3-4 garlic cloves
fish sauce 🙂
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

1. Thinly slice the beef
2. marinate with some sugar (1 tsp), fish sauce (1 tbsp), black pepper, minced garlic for 1 hour
3. At high heat, stir fried the beef for about 1 minute, add white onion, turn off heat
4. remove meat from pan to prevent over cooking the beef.

Dressing: (this one I follow strictly her measurements… had to sort out those tsb and tbsp…
In a container: add
– 2 tsp sugar
– a tiny bit of salt
– 2 tbsp of vinegar
– 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
stir until all is well mixed.

Put in the watercress, cut approximately 1/2 length of finger in length (we measure things with finger length in Vietnam), cut grape tomatoes in 1/2, put meat + white onion on top, then add dressing to taste.

First picture was from my sister 6 years ago. BElow is mine. super tasty!

canh cà chua đậu hũ hẹ

mission accomplished with only 1/2 of the chives overcooked

mission accomplished with only 1/2 of the chives overcooked

A very satisfactory dinner! 🙂 This is one of many very basic vietnamese clear soups (canh) and is typically a staple in daily vietnamese meal. Yet I haven’t made it probably in more than 10 years for various reasons, but the primary being the inability to find chives. May be backing up a little bit, I typically don’t cook unless I’m traveling abroad, and as such normally will only cook what I can find in the local store. And I have wanted to make this for a long time for friends in Germany but apparently it was quite tall order to find “hẹ” (chives, the completely flat type, not round, not piramide in shape.. as they taste very different). One time back in 2008 we had to go to 7 different asian + local vegetable markets in Munich + Heidelberg and in the end had to settle for something very unsatisfactory (for a different dish, the vietnamese fresh spring rolls). In any case, at the current lovely stay, we have located a niiiiiiiice asian store within 5min walking distance, so here we are :-).
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chúc mừng năm mới!


shipment from Berkeley CA. lunar new year 2016

Haaapppy new year everyone!! a similar* box arrived at my new empty apartment to bless the sunny place and new year, things are looking up! That pink “sausage”-like thingy** at the top is deadly! I attempted swallowing one while walking to the office.. ended up with mad uncontrollable runny nose (those Thai chili peppers KILLS :D, and the flood of raw garlic and full-sized black pepper corns..)

It’s the year of the Monkey. We have none in our family. We know nothing about them! please feel free to share any story / personality you know of them, first-hand, second-hand, compatibility :D. I feeling soooo relaxed and happy.
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Cung Chúc Tân Xuân

haaaaaaaapppy new year everyone!! just got this in the mail, i soooo excited. it came out of sister-in-law kitchen in san diego just last saturday night and made way here today, cannnn’t wait to unwrap and eat tomorrow.

bánh chưng, giò

bánh chưng, giò

ideally i’d love to celebrate with my family.. but great memory will do. So, what do we do on New Year Day? very big deal to choose WHO should be the first to visit and “bless” the ground, there’s a whole procedure to this! First you enter your date-of-birth and it calculates for you who you should invite! For mine, here’s the list (first column is the desired guest’s year-of-birth):

or generally speaking, if you’re born the year of the Dog, Pig, Goat/Sheep, you’re most welcome first thing in the morning!! After that everyone is welcome. (this is the tradition of course, i couldn’t care less whoever comes first 😉 ). We then open the door wide, unwrap bánh chưng, eat, greet, be happy. Loads of other traditions can be read up here. Most important is that you clean the house the nights before but *NEVER* brush anything out using broom on the new year day (the 1st), as it implies you wiping off all your luck :-).

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more random

music that was subconsciously singing in ears while i fought with nose for 3 hrs last night in semi-conscious state…
can’t say i fully understand the lyric, not that i’d put great emphasis on it.. but the music and her voice are quite soothing, brought back childhood memories 🙂
this should hopefully mark my emergence back on the grid… and back to listening to music..

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới

happy new year everyone! growing up in Vietnam, some of the best memories I have were during new year: no cut in electricity, continuous tv from night of 30th to throughout the 1st, food, firecrackers, visitors, red envelopes, no schools, you name it, two full weeks of happiness. Since we arrived in the US, new year hasn’t quite been the same.. I haven’t joined much new year celebrations… mainly because I don’t particularly identify with the older vietnamese down in Little Saigon except the common love for vietnamese food … namely i have little connection with those who dressed up in old military clothes loudly denouncing communists and supporting wars, or those church goers who preach what they don’t practice… And more importantly, being gay, I had always felt invisible. Even when i came out some 15 years ago, there was a lesson about keeping quiet and not telling anyone else (total BS, i even knew back then, if you are not proud of me, that’s your problem.)

Anyhow, this year, the last few days to be more exact, i’ve felt quite lonely and withdrawn, and i’ve sorted out why. Since 2010, we the vietnamese LGBTQI group had gotten together and participated in the New Year parade in the heart of Little Saigon (the capitol of Vietnam abroad) and those were really the moments I felt belonging. Back in 2010 during our first push for visibility, the homophobes sent harm threats, and for a short moment I debated my own participation. But that’s what they wanted, to bully you into invisibility. To those who claim gays are “a problem of the western world” (you’d be surprised who still thinks so, i once had a heated conversation with my own highly educated colleague), I knew who i was since 7, independent of geography. Altogether, we proudly made our way down the street of Bolsa, and personally i must admit i was extremely happy to finally enjoying Tet as me. (Can i repeat i LOOOVE that dress my sister loaned me, was constantly hogging the cameras smiling :-D).

This year, they tried to exclude us from the parade, citing we’re not part of Vietnamese Culture. And suddenly these feelings of loneliness, anger, resentment, bitterness, the same ones I had before coming out, came rushing back. That’s what it felt like being pushed into non-existence. But luckily, time has changed, i did once manage to come out and live my life, and this year, our group is doing the same. Some of the young and brave leaders within our group have been working extremely hard to keep us visible and thriving today in Little Saigon (we have booth to educate people, and several other groups had invited us to walk in the parade with them to promote unity + equality.) I only wished i could be there having fun celebrating new year with them. But reading the news alone is highly encouraging. Homophobes can try discriminating, it might have worked this year on paper, but that won’t push any of us back into hiding. We will always be part of the community and we will be visible. Happy new year everyone!

some links:

a tango to start the gorgeous evening

and a rainbow from phone camera to accompany

to continue with low-key evening, onto another duet Mưa Sài Gòn, Mưa Hà Nội (Sàigòn rain, Hànội rain, not sure why Ái Vân–first singer–looks so uncomfortable, possibly because she’s from Hà Nội. i should get cd though). Relatedly a FANTASTIC blog post about the difference between rain in Saigon and in Hanoi. That is incredibly cool (the post), so accurately reflecting my feeling when i attempt to describe to people rain in the summer here in Boston; the humidity and rain here in Boston is one of the main reasons i moved back east. Brings back also memory of the word “trú mưa” (running mad for cover from rain) which i hardly used since leaving Vietnam. Let me check with that blogger if i could attempt to translate her post, might ask little sister for help, it’s really really cool. Also implied in that post is the difference between people from Saigon and Hanoi, Hanoi people are some of the most complex, if they insist they love you, you better be careful!

sticky tune

be warned, the content (and my fragmented line of thought) is a little disturbing…
got this strange tune since yesterday that left me head scratching searching for the source. it has to be from something very recent, but which opera??? “tà tá , tá ta ta tà tá” (if you know a tiny bit of vietnamese tones, you’d realize our 6 tones are nothing but music, and i can write any song in just such various accents and technically if i not way out of tune, anyone would be able to recognize song) . Anyhow, 2 visions (visualization? i saw nothing profound, just images) popped up in the head, one of a warm cozy room in soft yellowish light, and one of a kite flying. Though the flying kite is not the original source, it’s got a similarity nonetheless. Anyhow, here’s where the tune comes from originally, and here’s the kite flying scene, tear inducing everytime i hear it (not mentioning seeing…)

This is a movie worth seeing. Anyone who has lived in Vietnam in the late 1970s to 1980s and is an immigrant can identify with many of the scenes in it. Some of my siblings turned down watching due to fear of getting too emotional. And the janitors, the lawnmowers, recycling-collectors you encounter in the US, some were/are my relatives. An uncle told me once when he first arrived in the US, he applied for a job to clean the toilet at a university and they said he didn’t have the right qualification. Read more of this post

happy thanksgiving

if you celebrate such a thing :-).  otherwise, hope you have a very pleasant rest of Thursday and weekend coming up.  i wasn’t quite prepared for it except suddenly EVERYONE was traveling and now the town is COMPLETELY deserted! being asian, i think turkey isn’t quite my thing either, so we’re gathering for some vietnamese cá đút lò (baked catfish) and bò 7 món (7-course beef) instead.  i also promise to bring along Alcina and Clemenza di Tito for the after-party ;-).

anyhow, some nice music for the sunny afternoon, from Kasarova’s recent trip to Moscow, as shown on russian TV and recorded by the nice Deoniz:

edit: hooray, more mozart (note how drastically the sound is from the pocket-camera-recorded sound back in Sept, those little recorders just simply missed loads of subtlety) :

argh!! it was removed!!! vhy?? argh argh, i really liked it!!!

mozart for the (editing) night

got my stack of cd, here’s music to start,

Non più di fiori vaghe catene
discenda Imene ad intrecciar.
Stretta fra barbare aspre ritorte
veggo la morte ver me avanza.
Infelice, qual orrore!
Ah! di me che si dirà?
Chi vedesse il mio dolore,
pur avria di me Pietà!
To weave pretty chains of flowers
Hymen will descend no more.
Trapped among the wild, rough tangles,
I see death advancing before me.
Unhappy me! What horror!
Ah! what will they say of me?
Whoever should observe my pain
would have pity on me!

on a totally unrelated note, a friend just offered me some guavas, my favorite fruit! actually she offered 2 nights ago, but since I didnt’ have chili pepper and salt, nothing could start. not sure about other culture, but red chili pepper + salt (muối ớt) is VERY important to vietnamese; a thing we (I) cease to function without :-D. If you need instruction on how to make such thing, here’s a pretty good photo-sequence <– EXACTLY how I would do it everytime, must have fresh chili pepper. So, what’s good with muối ớt ? everything: pineapple (note how we cut), water melon, guava, orange, green mango, kiwi, strawberry… YUM, me mouth is watering…

(ps- oh, 1 exception: no banana with salt, that’s weird! 🙂 )