Change is inevitable, but may not always be as timely as we would like. When inertia starts to become too comfortable, you yourself must sometimes catalyze the disruption of static routine. This is where I was last year when I realized that I had reached an impasse in my career.
Vietnamese-American gastronome with a taste for homecooked meals living in the burbs of Paris.
Before day even broke, we hopped on a bus for 2€ one Sunday morning last October and headed northwest to Rouen, the capital city of Normandy. The minute the driver revved the engine, I was out cold, snoozing the entire 2 hour ride only to wake from my slumber once we reached our destination. The bus was continuing to Le Havre, but like us, most of the other passengers got off at Rouen for the weekend long Fête du Ventre, which literally translates to the Stomach Festival.
Growing up in California, we didn’t have to think twice about where our food came from. We lived in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley where the land is among the most fertile in the world. The state grows a staggering amount of fruits and vegetables, representing a considerable proportion of the produce consumed and exported by the US. California’s abundant sunshine coupled with its fertile land make growing almost anything possible.
Garnishes are indispensable ingredients that complement the symphony of flavors found in Vietnamese dishes. Fresh herbs, such as red perilla or basil, infuse our noodle soups, spring rolls and salads with a bouquet of flavors that scintillate our taste buds. More savory toppings like fried pork fat impart a crunchy succulence to dishes such as bánh bèo (steamed rice cakes) and cơm tấm bì (broken rice with shredded pork skin). Among the assortment of garnishes that dress our plates, I use fried shallots the most frequently in my kitchen.
Generations before me fled in droves from a war ravaged Việt Nam over 30 years ago following the fall of Saigon. The country was shrouded in panic and confusion during the final hours of the war as the Americans pulled out. In the midst of the mayhem, people in South Việt Nam scrambled to leave the country, which was the debut of a decade-long mass exodus. My mom and her family were among the fortunate ones who left by plane days before the borders closed after the south surrendered to the north. Many others left by boat and embarked on harrowing journeys at sea, where hundreds of thousands perished. Those who were lucky enough to survive the perilous journey settled in countries in all corners of the world.
New Orleans was my hometown during my early childhood. We only lived there until I was six years old, so my recollections of life in the Big Easy have faded into fragmented blurs. One of the few things that I do remember about Louisiana is eating king cake during the mardi gras festivities, which is as ubiquitous as strings of beads during that time of year. I actually wasn’t particularly fond of eating the cake, which was often topped too generously with icing and colored sugars. I was only interested in finding the tiny plastic baby buried within the cake, because whoever found the prized baby would be crowned king for a day.
When I was a kid, time seemed to have no end and waiting for anything felt like an eternity. Now, every passing year seems to come to an end more quickly than the blink of an eye. Already, this month five years ago, France became my new home country. A new chapter in my life was beginning, yet I was unprepared in every sense of the word for what was ahead of me. I had mistakenly assumed that migrating from one Western country to another would be a smooth transition. I was, however, in for a rude awakening.
The lazy dog days of summer came to an abrupt end as the French returned en masse from their annual month long respite in August. The concrete jungle is once again bustling and teeming with sharply dressed Parisians, while sightings of t-shirt and sneaker clad tourists have become few and far between. Everyone’s routine has eased back into its pre-vacation rhythm, and already, the daily grind has started to wear down many of the city folks. The sunny disposition that they came back with has long faded along with their over-bronzed tans.
Paris has finally shedded the thick layer of gloom that has shrouded the city’s skies in dreariness since the winter months. The sun is starting to peak out again, replenishing our much depleted vitamin D reserves. Days are becoming increasingly longer as we head into summer, with the sun setting as late as 10 in the evening these days. Warmer weather also signals the debut of the summer fruits season!