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! Strawberries and cherries started to make an appearance at the fruit stands lining the outdoor markets as early as April, but I knew better than to be tempted by their fragrant scent and bright colors. April is a bit too early for strawberries and cherries to develop their sweetness and flavor, particularly in France, where the weather is a bit milder. Only a couple of weekends ago did strawberries started becoming sweet enough to eat, and the timing couldn’t have been better.
Open the fridge in any Vietnamese household and you are sure to find a jar of nước mắm. I’m not talking about the pure bottled stuff, but rather the mix that accompanies many dishes on our dining table. It is often served as a dipping sauce for chả giò (eggrolls) or as a sauce drizzled over dishes, such as cơm tấm bì (broken rice with shredded pork) or bánh xèo (savory crêpes). Though the base sauce is only composed of a few simple ingredients (lime juice + sugar + water + nước mắm), achieving a harmonious balance among these contradictory ingredients is not an easy feat for the untrained palate. Getting it just right requires a bit of finesse that comes with practice.