Bitter melon drew the short end of the stick when it came to looks in the gourd family. Visually, this veggie doesn’t have much appetite appeal. Wart-like bumps cover oblong veggie’s outer green surface, which doesn’t look like much of a delight for the taste buds. If its jarring physique doesn’t deter the curious eater, bitter melon’s taste most certainly will turn them away. The veggie’s rough exterior is on par with its intensely pungent bitterness, which some may find difficult to swallow.

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I put roots down in France nearly a decade ago. Initially, I struggled with how unlike home France felt to me during my first few years here. My surroundings, the language, cultural norms, and my daily routine had all suddenly become foreign to me. The ocean separating me from my friends and family further exacerbated my sense of isolation. I fixated on elements from my former life that France didn’t have, and I was constantly seeking any and everything that was reminiscent of the familiarity of home, especially food. I was living in Austin, TX before moving here, so tacos, Texas BBQ and Whole Foods were constantly on my mind.

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After returning from my first trip to Asia this past spring, I let essentially all of my passion projects fall to the wayside. My life has been veering further and further away from the path that I had envisioned for myself during the course of this past year. The bumpy detour jolted my equilibrium and obliterated my sense of joy and optimism for a good part of the year. Rather than avoid the gloom though, I buckled up and embraced the tumult that came my way. I leaned hard into the ugly, uncomfortable darkness, and it was in these quiet moments of solitude that I recognized that my completely depleted glass needed refilling.

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A couple of years ago, I had this nutty idea that I could master French cookery within a few short months. Or, at least enough to pass an exam called the CAP de Cuisine. Students who pursue a career in the culinary arts in lieu of the traditional route culminating in a high school diploma followed by college must pass the CAP before embarking on their careers in the kitchen. In preparation for the CAP de Cuisine exam, students enroll in a 2-year program that equips them with food industry skills, such as French culinary techniques, the science of ingredients, kitchen and restaurant management, and food safety.

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Did y’all know that Hainan Province formed several million years ago in the South China Sea after breaking off from what is now the northeastern coast of Vietnam? Fast forward to the mid-1800s, many people from the Chinese island province started to migrate to nearby Southeast Asia in search of more prosperous economic opportunities. When they left the island, they also brought with them one of the province’s most notable culinary exports, Hainanese chicken rice. The Hainanese immigrants forged roots throughout Southeast Asia, and their eponymous dish made a mark on essentially all of the cuisines in this region. Each of these countries has a variation of this delectable chicken and rice dish.

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From what I’ve observed, many French people outgrow their religious beliefs and leave them behind along with their childhood. Devout believer or not though, most continue to celebrate with gusto religious rites like baptisms and holidays rooted in the Christian faith. Many of these religious traditions have long been intertwined with France’s history and have thus been tightly woven into the fabric of French culture. So, observance of these religious occasions still persists today more as a remnant of tradition rather than actual belief. But let’s get real, these rites and holidays have survived in spite of dwindling religious beliefs because they give the French an excuse to indulge their hedonistic appetites!

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As someone who was born and bred in the US, my natural inclination is to reach for something sweet to start the morning. A bowl of cereal with a splash of milk has been part of my breakfast routine since I was a kid, and it hasn’t wavered much even after moving here to France where viennoiseries abound. In Vietnamese culture, however, it’s not uncommon to fuel up in the morning with savory dishes. My stomach never growls for anything salty when I wake up, but the mister, who grew up in Vietnam, habitually starts the morning with what I would consider dinner. His typical morning meal includes a bowl of rice topped with something savory, such as caramelized pork ribs or ginger chicken. Sometimes, he’ll have a bánh giò, that is if I make them!

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y baby Plated Palate turns 3 today! I celebrated the occasion by baking some chouquettes. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve baked anything aside from the occasional batch of cookies, so baking doesn’t feel as intuitive anymore as cooking savory dishes has become to me. When I was still living in the US, my baking obsession was what initially propelled me to start my first and now defunct blog. After living in France for a few years, I launched Plated Palate to give myself a blank canvas to explore my culinary predilections. While I wrote just about any and everything and shamelessly posted unappetizing photos on my old blog, I’ve dedicated this blog to Vietnamese foods and the occasional French delight.

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