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.
Naturally, I’ve adapted to life in France and have learned to recalibrate my palate. With each passing year, I crave fewer and fewer American foods, comforts, and conveniences. The culinary landscape in Paris has evolved since my arrival, and some of the foods for which I had to cross the ocean to satiate my hankerings can now be found here. The diluted authenticity of these foods, however, don’t have the same appeal to me. Try as they may, there is no way in hell that the BBQ in Paris could ever compete with the smoked meats made by the pitmasters back in Texas. What’s more, the ambiance is not the same here, where the norm is to not eat with your hands. So, you can’t comfortably dig in and go to town to savor the ribs like they’re meant to be eaten.
Foods and people aside, what I still miss about living in the US is the ease of hopping into an air-conditioned car to grab a refreshing beverage like a smoothie or cherry limeade during the summer. There have been many times when I’m out and about in the city, completely parched but with few appealing choices for quenching my thirst. Whatever beverage joints there are in town are often a pain to get to, especially since I don’t have a driver’s license. The most striking difference is that most places don’t load up their drinks with ice like they do in the US. You’re lucky if you can score even one cube of ice in your glass of water!
I find that making my own drinks is the way to go. One of my favorite ways to stay cool during this past summer’s heatwave is with this Vietnamese basil seed and malva nut drink. The basil seeds (hột é) look very similar to chia seeds, but they are slightly smaller and don’t need to soak for as long. As soon as they come into contact with water, the seeds start to form a gelatinous outer layer. The seeds are often paired with malva nuts (đười ươi), which puffs into a kelp-like blob. It, too, has a slightly gelatinous texture and imparts a subtly earthy flavor. Both seeds have a very mild flavor, so the drink needs a little bit of sugar to give it more body.
Although fall is in full swing here, I’m not quite ready for shorter days and cooler temperatures. I’m still hanging onto the endless, carefree summer days captured in these photos that I took while strolling around the city a few months back.
What drinks did you slurp to keep cool this summer?
Bonne dégustation & thanks for reading!
Vietnamese Basil Seed & Malva Nut Drink
- 2 tsp Vietnamese basil seeds*
- 1-2 malva nuts*
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp sugar +/- to taste
- ice cubes
- 1 tsp orange blossom extract optional
- Soak the malva nuts in about 1 cup of water for 30 minutes or so. Once the seeds have puffed up, drain and remove the outer skin and seed from the gelatinous mass.
- Soak the basil seeds in 2 cups water for about an hour. Once they have expanded, stir in the soaked malva nuts and sugar. For some floral notes, add about a tsp of orange blossom extract. If the drink is too dense, add additional water. Serve chilled with ice cubes.