When I was a kid my mom volunteered with CARE (Central Alberta Refugee Effort) helping families who had just immigrated to Red Deer to get settled in. She'd go to various stores and services with them and help them get acquainted with how things worked, where things were. I'm sure they would have figured it all out on their own, but, having moved to a Strange Country myself, I can see the appeal of having a friendly local to show you the ropes. We've lived here for three years and a trip to the cleaning products aisle still does my head in.
I don't remember if I met many of the families my mom met, but I do remember one family very well, and I think they had quite a profound impact on me. They were a small family - mom, dad, little boy who must have been a bit younger than my brother at the times - from Vietnam. This would have been in the late Eighties. They had some family in Canada but had (for whatever reason) landed in Red Deer. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to arrive in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. I hope they arrived in summer. It's beautiful in it's own way, but Alberta is flat prairie land and the winter's are harsh and cold and bleak and the grey of the sky blends into the grey of the houses and the grey of the snow and it can break your heart. They had pictures in their flat of Vietnam, I remember a calendar, and it looked lush and warm and full of life.
The mother made food the likes of which I had only ever had in restaurants. And she made it every day, like it was nothing special at all. This fascinated me.
I'm sure she made plenty of dishes but all I really remember were the summer rolls. I remember taking them home by the plate load and my dad devouring them. She never wanted to come eat at our house. I don't think they liked Canadian food. But she did come over and make chocolate chip cookies with us. An odd cultural exchange that, chocolate chip cookies for summer rolls. Eventually they moved out to BC to be closer to family and when they left I think that was the last we ever heard of them.
But I can think of no other solid reason of my deep held need to one day go to Vietnam.
In the meantime I like Vietnamese food and while I have read a number of books, I've never delved into cooking it myself. So when Uyen of Fernandez & Leluu posted that she was going to be holding Vietnamese cooking classes, I was delighted with the opportunity!
|Building summer rolls|
|Building the Green papaya salad with carrot, prawns and chicken|
|Possibly my favourite thing to eat that day|
Uyen took us to a nearby Vietnamese grocery store where we all picked up foreign items and asked her how and what and is it delicious? I am so excited about the prospect of heading back and walking out with my arms laden with treasures. I think that just that little bit of knowledge will make me feel quite a bit more adventurous and I might start buying random unknown things and bringing them home to test.
|Stir Fried Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms & Asparagus In Oyster Sauce and Steamed Chicken with Poached greens - and brilliant accompanying sauce|
I loved what Uyen had to say about the etiquette of eating. You take only what you will eat at that moment, and don't load your dish up with a mountain of food. This feels elegant, but also beautifully communal because it makes you interact with the other diners at your table and takes your face out of your plate.
|Dinner table begins to come together|
Both Uyen and Ute, one of the other students who writes at Hungry in London, wrote posts about the day.
The full menu for the day:
Sweet Basil Drink
Green Papaya, Prawn Salad
Catfish Hot & Sour Soup
Pan Fried Fish & Fish Sauce With Steamed Rice
Sweet & Sour Ribs With Vegetable Stir Fry
Beef in Lemongrass & Peanut Rolled in Betal Leaves
Rehydrated Logans, Seaweed & Jelly Dessert
The best part? I can actually see myself making some of these dishes at home. Vietnamese feast at C&L?
|Rehydrated Longans, Lotus Seed, Jelly and Wakame with Pandan|