The season of summer always feels like a fight against time, a race to accomplish, a bucket list to tick off. I usually succumb to it all but not this year. This year my goal has been to take pleasure in the simple daily privileges I am afforded to grieve, to rejoice at growth and to discover what has always been in front of me. I have been lamenting (to myself) the lack of inspiration I have been feeling when it comes to food. The one thing I most relate to feels like a burden. I have so much respect for all the Vietnamese, Salvadorean, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and so many more immigrant-owned restaurants who work hard daily (and are forced) to keep their prices low so that I can feed myself without guilt from time to time. I have respect for them for various other reasons but this is a top one. Tip well, folks.
I have been performing deep breathing about 5 times, twice a day after a conversation I had with a client of my cousin’s. I asked him many questions about how it works. Therapy is what he does for a living and it felt so good to actually talk to a human being about practices instead of Internet searching to find the cure to living. I told him breathing deeply gave me more control and he said that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do. But the part that struck me the most was when he mentioned the origin of the word “inspire”. It comes from the Latin word “inspirare”, which means to breathe or to blow into.
I had never known about this. We throw that word around so much in English, the crappiest language in the world.
“I was so inspired.”
“That’s so inspiring.”
The entire time, we have been talking about breathing. About living. I have been looking at things for what feels like so long, waiting for them to strike something in me. After dada’s death, it had felt harder to strip those layers. This deep breathing hasn’t changed my life or any of that goop shit people like to take and repackage as wellness. But it has helped me fall asleep when I can’t. It has helped me wake up and not immediately panic.
Today morning, I handed over the dog I was watching to her owner. I edited some photos. I made noodles. I sat at my computer and started writing this post just because in the moment I really missed my dad. I cooked something nice for dinner. I ate my daily chocolate ice-cream sandwich outside under the shade of the roof. Breathed. Today, this was inspiration.
Cold rice noodles with garden greens and nuoc mam cham
Required reading and watching
- Here is an article that explains the difference between fish sauce and nuoc mam
- Another article about about Vietnamese Cajun crawfish, a dish born in Houston that is 100% American
- The Migrant Kitchen Ep 2 Beyond Pho. An Emmy-winning series that turns the lens on food culture in Los Angeles. Must watch must watch must watch
- Eating while immigrant: The bitter taste of assimilation and the joy of ‘stinky’ food
Nuoc mam cham is simply the generic word used to describe a variety of dipping sauces made with fish sauce, from the beautiful country of Vietnam. The way the sauce is made varies by region. Some regions use coconut water, some dilute with water, some prefer it more sour. The closest this version comes to is probably none of the above. I can never make it as well as a person who makes this regularly and knows what tastes closest to their grandparents grandparents’ recipe. Just like garam masala (the essential Indian spice blend), every family makes this recipe differently. I am not here to appropriate any tradition. I am only here to humbly say thank you.
If you want to add a protein like fish, shrimp, sliced pork, chicken or tofu, marinate it in part of the dipping sauce before cooking it over a skillet or grill. If you’re vegetarian, here is recipe you can use instead of this one. Just remember to taste everything as you go. I can tell you this tastes good to me but maybe you want more spice or a different chilli. Whatever it is you choose, make it your own.
For the nuoc mam cham
- 4 tbsp sugar or ground coconut jaggery (coconut sugar)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 jalapeno, cut into rounds (seeds removed if you want less spice)
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
For the noodles
- 1 package vermicelli rice noodles
- 2-3 carrots, cut into matchsticks
- 1-2 cucumbers, seeds removed and cut into matchsticks
- 4 green onions, cut into small rounds
- 1/2 jalapeno, cut into rounds
- Fresh snap peas, raw peas or blanched frozen peas
- 1 bunch fresh coriander, stems finely chopped and leaves roughly torn
- Other tender ingredients like basil, raw chopped spinach, edible flowers etc
Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce and set aside. Can be made 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.
Place the uncooked noodle in a large, deep bowl. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Pour the boiled water over the noodles and let them sit, covered for 5 minutes. Drain and pour cold tap water over to stop them from cooking. Put the noodles in a large serving bowl and toss in the greens. Let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Let everyone serve themselves noodles with a side bowl for sauce. Or you can pour some sauce over the noddles and enjoy cold.