It was day one of the New Year and I was excited to meet Tori’s mother who she always spoke so lovingly about. The first time I ever heard her speak of her mother, Victoria was when we found ourselves in rather diverse company. Tori being Vietnamese, Amaka being Nigerian, and myself Colombian/El Salvadorian. We spoke of go-to dishes our mothers cooked and finger foods we enjoyed the most from our respective cultures. Have you ever talked about your favorite homemade dishes in such detail that you can start to smell it? It’s torture and it was happening to us as we sat miles away from our mother’s kitchens. Tori began speaking of her childhood and how her mother heavily imbedded Vietnamese culture into her everyday life. Growing up in the Tran household consisted of Victoria dressing Tori up in traditional Vietnamese gowns whenever a Vietnamese holiday was to take place. When I asked Tori if I could interview her mother for my blog she expressed excitement because her mother LOVES sharing her rich culture. This post will be more visually focused rather than heavily worded since I photographed Victoria and Tori making this typical Vietnamese dish and snacks as mother and daughter which is a dynamic I loved witnessing and I enjoyed getting to take part in a family tradition.
When I arrived I felt like I had already known Victoria thanks to Tori’s vivid descriptions of what a vibrant woman her mother was. She welcomed me with a hug and told me we were going to make egg rolls and bun thit nuong, a cold rice vermicelli noodle dish served with pork. Victoria showed me what was happening at each corner of the kitchen. She did something I truly appreciated that really heightened my experience; she had me compare textures and tastes of noodles, mushrooms, and other unfamiliar ingredients I’d be interacting with. Closest to the sink was the dried fungus and raw shrimp. On the other side of the sink Tori was chopping up the shallots and garlic. We stopped at the stove where a bag filled with pre-made egg rolls rested. She was waiting for me to arrive so she could pop them in the deep-frying pot so we’d have something to snack on while we made our lunch. A thoughtful touch that made me even more excited for what was to come during my time with them.
While at the stove we popped the rice noodles into the pot. Once boiling, the rice noodles formed a filmy layer at the top. Victoria said you’d want the texture of the rice noodle to feel the same as spaghetti. She used extra long bamboo cooking chopsticks that you could purchase at any Asian grocery store such as Ranch 99.
We eyeball everything. It’s a preference.
No measuring cups or spoons were used in the making of this lunch, which is great for any reader of this blog interested in making this dish, no measurements needed and you have a photographic step-by-step aid. We stopped at the vegetable station and everything was still in its bag so that I would know what to look for if I wanted to recreate this dish. Victoria said she’s not a fan of mushrooms but uses them for their texture so she soaks the dried mushrooms in cold water and then squeezes them over the drain so that remaining dirt and fungus flavor dissipate.
Tori had now moved on to the herbs and said this was her least favorite thing to do and this task was something all kids are entrusted with if they’re helping making egg rolls. It’s easy but pulling apart the mint leaves was so tedious. The tip of mint leaves is something Vietnamese foodies are very much into since it’s the youngest part of the herb and holds the most flavor.
Victoria was very courteous in terms of finding out what I liked, what I didn’t, and whether or not I avoided certain types of meats. We got to the shrimp and beef portion of our menu. She rinsed the raw shrimp and cut them in half. The garlic and shallots Tori was cutting were mixed in with the meat. Victoria used gloves to mix the meat in with the garlic, shallots, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, Tori took the rice noodles that were drained and rinsed in cold water and began rolling them for the bun thit nuong.
Ground meat with garlic, shallots, salt, and pepper
Rolled rice noodles for the bun thit nuong
Victoria then took me to the table where we would begin combining the ingredients to make the egg rolls. Again she employed the plastic glove method which saved her time as she ran around in between checking egg rolls in the deep fryer and other ingredients.
We then began preparing the fish sauce that would compliment a traditional bun thit nuong dish.
We prepared the meat for the bun thit nuong
Victoria then taught Tori and I how to roll egg rolls
A side by side comparison of what Tori and my egg rolls look like compared to her mothers.
And there you have it, the final product of this two-hour cooking extravaganza; Egg Rolls & Bún Thịt Nướng. I walked away so grateful for the experience. I’m sure you’ve heard that cooking is a good way to bring people together and I had the opportunity to experience it with a different culture in the comfort of their own home where I too was made to feel welcomed and comforted. I began to visit the idea that my mother and I need to invest in the time to cook a traditional Colombian dish together for some quality mother-daughter bonding time so I could one day carry on the tradition with my future kin. I cannot express my immense gratitude enough for having Tori and her mother, Victoria embrace me and my desire for cultural experiences. It was a great way to kick off the New Year and I’ve added a new menu item to my college cooking ventures. Thank you Victoria and Tori!