As you may know, I recently turned twenty and am about to enter my third year of college. I live and work in Berkeley, about an hour north of San Jose and rarely come home, though I try to sneak in visits as often as I can. To most, this would signify a certain amount of maturity and grown-up-ness, but I can’t help but feel every bit the little girl who would waddle around the house in nothing but her diaper, bumping into coffee tables, falling over and having my mom pick me back up again. On second thought, I still do that, minus the diaper bit 😀
One night not too long ago, I came home to my family and somehow all four of us managed to fit onto my parents’ old queen sized bed – albeit a bit cramped and hazardous as the bed is God-knows-how-old. And we aren’t small people either. We talked and laughed and chatted and giggled just like old times – my dad would chuckle so hard that his tummy would jiggle. And my mom was in a fit of tears. Nhi was having paroxysms of laughter, and I couldn’t help but smile and grin at the happy and fortunate sight in front of me. I love my family, despite being older, despite being further away, despite not being able to hang out and live every moment of my life with them. I love my family – just as much (if not more) as that little girl in the diapers did.
So I guess it’s no surprise that I love coming home. And one of the many advantages of coming home is my mom’s cooking. People grow out of their childhood habits, bedrooms, homes, but never their mom’s cooking. It’s just so nourishing and tempered in so much love that I could never part from it. I use to think that mothers were magical. Every dash of salt or spoon of garlic that went into the pot was like a pinch of love folded into care and whisked with tenderness. I still feel that way. And this weekend my mom made her own take of a rather complicated Vietnamese dish called Mi Quang, which consists of noodles bathed in a savory broth and topped with salted meats, loads of greens, tons of peanuts and crunchy banh trang. I will never be able to replicate any of her amazing Vietnamese dishes, but I did write up a basic skeleton which may help, but VietWorldKitchen and the NYTimes do offer additional instruction.
Salted Meats (Thit Rim):
Pork shoulder meat (less fatty than the traditional ba roi cut)
Store-bought cha lua & cha que
Rice Stick Noodles
Tumeric/Saffron/Yellow Food Coloring
Toasted and crushed peanuts
Toasted Banh Trang (Sesame Seed Rice Cracker)
In terms of being strategical, the best thing to do first is to get the broth base going. That entails filling up a large pot (>4 qt.) with the bones, chopped tomatoes, cut pineapple (alternately can be canned pineapple with juice). Fill the pot with water so it skims the surface of all these items and allow to come to a boil, at which point you should turn down the heat so the pot simmers. A lot of gunk will start to float at the top from boiling the meat, all of which should be skimmed off the surface. This broth will later be strained again, so a quick skim will be good. Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes. The meat should start to fall off the bones. The longer the better I say – keep on low heat while you prep everything else.
In the meantime, sauté garlic/onions and chunks of shoulder meat and shrimp in a shallow pot. Once they start to brown up a bit, pour in a few tablespoons of fish sauce and allow the juice to thicken up. Now would be a good time to season with some sugar as well, as the fish sauce is too salty for most taste buds. Once the meat is cooked through, tender and savory, take off the heat and set aside.
Taking the noodles, soak in a bit of tumeric or saffron or even yellow food coloring will work. This will make the noodles nice and pliable as well as give it some color. Soak for about 10-15 minutes or so. Then rinse under cold water again to get rid of the tumeric/saffron taste. You only want color, not flavor.
Now, go back to that pot of simmering bones and remove all the bones/tomatoes/pineapple bits. You can do this by straining it through a colander or just picking everything out. The end product should be a clear broth. Keeping it on low heat, pull little chunks of ground meat into the pot and let it cook. It will look like little meat balls floating in the pot. Your pot will start to get frothy again, so you will have to skim the top again. At some point, flavor the pot of broth with salt, sugar and (gasp) MSG (a teeny fraction of an 1/8 tsp). Once the meat cooks through, it’s time to turn off the heat and assemble. And the pictures tell it all.
Layer a generous handful of noodles into a bowl and laddle a small amount of broth so that it DOES NOT cover all the noodles. Now, layer on the salted meats (with a bit of the carmelized liquid) and the store-bought and sliced cha lua & cha que. Top with chopped cilantro, green onion, chives, toasted nuts, toasted sesame seed rice cracker and a few sprigs of cilantro for garnish. Voilà.
This wasn’t meant to be an easy dish, but I hope the pictures helped inspire you enough to go out and look up methods to make this dish on your own. It’s delicious, I swear – and though my mom does not do it the authentic way, her cliffnotes version is amazingly tasty. And like I said earlier, filled with love and comfort that only a mom can provide. So this ends my slightly sentimental entry, but I hope you have enjoyed another glimpse into another day in the life of. Until soon readers!
Forever thankful for family,