The day before The Astronomer and I departed from Saigon for Hanoi, Ba Sau (my grandma’s younger sister) invited us over to her home in Phu Nhuan District for a final feast. Throughout our year in Vietnam, Ba Sau treated us to fabulous homemade eats, and this last lunch was no exception.
Ba Sau and her daughters-in-law worked all morning to prepare this amazing spread. I had some of my best meals in Vietnam at Ba Sau’s lovely home. I fondly remember the time she made a special version of bo bia when my friend Liana came to visit and the time she prepared banh tet from scratch during Tet. Her generosity and mad kitchen skills are unparalleled.
My Uncle Son’s (Son is his name) wife made xoi gac—sticky rice flavored subtly and colored intensely with gac fruit. The prune-looking garnish is actually a gac seed.
Ba Sau made one of my all-time favorite dishes, thit kho—caramelized hunks of braised pork legs and hardboiled eggs. The layer of fat is pure lusciousness.
Ba Sau’s ca ri ga—chicken curry—is the stuff dreams are made of. The rich, creamy and slightly spicy broth tastes amazing poured upon vermicelli noodles or dipped with a fresh baguette.
The feast would not be complete without Ba Sau’s signature dish cha gio—Vietnamese egg rolls. Each cha gio is the length of one’s pinky finger and filled with a mixture of ground pork, spices (fish sauce, pepper, etc.) and taro root. The crisp and blistering golden skins are my favorite part. I asked my grandma back in the states why our family doesn’t make cha gio like Ba Sau’s and her reply was that it was just too labor-intensive.
The mi xao gion—crisp noodles topped with a light gravy and chunks of vegetables (cauliflower, bok choy, carrots) and various meats (beef, squid, shrimp)—was also fabulous. My aunts kept on refilling my bowl everytime I finished a serving. I gladly gobbled up everything set before me.
And last, but certainly not least, khổ qua nhoi thit—bitter melon stuffed with pork. True to its name, bitter melon is usually too bitter for my tastes, but Ba Sau’s rendition was surprisingly palatable. I didn’t quite get the exact details about how she extracted the bitter from the melon, but somehow, someway, the melon tasted slightly sweet and just a bit bitter. Ba Sau does wonders in the kitchen.
Family—Cau Minh and Son (top), Di Phung and Mo (bottom, left), Cau Son and his wife. We left Saigon with full bellies and huge smiles upon our faces. I seriously cannot wait to get back to Saigon—Ba Sau’s hospitality is nothing short of five stars.