Tag Archives: Vietnamese

Chả Giò (Fried Spring Rolls)

Main Piece:

Me: Tell me about Chả Giò or Vietnamese egg rolls.

AL: So, my parents’ recipe to it… I know it from my dad which I think he knows it from his sister, my aunt. I don’t know where she knows it from… We would make this for the restaurant that we own, and uh so what we would do is pre-peel the egg roll wrapper or the rice paper because it came in, essentially, like a sheet of paper but stuck together because it was cold or frozen. And so we would let it thaw and pre-peel it so that it would be easier to fill it… The filling consisted of shredded taro [root], shredded carrots, cooked pork, and clear rice noodles that were cooked already and seasoned with, like, pepper and salt and what not. And then it was mixed and then placed into the wrapper and then folded in a particular way…

Me: Kind of like a pinching. Keeps everything together.

AL: Almost like a burrito wrap. Almost. And you would seal it off with water, I believe. And uhm that would be your… raw egg roll, or Chả Giò. And then you would fry it for… For like 8 minutes… The sauce that it can be served with is nước mắm, uhm fish sauce… Or a mixed soy sauce for vegetarians… Usually, they’re either served at a restaurant or… At a party setting— of like a huge, huge tray of just—

Me: Huuuuge pile of egg rolls.

AL: A pile. And it would be kinda scary to look at but they were usually good, so…

Context:

An interview I had with my roommate in the Cale & Irani Apartments at USC Village. He is of Vietnamese descent. We often talk about certain food items from home and bond over them. Although he is vegetarian, he is most familiar with this pork recipe.

Analysis:

These can be made vegetarian, with shrimp, or with pork. I was familiar with these egg rolls and this recipe from my own mother, so it was good to reminisce with my roommate. The last time I had them was over Christmas break of 2021, and they remain one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, far better and more authentic than ones you find in Oriental restaurants. I like the way my roommate describes it here, and it’s interesting how this folk recipe has been modernized, especially with me being from the South. My sister and I would use sweet chili sauce as compared to the traditional sauces, and we would even make them in the air fryer. My mom would also gift these in frozen batches to her friends on certain holidays, so this folk recipe and piece of our culture was shared throughout with our predominantly white, small town. This small cultural exchange through food alone can bring more appreciation and foster relationship between different communities.

Con Mèo in Vietnamese Superstitions

Main Text:

Me: Tell me about the superstition your family has around cats.

AL: Specifically, uhm my mom or other women— Vietnamese women that I’ve encountered… have this superstition of that there is this cat, Con Mèo, which translates to “Cat” in English… Essentially, this cat would kidnap children, so… it means for the children to stay close to their mothers…

Me: …Every single time Con Mèo was kind of brought up, would it be… kinda referred to as like a monster or some type of entity that would kidnap you, specifically?… Did you have a particular image associated with it? Or did you just see a cat?

AL: I just associated the entity as a cat… But somehow evil… And it’s usually referenced by my parents— by mom at like night. Mainly because it’s dark, and to like stay close… I would see this saying more in Vietnam due to how poorly lit the city is, and the suburbs or the countryside, compared to here which is much more safer and has a lot of lights…

Me: …What age do you think this kinda like started, and what age do you think this kinda stopped? Where your mother was like “You’re getting too old for this!” Or is it kinda like a little joke that you bring up every now and then? You know, how does that relate to your personal experience with cats now?

AL: This started when I was young, probably in Kindergarten… Six? Five?

Me: Yeah.

AL: …It’s not that she stopped saying that superstition at a specific age. It’s just— it occurs less. Like she sometimes says it… Like once in like a while, she’ll say it. Just kinda like, just as a fun joke. But I would never say it back because *shrugs* Eh. But my relationship with cats now… I like cats, so it didn’t really affect how I viewed them as monsters.

Context:

This was taken from a conversation with my roommate, in our bedroom at the Cale & Irani Apartments in USC Village.

Analysis:

This belief could reign from one of the oldest superstitions that black cats are considered bad luck. This is especially prevalent amongst Asian cultures, and I even saw this fear manifested as a general disliking towards cats by my Vietnamese mother. Cats in this context were used by the informant’s mother with him and his younger brother, to instill fear in them and keep them out of danger, especially at night. It is beliefs like these that lead to almost all children, having a universal fear of the dark—a fear that my roommate already had. However, his positive relationships with cats won out over his fear of the dark. Therefore, Con Mèo didn’t affect him that much.

Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ in Vietnamese Folklore

Main Piece:

AL: The tale of Lạc Long and Âu Cơ:

Lạc Long Quân was born in 2800 BC. He is the sun of a mountain god… and his mother is uh the sea god. His body is a dragon of some sort even though his parents… Was a sea dragon and his father the son of mountain… [He] was like a human-ish figure. His name, Lạc Long Quân, translates to Dragon Lord of Lạc. Lạc is a place in Vietnam…

Âu Cơ is the daughter of the northern chief… And fairy from the mother… Lạc Long Quân, the dragon, decided to take the form of a handsome man because he has that power, and Âu Cơ is a fairy. And so they married, and um *laughs* interestingly enough, Lạc Long Quân married the daughter but killed the father. I know. It’s weird… You would think that you shouldn’t kill the daughter’s father…

Anyway, so they had sex, and uhm she gave birth to a sack of a hundred eggs, and they grew into a hundred boys… Or children, depending on lore, and reestablished Vietnam. Uhm they say that all ancestors descend form these 100 children… Âu Cơ loved the mountain, so she really liked the north side. Lạc Long Quân loved the water because his mother is a water dragon… And so they decided to split the kids in half, or not in half— *laughs* divide the kids in half, fifty-fifty, and take them to either location… Half of them in the mountain and half of them near the sea… It was agreed by both parents that they would help each other in need. Lạc Long taught his children to fish and tattoo. Âu Cơ taught her children to farm and breed animals.

In Saigon, there are two streets who intersect. One is named Lạc Long, and one is named Âu Cơ, and they intersect because they’re married to each other… It’s very cute… Probably intentional… And then Lạc Long is known as the first king of Vietnam…

Context:

Taken from a conversation with my roommate in the Cale & Irani Apartments at USC Village. Him and I are of Vietnamese descent.

Analysis:

Myths are like adult versions of fairy tales. Historically, they have helped societies try to understand elements of the natural world or the scientific phenomena around them. Here, this myth plays into patriotic ideals in the founding of a nation and a unification between the rivalry of North and South Vietnam. These cross-generational stories are kept alive by the communities performing them. These two figures are so deeply incorporated into Vietnamese culture that there’s many pieces of art dedicated to them. In fact, there is a temple dedicated to the Dragon Lord. Furthermore, the intersecting streets are just further proof of how stories like these unify people through their collective imagination, childhoods, and rich cultural histories and beliefs.

“Thầng nào cùng muốn làm cha” Vietnamese Proverb

“Thầng nào cùng muốn làm cha”

  • Transliterated Proverb
    • Thầng: kid, brat (informal and familiar word to refer to a person; people of the same age can call each other this without it being disrespectful unless the disrespect is intended. An older person can call a younger person this without it being inappropriate, or a person in power can call their subordinate this. However, if a younger person calls an older person this, or a subordinate calls their superior this, it is very disrespectful and inappropriate)
    • Nào: every, all
    • Cũng: also
    • Muốn: want
    • Làm: do, be
    • Cha: father
  • Full translation: Every brat wants to be the father
    • Explanation: Vietnamese society is patriarchal, so the position of the father is the highest authority and demands the most respect from those under them. My father explains to me that this phrase can be used in a critical way, in contexts where a person may be overstepping their authority or is inappropriately or annoyingly trying to exert power over others. It can also be used more casually to call attention to a situation where everyone in a group is trying to give orders, and no progress is being made. In this way, it can also be used to diffuse a tense situation where everyone is trying to lead at the same time.

Thoughts:

I like this proverb because it succinctly describes a complex situation. The word “thầng” is difficult to translate directly into English because it captures a dynamic of social positions that depends on the context of its usage, which does not really exist in the same way in the English language or American culture. Depending on who is saying this proverb and to whom they are saying it to can change the meaning. I like how it can be used in a critical way; to criticize someone overexerting power. Yet, it can also be sarcastic and playful within a group of friends to point out the silliness of people not listening to each other.

“Cây muốn lặng mà gió chẳng chịu đừng” Vietnamese Proverb

“Cây muốn lặng mà gió chẳng chịu đừng”

  • Transliterated Proverb:
    • Cây: tree
    • Muốn: want
    • Lặng: still (motion)
    • Mà: but
    • Gió: wind
    • Chẳng: do not want
    • Chịu: bear (endure)
    • Đừng: stop
  • Full translation: The tree wants to stay still, but the wind refuses to stop
    • Explanation: This proverb is referring to two people. One is the tree, and the other is the wind. The person who says this proverb in conversation is the tree, to say that the other person will not stop whatever they’re doing, which is directly affecting, pushing around, annoying, etc. the speaker. This implies that if the annoyance will not stop, then the tree will be forced to take action and make them stop. My father explains to me that sometimes, this entails a physical altercation. In his words, “Stop, or I’m gonna punch you.” 

Thoughts:

I love this proverb because, in Vietnamese, it sounds quite poetic. However, per my father’s explanation, its usage can conversely be quite gritty and unromantic. I find this dichotomy humorous. Looking at the proverb alone, I first thought that it referred to a person’s tough journey, and how their obstacles will not seem to cease. I thought it was melancholy and meaningful to how a person can endure so much. I was shocked to learn from my father that it instead is more of a warning, or in some cases, a threat.