Sticky Rice With Pork Floss – 42 of 365

xôi đậu xanh

The ethnic food section at the grocery store used to seem so exotic with the fancy three foot wide display of soy sauce, ramen noodles and bottled teriyaki marinades.   Oh how times have changed now that the entire city of Saigon is my ethnic food aisle, and I am sampling foods I doubt will ever grace a shelf at Safeway.  This got me to thinking, the grocery store here in my apartment building has western delicacies such as “Separating Italian Dressing” made in New Orleans, NYC’s own American Garden brand BBQ Sauce, and even Spam.   Yes, Spam.  I had no idea Spam comes in five varieties including Tabasco flavored until moving here.  So do Vietnamese people see Hickory Smoked Spam as the arbiter of all things American just as a tiny pack of artificial soy sauce from the Chinese takeaway joint represents the entire Asian continent to some Americans?

Every corner of this country exposes me to food experiences so far removed from the greasy egg rolls and unnaturally syrupy sweet and sour sauces at the Szechuan Palace back home.   Even flying a plane from Hanoi southbound to Saigon opens new doors for me, and our latest inflight meal had some ingredients reminding us we are not jetting across the Great Basin from Salt Lake to Reno.  Somewhere over central Vietnam the purser called to offer us a crew meal and of course hunger always strikes when the food is free.   His comment I might not like this xôi đậu xanh (green bean sticky rice)  of course added even more mystique to the tin foil container.   He actually had that same look when your buddy tries something nasty and then tells you, “This is freakin’ gross.  Here.  Try it.”

Pork Floss and Pork Sausage

Peeling off the lid revealed room temperature sticky rice, mung beans, and the same pork sausage we tasted at the banh mi stand downtown.  We learned that sausage can keep all day outside the fridge so no worries here.  So far so good.  Actually, no.  I misspoke.  What in the hell is this very salty shredded crap with a harvested straight from the pig’s butt taste?   Yeah, I know.  I have to remember where I am…39,000 feet above central Vietnam.  Will my tastes eventually evolve to where I readily eat this mess my cabin crew later identified as chà bông, or pork floss?  I quite enjoyed the rest of the meal though and adding sugar gave it all a really nice taste.   But that chà bông…

My mind is truly blown away that the same animal giving us that delicious barbecue thịt nướng porkchop with its sweet salty glaze can also produce chà bông.  This looks like someone scraped the hair off a pig.  Do pigs even have fur?   If they do, this is how I would imagine it looking.   In any case, whatever part is harvested from the pig tastes like it’s been marinated in salt.  I can’t even think of a western equivalent to the saline taste and stringy texture, nor do I hope the food scientists at Kraft ever invent one for domestic US consumption.

God help us the day that we find a box of Betty Crocker Chà Bông Helper ready to kick this mess up to new Salisbury and Stroganoff heights.    Actually come to think of it, substitute “Ms. Phuong” for “Betty Crocker” and maybe we have a whole new food line for the emerging Vietnamese middle class.  Something to think about…

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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