Necessity Is The Mother Of All Inventions

You might remember meal #87 which was the western pizza baked from scratch in Vietnam.   The quest for ingredients and more importantly an oven led to my latest piece for Tuoi Tre newspaper.  Here is the link and the text follows below in case the link doesn’t work.

Necessity is the Mother of All Inventions

Though Vietnamese cuisine offers a palate pleasing variety for just about anyone, sometimes we Westerners simply yearn for a taste of the “old country.”  Of course numerous restaurants offering flavors of the West serve some reasonably close approximations of our favorite foods.  Quite often, however, preparing a home cooked meal is the only way to just do it up right, so to speak, and bringing a Western dish to fruition from recipe to table can prove quite the challenge.

Recently a friend and I decided to bake a pizza from scratch knowing full well the local street market would carry few if any items on our short ingredient list such as brussels sprouts, lemons, pizza dough, and cheeses such as pecorino and fresh mozzarella.   That’s quite alright though in Saigon since our international city is not short on shops such as Veggies, Annam, and Central Mart catering to our unique needs.  Even Ben Thanh Market carries a small selection of round aluminum pans suitable for a pizza pie.

As any Western cook can attest, baking in Vietnam exposes one very unique difference between our kitchens back home and the ones we find here.   In this land of woks and automatic rice cookers, the most basic of all Western appliances is a rare find indeed – the oven.  We never seem to truly need our Western accoutrements, such as this most important component for pizza preparation, until we no longer have them handy.  Life is funny that way.

Our closest suitable oven looked to be at a friend’s apartment in Hanoi over 1,000 kilometers away, but good luck prevailed as we were soon heading to the capital city for work anyhow.  With plans to commandeer his kitchen for an evening finalized, we realized an act as simple as baking in Vietnam proves our Western saying correct…necessity is the mother of all inventions.  In other words, we make do with what we have and find a way to make things happen.  Managing a household in Vietnam elevates many a Westerner’s patience and creativity to new heights.

We become accustomed to a world of cooking both quite expensive and often requiring substitutions.  Instead of blueberry or peach based desserts, we learn to love the mangosteen and dragon fruit versions.   Can’t find any buttermilk for those homemade biscuits?  Adding a small amount of lemon juice or vinegar to whole milk instead keeps the process moving along.  The internet and other expats soon prove to be our best allies in discovering new ways to adapt our specific needs to the reality of every day life.

While devouring our delicious pizza, I got to thinking about how a Vietnamese person living in the West probably craves an authentic taste of his or her native pho or banh xeo amidst all the steak, potatoes and pot roast.  Asian supermarkets stocked full of “exotic” products are scattered throughout our larger Western cities, and I always wondered why anyone in New York or Berlin would desire a pack of dried squid or some strong smelling durian.  Now having walked a mile in their shoes an ocean away from home, my empathy has grown.

As best we try to assimilate into our new Vietnamese homes, we never fully give up the tastes of our native lands.   This pizza represents so much more than just a pie baked in an oven.   In a way it symbolizes who we are and where we come from, just as a Vietnamese family in Los Angeles may prepare spring rolls to remain connected to their homeland.   Regardless of how resourceful we may be in finding it, food remains that all important link to our cultural heritage no matter where in this world we may land.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

One Comment on “Necessity Is The Mother Of All Inventions”

  1. cycojesus (@cycojesus)
    March 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    You can buy an oven in any appliances shop in Hanoi. That was the first thing I bought, around 1 million for a medium-size electric one, when I moved in my own flat. I’ve been baking my own bread, cakes, pizzas, etc. ever since.

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