A goodnight tale
By Anh Lê
You know those stories about the time when you were a child, however too small to remember has been told the story so many times that the smell of the dinner is sitting in the nostrils, the extra gentle sunbeam warmed the hair top and the sound of the hen which woke up one in the mornings?
In the time after the fall of Saigon, my parents hided in the countryside, far away from the city’s former colors, noise and chaos.
Left was only the silence, the chirping of the crickets and my mother, a city girl left for the country life and what came with it. White skin and soft hands that had never seen the kitchen work, would all of a sudden have to slaughter a chicken, skin frog legs and turn up the fire for the 3 meals of the day.
When you have run by carriage 20 km outside Saigon, walked the last 5 km through the narrow elevated dirt paved paths that are only 25 cm wide and at the end of the rice fields then lies this fruit and pepper plantation. You arrive to the gate, which is made of both wood and bamboo, and just before you open the door, you see the most idyllic sight: white ducks taken home by a little boy.
You step inside the green universe of the plantation and immediately feels the banana trees, mango stones, jackfruit, rambutan but it is not what draws you. It is the big dark brown, almost black wooden house with 5 doors. All the doors are equal to each other and they all lead into one large room which is the living room.
But it is also not the tree house that is calling you. It is the large outdoor kitchen with a large wooden table with all cookware in shiny white aluminum, plastic baskets and sieves in green, blue, red, yellow and pink colors.
To the right of the wooden table, just below the prettiest papaya tree filled with large green papayas, stands a brown ceramic water jar ( characteristic for all country kitchens). And right next to the most essential herbs for cooking: the largest lemongrass bush and chili plant.
Oh yes, what is calling you is not the wooden table but this high table built of bricks. On that has been built in 2 fireplaces to cook. Here are boiled rice all day long with a burnt bottom, strong seafood scented caramelized dishes of fish sauce and green soup with all kinds of wild herbs picked from the plantation and the rice fields. With extra chili and lemongrass added when throwing a party and duck eggs retrieved for the months salting. Green jackfruit salad, sour fish soup and rice soup on freshly caught eel and one meal story after another was told … by my mother.
At this very place, for about 3 years in hiding from the war’s aftermath, my mother was taught to cook for the first time in his life.
All the memories, pain, hope, tiny joy and when they could afford, a little meat, was hidden inside these small stories of the open kitchen and the “stove” or rather the fire place.
The best bedtime stories of my life and this I saw along the weekend on facebook: a stove was put up for sale.
In the eternal moment of joy I bought it and now it is in my urban garden.
Ready to when my mother comes home from vacation to make her frog legs in lemongrass, fish in chili and burned rice bottoms.
Sleep well and dream of mothers at the fire place doing the dish of life❤️