Dinner at Grandma’s…and a photo of my dog!

Monday, July 23, 2007 15comments No tags Permalink 0

It’s been stated by many people many times before, but it is true: one of the best meal to be had is at your grandma’s house. Or in this case, my grandma’s house. For the past 21 years, my family has spent every Saturday and Sunday dinner at grandmas. Dinner is always cooked by grandma and grandma alone. She never let anyone help, whether it was with the prep, actual cooking, or even cleaning up. We were to do nothing but eat and enjoy. And enjoy I have! When I went to college I found that the food I missed most was not spam musubi or coco puffs, in fact it was not even a specific food. What I missed most was everything and anything my grandma cooked.

Bei: a mix of shredded pork (both boiled and barbecued), and shredded pig ears tossed in roasted rice powder

She heard my pleas, and sometime in the middle of a cool Manhattan October, my freshman year at NYU, I found an enormous package of food my grandma packed in dry ice and overnighted to my dorm. Inside I found Vietnamese pork chops, shoyu eggs and stewed pork, bei (above photo) divided into single serving bags, and even a jar of nuoc nam! I can’t remember how she had it packed and how it managed to get here in mint condition. All I could remember was how incredible grateful and I was, and that I should give my parents a call and ask them to pay her back for the exorbitant shipping cost from Hawaii!

Apple Tarts

I don’t appreciate these weekend dinners near enough, and even if I did, I would have no clue how to express my feelings. I just visit every weekend, sometimes with dessert in hand, my grandma likes my apple tarts…

Chocolate Chip Madelines

…and madelines, but somehow, all these gestures, whatever I do, could in no way truly express my gratitude. But I think she knows, to a certain extent at least, how these routine dinners have kept our family together and in good company all these years.

Tonight we had eggplant. This might look sloppy, a even a bit yucky, but this is what my parents grew up on in Vietnam during the 1960s. Grandma starts out with six pounds of eggplant, boils them for about half an hour. Remove from water, let cool, and peel off the skin. Make sure to drain off excess water/eggplant juice. Heat up a big wok, add a mix of vegetable and sesame oil, and brown a lot of minced garlic. Add in the eggplant and start frying. We season this dish with nuoc nam, chopped chili peppers from the garden, a few pinches of salt, and couple pieces of rock sugar. Right before it’s all pau, crack in three eggs and scramble with the eggplant quickly, then remove from heat.

The dish is divided into four bowls, laid out across the long dining table. We start our dinner with a steaming bowl of rice, and pile on the eggplant. I like to mix the rice and eggplant together, but my dad thinks mixing it is not very aesthetically appealing, so he eats it separate. It’s a truly wonderful, homey dish. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, creamy: yes, spicy: yes, chock full of nuoc nam flavor: yes, nidbits of scrambled eggs thicken and tie it all together, make for one might find dish, as ugly as it might look.

Prior to steaming…

Next we have a steamed dish. Lots of thick cut funn (just purchased in Chinatown this morning) is laid out at the bottom of a pan, topped with my grandma’s own fishcake, and shrimp. She ladles a shoyu/nuoc nam/sugar based sauce generously over the entire dish, topped with minced garlic, and steams it for exactly 10 minutes.


It’s a pretty refreshing dish, and much lighter than other funn dishes I’m used to. I love funn of any kind, but unfortunately enough for me, the kind I love most is fried and topped with a heavy black bean sauce and plenty of beef (and some broccoli), hehe.

Mix and eat!

After steaming, the funn simply soaks up all the sauce, giving it plenty of flavor…my general understanding is that nuoc nam + starch of any type = good.

No meal at Grandma’s is complete without soup, and tonight we had something new she wanted to try on us. She had gone out to a friend’s birthday party last week and was particularly fond of a type of soup she never encountered before. She noted down the ingredients and flavors in her head and tried to replicate it tonight. It was pretty awesome! It’s a kabocha based soup, but it’s not thick like other sorts pumpkin based or chowder soup. Chopped kabocha, barley, lotus seeds, chestnuts, and longan is all boiled together and then strained out for a light, savory soup. I imagine it could be easily converted to a sweet dessert soup.

She serves the broth in the middle of the table and places a bowl with all the boiled ingredients on the side, instructing us to spoon the soup into the bowls add in the other ingredients if we wished. The boiled ingredients, as you may imagine, are not left with much flavor, but I enjoy it quite a bit on its own with a splash of shoyu on top.

Hayden mangos all around for dessert! Unfortunately my grandma’s house was not blessed with a mango tree (although there are tons of chili peppers growing out front!), so we buy mangoes from a friend in Chinatown. Tonight’s mangos were especially delicious, and as icing on the cake, they were very well chilled. I like my mangos near frozen, and these were pretty darn close. My grandma does all the slicing, one mango a person and we devour them at the dinner table, in silence, paying our respects to the crisp sweet goodness of these island fruits.

Our Mr. Buddy here also enjoys visiting Grandma’s…he’s always given plenty of treats slipped under the table! So that was dinner tonight, hope you enjoyed it :)

  • anonymous
    July 23, 2007

    tough act to follow.P.S., glad you’re physically unhurt from the fender bender (previous post).

  • K & S
    July 23, 2007

    I think all grandmas rule in their kitchens! mine sure does! all this home cooking is making me a bit homesick. enjoy!

  • Brian
    July 23, 2007

    Your Grandma’s food sound so ono. But you should ask her to let you help her. I’ve heard so many stories of how so and so was such a great cook, but them never passed on the recipes, and once that passed it was all lost.

  • anonymous
    July 23, 2007

    First off…I don’t get to see enough pics of Buddy! He is so cuuute!! My sister wishes she could have one of those.Secondly, if I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now—I love, love, love your posts on Grandma’s cooking. Thanks for “bringing us” into her home. Everything looks so good and yummy {sigh} makes me hungry just reading and looking at all of the pics. And that eggplant dish…so ono!Glad to hear that you’re ok even with that little fender bender. I don’t drive in Italy for the fact that they would run me over. Here, they drive like maniacs!

  • Darlene
    July 23, 2007

    What a wonderful post!It feels I just spent some time at your grandmother’s house for dinner and unfortunately, I”m not stuffed!Thanks for sharing!

  • foodhoe
    July 23, 2007

    That is a lovely story, you’re so lucky your grandma’s in good health! My last grandma passed away in feb at the ripe age of 101 (just shy of 102 by a month). She was the matriarch cook who did everything herself until she couldn’t. I did manage to force her to show me how to make her famous futomaki, inarizushi and chirashi, but have to improvise on the other stuff…Anyways, I love hearing Grandma stories!

  • J. Lo
    July 24, 2007

    i love southeast asian food. it’s not about appearances at all. and yet somehow, in spite of the unattractiveness, the food tastes so fucking awesome. all of the malay/indonesian food here is served in some of the crudest forms – sometimes they don’t even bother to give you an actual plate, but the food is amazing nonetheless. (Like yesterday, I had an oyster omlette that looked like rhino feces…..but mmmmmm sooo good. Lol) Haha, glad you remembered that story about the cousin at pineland – have you ever been to dew drop inn? I heard they are supposed to specialize in say gui dou (green beans with chilis)….

  • anonymous
    July 24, 2007

    omg – I am drooling – that all sounds sooooooo good! I lived in Hawaii a long time ago and have spent many vacations there so my tastebuds are right in line with yours – I can’t wait ’til my next visit so I can try all your suggestions – but it won’t be like Grandmas……

  • kelly
    July 24, 2007

    Scout could kick Buddy’s ass…anyday!! If Buddy would only stop chasing him…

  • KirkK
    July 24, 2007

    Nobody cooks like Grandma! Buddy is quite cute…..

  • Kathy YL Chan
    July 24, 2007

    Hey Ron!tough act indeed! I’ve never seen another grandma cook with so much determination! :)Hey Kat!Grandmas in general are indeed awesome :) sometimes I wonder what kind of grandma I’d make!Hey Brian!I definitely need to do that, but like most grandmas, she doesn’t use recipes and it’s all in her head from years of practice. Still like you said, better to try learn now before it’s too late :)Hey Rowena!Thanks for such kind compliments! :) Oh man, I couldn’t imagine driving on the mainland much less Italy!…the Hawaii roads are already to much for me, hehe :)Hey Darlene!I’m glad you liked the post! :) I leave every Saturday and Sunday night stuffed to the brim like you would not believe, lol! Hey Foodhoe!I’m sorry to hear about your grandma, but she’s sounds like a wonderful cook and person! :) I feel like no matter how much I try to learn her recipes, the end result may taste good, but it just won’t be the same as when she makes it! :)Justin!omg, my dad LOVES oyster omelettes! he made sure to eat at least one or two per day in Bangkok (i hope his cholestrol level is doing alright!) I’ve never been to dew drop inn…but speaking of local restaurants, we need to plan some place to eat when you are back! :)Hey Terri!hehe, I’m glad you liked the post! I missed Hawaii and my grandma’s food a ton when I was gone, it’s crazy how intergrated food is in to every aspect of one’s daily life! Kelly!Scout is so spoiled ;) If only he’d learn to respect his elders, hehe, Buddy is a good 5 years older!Hey Kirk!Very true! – no one can cook like a grandma :) Buddy was being a bit camera shy in that picture…but he’s great fun in real life, hehe.

  • Chubbypanda
    July 24, 2007

    Mmm… Buddy looks delicious. j/kYou made me get all teary-eyed. I miss my grandmother’s big dinners in Taiwan. She hasn’t been able to cook since the stroke. =(

  • cheesywee
    July 25, 2007

    mmmmmm the tarts look good not to mention the shredded pork!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    July 25, 2007

    Hey Chubbypanda!Aww, I’m sorry about the stroke, but at least you have good memories! :)Hey Cheesywee!thanks! :) oh man, the melon pan you made on your blog looks REALLY good!

  • anonymous
    September 18, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It's very informative. I love to read it and do hope to read your next story.

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