Ever since the day I left home to live on my own, I confidently claimed that I could manage without eating Vietnamese food. In truth, I grew up eating my mom’s homemade food all of my life. In expressing “I’m independent now” to my parents, I decided to quit eating home-cooking and move on to bigger, and better food.
For a while, I thought I could just survive on take out and fast foods. I decided to make it an adventure and went on a restaurant hunt, looking for the best restaurant in town. I have “conquered” almost all the chain restaurants like Applebees, Popeyes, Outback SteakHouse, Sushi Restaurant, Korean BBQ Restaurant, and a few others. I was doing this rotation of restaurants until I have tried almost all the food there.
Within two months or so, I became tired of eating all these non-Vietnamese food and I finally caved in. With an empty kitchen, I did not have neither the proper kitchen tools nor food supply with which to cook. So, I decided that it is wiser to hunt for a Vietnamese Restaurant first before I unleashed my “fantastic” cooking skills.
Unfortunately, none could match the delicious cooking made by my mother. Also, I was craving this one particular dish that none of the restaurants was willing to make for me. As a result, I concluded that the only way to get rid of this constant nagging voice that kept telling me to eat this Vietnamese dish was to cook the dish myself. The next day, I armed myself with cooking tools and supplied my storage with fresh vegetables and some condiments. I have to satisfy my cravings for this particular dish once and for all. This mysterious dish I’m talking about is called, “Tom Kho Tau,” meaning “sauted shrimp with its roe.”
The making of this dish is a bit complicated, if you decide to use a whole shrimp, with its head on, and saute it. Its roe will come out during the cooking process, coating the shrimp with this orange-y, and heavenly sauce. The dish is simply delicious but the process of cooking can stink up the house since its roe is a bit smelly. So, off I go to the supermarket.
Now, I’m back in the kitchen, staring blankly at the ingredients I bought. Honestly, I don’t know how to cook. I only know how to wash the rice and put it in the rice cooker. Does that count as cooking?? Well, I guess not. After a few hours of doing research for recipes online and contemplating on how I go about doing this daunting task without accidentally burning my new home up…I decide to seek help from my parents.
At first, I thought all Vietnamese dishes, like soup and entrees, are difficult to learn. However, my dad, once again, shined the way for me, and shared to me the secret to cooking Vietnamese food. He said that most basic Vietnamese dishes involve the four basic ingredients: oil, salt/fish sauce, garlic/green onion, and black pepper. The other ingredients are what you want to make of the dish. I was really surprise of how simple these four ingredients can create so many dishes.
To make this “Tom Kho Tau,” I just need the headless shrimp (no heads, since I don’t like cutting up shrimp heads…or any other type of heads), shrimp sauce jar, onion, salt, pepper, and oil. With other dishes, it’s basically the same four ingredients with some veggies or meats added to it. For example, if I want to make spinach soup, I just need to have spinach, shrimp, fish sauce, black pepper, green onion, and oil. With those ingredients combined with water, I make a delicious spinach soup.
After 6+ hours, including the preparations and cooking time, I finally finish making (drum roll please?)…. 2 dishes, “Tom Kho Tau” and simple spinach soup. After the long battle, I am exhausted and hungry. I finally can eat now. Wow, who knew cooking is so easy? Haha. I’m pretty sure there are more challenging Vietnamese dishes I could learn, but now, I’m pretty happy that it’s edible!
The most ironic part is that I managed to stink up my home with burnt popcorn smell. Smoke clouded my entire kitchen as the microwave continues to burn, and burn the 100 calories buttered popcorn. Thank goodness I saw the black smoke in time, and open the windows before the smoke alarm goes off on me. It’s sad that it’s not the cooking at which I failed, it’s learning how to operate the microwave….