Vietnamese Tomato And Lemongrass Soup
Category: Soups & Salads | Blog URL: http://eatingwithgrace.blogspot.com/2009/10/family-day.html
This recipe was entered in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, a compilation of the world’s best food blogs which was published in Fall 2010.
Photo: Sheri Wetherell
Yesterday, my screen saver’s Word of the Day was "adopt." A happy coincidence since yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of when I adopted Grace from Vietnam. Most people don’t tell you that when you adopt a child from another country, you get the added bonus of adopting their culture.
At first, most of us who adopt internationally tend to decorate our child's room in the color of their country (lucky for me that red and yellow look nice in a kid’s room), we dress them in traditional clothing on special occasions, and we learn about their culture together. As time goes on, we often learn that the easiest way to incorporate this other culture into our lives is through food. And as I have said before, and will continue to say in this blog, Vietnam has some of the best food in the world.
Every Family Day (which used to be called "Gotcha Day") but then I realized that didn’t sound too politically correct), we mark the occasion by eating a lot of Vietnamese food. For years, we’d celebrate at a restaurant with spring rolls and summer rolls and pho, since that’s what Grace loves most. (Okay, there was the one year Grace was on a Broccoli With Garlic Sauce kick and we ate at a Chinese restaurant but I told her that wasn't happening again- it's bad enough everyone thinks she's Chinese, let's take this one day to acknowledge Vietnam). This year, because of our busy schedules, and because I’m getting pretty good at cooking some Vietnamese dishes, I cooked some Vietnamese dishes and we ate at home.
Vietnamese food is such a wonderful world cuisine because it balances sweet, sour, salty and spicy components. Although I still have a lot to learn about Vietnamese food, I’ve noticed that the more traditional food from Hanoi and the north, (where Grace is from) is often influenced by their Chinese neighbors - with stirfries and many rice dishes. Pho, the rice noodle soup, is from the north, as are many heartier dishes with beef. In Saigon and other regions of the south, where many Vietnamese who live in American are from, you’ll see more seafood, vegetables and more spicy and sweeter dishes that use sugar cane. You’ll also find more of a French influence in many of these dishes. In central Vietnam, where the ancient royal courts once were, the food is more elaborate and features many small dishes.
Two years ago, I took Grace back to see Vietnam. One stop on the trip was Hoi An, which is on the south central coast of Vietnam. We were staying at a fancy resort that served assorted regional Vietnam dishes. The food was serviceable, but like at most hotels, it lacked any personality or spice for that matter. Uninspired, we walked towards the local village and found a restaurant on stilts along the water that we ventured into with our friends who had accompanied us on the trip.
In our family, I’m the Soup Queen as I love to make soups more than anything. Grace is the official Soup Taster. Even though it was about 100 degrees outside, like most Vietnamese, she ordered soup. It was a tomato soup with lemongrass and Vietnamese spices. While The Soup Taster liked everything she'd eaten so far on the trip, this was the first time she said, “Mom, you’ve got to get the recipe." Not being able to speak Vietnamese, I knew this was going to be difficult. I tasted it and our friends tasted it, and we all agreed that I had to figure out how to prepare because it was worth eating again and again.
When I got home I consulted the three or four Vietnamese cookbooks I had but couldn’t find the recipe anywhere. Since I could make a good Italian tomato soup, I figured it wouldn't be that difficult to adapt it and make it Vietnamese. And that seemed just about perfect since we are always happy to adopt Italian food and culture into our multicultural lives.