Story by Vi Nguyen. Translations by Nam Hoang.
Audio Transcript [English]
[Huong Hoang]: Let’s talk about food, like the other day you were saying here in Alberta we eat so much meat. How was it when you were in Vietnam?
[Vi Nguyen]: No, no way. We didn’t really have meat to eat in Vietnam. Usually everyday at home, we were around 7 or 8, we had maybe 100 grams of meat between us? Usually we would take that meat and maybe cook it in a sauce, like a tomato sauce or something, just to use the meat juices. Now in Vietnam, you can get fresh fish and shrimp and it’s very good. We tended to eat more fish than meat, and the meat was usually tough so we didn’t eat a lot of it. Everyday we would have “rau muong” and we could do anything with it. Especially after April 30th [the fall of the South] everyone was so poor.
I remember me or your aunt Van or someone would go to the wholesale market and a couple dozen bunches of “rau muong”. But you know, it’s not like we would sell very many, so mainly would bring them home and eat them anyway (laughs)! This was right after [the fall of the South] and so we were doing whatever we could to get by. We never really made money this way, we really would just bring the food home and eat it ourselves in the end. I had a friend who was vegetarian, and she told me about the wholesale market selling Chao, or preserved [pickled] tofu. She told me to buy a couple dozen packages of the stuff, and of course we barely sold any at all (laughs)! We ended up bringing it all home and eating it. And before this I never ate Chao, before we had a little more money and it wasn’t something I really ate. But it’s all we really had then.
[Huong]: What about rice?
[Vi]: (Exasperated) Oh, rice. The rice was not very good after the war. The Viet Cong communized all the rice and sell it back to us. The rice farmers didn’t even want to plant too much rice because the government was buying it from them for so little. This also meant in places like Saigon [where I lived] people were going hungry.
They kept tabs on the people who wouldn’t buy their rice. If you didn’t buy their rice, they assumed that you had more money and were getting it on your own on the black market. So when they told us to buy their rice, we made sure to do it. It was your aunt Tu at the time who usually went to the market to buy rice. I think she was only twelve at the time; she was very brave. Even when we didn’t eat the rice, we would buy it and leave it in the house. Since the rice wasn’t very good quality to begin with, it would go bad pretty quickly and every time we dumped it out, the bag would be full of weevils (bugs) that would crawl out all over the place. The bugs sucked all the nutrients out of our rice, but we would have to eat it anyway.
They would sell us yams in the same way. Before we even bought them they were rotten, but again they kept tabs on us so we would just bring them home and dump them. We bought cassava, which gets pretty poisonous when it’s gone bad, and dumped it too. We were afraid of the government suspecting us of anything.
Every once in awhile, at four or five in the morning, a boy would be walking around the streets just yelling “lóc, lóc, lóc, lóc, lóc!” (laughs) Lóc, in English, is sort of like a snakehead fish. Sometimes, they would be so fresh that they would still be alive when they sold them to us! So, like I was saying, your aunt Tu even though she was so young was also quite brave She asked the fishmongers how to prepare a live lóc! So these fish are very slippery right, so the trick is to get some ash and grab them with that on your hands so they don’t just slip away. So while they’re writhing all over the place, you just hit them in the head. She learned how to skin it and everything.
Everyday we would have “rau muống”. We would joke call it“ rau muống bẩy món” (seven dishes of rau muống) because we could do so much with it! You could stir fry it, make a salad, pickle it, or eat it raw. It was really a staple.