When chef Mama is not at home.

xà lách trộn thịt bò

She is a big fan of homemade meals but ironically cooking is not her favorite. One Saturday night, she flew home very late after a business trip so she had to miss her dinner. A few things that she misses when she is away from home are Huế specialties and homemade meals. She went to bed with the hope that her mother whom she nicknamed chef Mama would cook her a big lunch on Sunday instead. She woke up the next morning to find out that chef Mama would be away from home for the whole day. She sighed. Thinking about eating alone at a quán cơm bụi(a kind of local food stall serving cheap rice meals) or a restaurant made her stomach rumbled.

“How about cooking lunch myself?” An idea popped into her head.

“Why not? I’ll cook the most healthy, yet common dish which is easy to make…” She talked to herself.

Again, her spirit was down when she found nothing in the fridge. Chef Mama is a frequent market-goer. She goes shopping everyday to make sure that their meals are always fresh. Fresh veggies. Fresh meat and fish. Three days of eating different non-homemade-meals in Hà Nội made her feel weird in the stomach. She was dying for a home meal now!

After five minutes of fighting between cooking or not cooking, she decided to walk to Kim Long market which was not very far way from her house. She doesn’t know how many people she knows love food-shopping but she rarely sees a happy look on market-goers’ face. They all look thoughtful and concentrating. Oh yeah, they have to calculate and bargain for any item they buy any way. Bargaining is a piece of Vietnamese culture at a market. Unfortunately, she never finds herself good at bargaining, which is a shame for a Huế woman (whom is expected to be good at housework, cooking and shopping, etc.). More than once, a coworker of hers would tease her that if she went to the market, the whole sellers there would be very happy. Most of the times, her response was a shy smile and an admitted nod. This morning was no difference. She chose one item, asked for the price and contentedly paid the seller. No bargaining.

Food at local markets like this one is always fresh. People sell vegetables and fruits grown in their garden so the food are always fresh and good-looking. After making a round walk in the small market, she decided to buy lettuce, tomato, lime, spring onion and beef to make xà lách trộn thịt bò (beef salad). That’s for lunch. She also shopped something else for dinner.

When she was at a shrimp stall, the seller surprised her when she asked: “You’ve just been back home, haven’t you?”

“Yeah…” She answered quietly and wondered how that woman knew.

“When I asked about you yesterday, your mother told me you were out of town.” The woman explained.

“Yeah…” She beamed at the shrimp-seller, remembering that she used to be her faithful guest when she was a kid. Chef Mama had been too busy to shop for food so her only daughter had become a frequent and good-at-bargaining market-goer.

After half an hour at the market, she went home and started to cook beef salad. This is a very simple dish which she luckily knows how to make. All she had to do was stir-frying the beef with spring onion and spices, and putting it on the fresh lettuce placed on the plate. She then decorated it with sliced tomato, and did not forget to squeeze a little bit lime juice in. She knew she was a bad cook but the beef salad she made turned out great, especially when she had it with steamed rice. Of course, she was contented with the lunch but most of all it was interesting for her to find out that she somehow did not hate cooking as much as she had thought.