“As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world
To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus flower, but does not wet its petals.”
The Buddha -- Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The herbs of Láng village

I've been back to Viet Name about 6,7 times since 1994 and everytime it seemed like the best cooked food i had was always at home of relatives or friends.

My mom has a cousin living in Hà Nội whom i called bác and his daughters are among the best cooks i've known ( besides my mom :-) ). Everytime i asked to have at least one dinner at his house.

The first time i had dinner at Bác L's house was in 1994. It was also the first time i went back to Việt Nam since leaving the country as a boat people in 1975. I was born in Saigon so it was also my first time in Hà Nội (will have a post on this city later). Bác L's house was quite small, there was no dinning room with table and chairs so we had the meal the 'traditional' way which basically sitting on chiếu which is like a Japanese tatami mat. The dishes were placed on a big round aluminum or copper tray and people would seat on the mat around the tray and all the food is shared. This style of seating could be problematic for those people with stiff joints or knee replacements.

Upon arrival i went into the tiny kitchen and asked if i could be of any help and immediately i was told to get back to the living room. Sometimes later one of my cousins (i called chị) brought over a tray full of food. She then put in front of me a bowl of bún măng ngan, one of my absolute favorite food, and i was immediately captured by it's intoxicating fragrant. Bún măng ngan is a noodle soup which contains broth made from chicken or pork bone, rice vemicelli (bún), dry and fresh bamboo (măng), and goose (ngan) meat which is similar but more gamy than duck. I can't help but asking what made the bún smell so good and i was told that the fragrant came from húng (herbs) Láng which were the herbs grown in the Láng village outside of Hà Nội. I've heard about the famous herbs from this village before when i was growing up in the South from my grand-parents and novels. Now i realize that the herbs really justified all the praises for them. The herbs, basil, cilantro, mint, rau răm ... could be grown anywhere but when grown in the village of Láng their aroma become much more pleasantly powerful despite the tiny leaves. It must be the soil, the water ... just like growng wine grape. Húng Láng is now on my list of amazing ingredients. Unfortunately as the country develops, the people of Láng no longer dedicate their land for growing herbs :-( ... the land, being so closed to the over-crowded Hà Nội became so valuable that the people began to build multi-level houses to rent out or make them into mini hotels. When i went back to Việt Nam in 1996, one of the taxi drivers that i frequently got the service from happened to be a foodie like me so we started talking about food and i told him about my love for húng Láng and immediately he told me that 'i have to take you to Láng to show you what is left of the herb gardens, there are only about 2 or 3 plots left and they would be gone the next time you return to Hà Nội'. He was right, the herbs of Láng is gone and i could no longer have that perfumed bowl of bún măng ngan again.

Even though i could no longer have herbs from Láng village, the herbs in Việt Nam is still much more fragrant than the same kinds grown here which has huge leaves but no flavor most of the time.

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