Thôi Nôi – Vietnamese 1st Birthday Traditions

9 Jun

Twelve months is upon us and we’re already in full party-planning swing. What they say is true, time really does pass in the blink of an eye. Our little lady has been pure joy and adventure from day one, and we’re so excited for every new milestone and experience.

Father holding infant daughter blowing out birthday cake

Celebrating her Ba’s birthday

We did her one-month name day ceremony, and will be placing out objects for her to select her future profession at the one year birthday bash. For those who haven’t been to an Asian one-year birthday party, essentially you place objects in front of the tot and whatever little Johnny or Jane picks is her future profession. I’ve been to Vietnamese and Korean versions of this and they, essentially, are the same. Of course there is some bias to the parents in what objects are offered.

The Vietnamese tradition is called Thôi Nôi (or, leaving cradle – excuse me while I grab the tissues).

In doing some reading, there are several accounts I have found for the Vietnamese tradition.

  1. Place several objects on the ground in front of them and whatever they grab is it!
  2. Place 12 objects in a tray and allow the tot to explore them. Whatever they end up with (for the most amount of time, I guess), is their future.

Twelve is an auspicious number for this ceremony, as I read, which also is a nice parallel to the number of months they have been on earth (my own interpretation).  The ceremonial altar table is similar to that from the one-month ceremony, but with twelve offerings (preferred) for some items. From one account:

We often pray to “God-mothers” – called “Bà Mụ” – who support the baby during his childhood. In our belief, there are 12 God-mothers and that’s why we have 12 pieces for each ceremonial offerings.

Plans are still coming together, but I’m most excited to see what our little gem selects for her future!

What objects did you place before your child?

Viet Stir Fried Green Beans

19 May

This blog should be renamed – Stopping and Starting Vietnamese. But I have a really, really good excuse for the hiatus. You know, that darling little baby I told you about last summer.

Now that Little is eating more food, and loving everything we put in front of her, I’m getting back in to cooking. Usual modifications for our flavor preferences are upstaged by modifications for less sodium / sugar / spice. Not always easy with Vietnamese cuisine.

Not that we have to worry about flavors – the girl was squawking for more mouthfuls after her first slurp of bun mam, a fermented fish noodle soup that even took me several encounters to love. She hesitated a bit with stir fried bittermelon, but if that isn’t an acquired taste, I don’t know what is.

My frequent routine is to head to market Saturday or Sunday morning, and prepare protein or the most complicated dishes Sunday evening. If I cook ahead or at least marinate and have on hand the right proteins, all I need to do is prepare a quick fresh veggie and it seems like I was chained to the stove all day rather than in the office.

Lately these green beens have been a bright spot with our ca kho (caramelized fish) or ga kho gung (caramelized ginger chicken).

Vietnamese Stir Fried Green Beans

Serves 2 as a single side, 4 with multiple dishes

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, cleaned and ends trimmed
  • 5 green onions, using only 2 white bottoms
  • 2 tbs neutral oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 tbs fish sauce (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

Clean and trim the ends of your green beans. Roughly chop green parts of all onions, using only 2 of the white bottoms. If you want super onion-y dish, go ahead and use them all. If not, use in soup or kho caramel dish.

Heat oil in sauté pan or wok over medium-high heat. Once hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add green beans and white onion pieces, stirring to coat in oil and garlic. Add fish sauce, sugar and light soy, mixing well so sugar dissolves with the vegetables. Stir frequently and cook for a few minutes.

Add green onion pieces and black pepper, cook for another minute or two. Remove and serve hot!

Beans will still be crunchy. If you want them softer, you could add some water and cover to steam-cook before adding green onions and pepper at the end.

We usually make a more Chinese-style green bean dish with oyster sauce, but after the first serving, Anh is won over. We’ll be making these from now on.

Enjoy!

Whirlwind Saigon

5 Nov

This time last year we were finishing up our time in Saigon and heading south to see where Anh was born near Can Tho. Little did we know, I was also pregnant with our little lady. Such a special time then, and even more so looking back. I love thinking that her first days were spent where her father was born, eating the foods he ate and we still love, and seeing all of the sights from his homeland. But anyways, let me (finally) get on with photos and happenings from our amazing travels.

A long, but pleasant flight on All Nippon Airways from DC to Saigon via Tokyo Narita touched down late on a Sunday evening and upon arrival we were blasted with the heavy humid air of the city. It felt so so good. A quick note about flights – if you aren’t splurging for business or first class, look at the equipment for your flight and consider opting for economy plus. We paid an extra $500USD each but were the only two seats by the window and enjoyed the extra legroom, food options and no having to get up for or move away from annoying seat-mates.

Our hotel was near Ben Thanh Market in the heart of District 1, a convenient jumping off spot for our two days of touring. As we would discover over our two weeks in Vietnam, the hotels are certainly dated in relation to our American expectations, but amenities were great. You can get a great hotel for less than $100USD/night, just know that you won’t have a Westin Heavenly mattress.

After only a few hours of sleep, we were roused around 4:30am by a loudspeaker proclaiming “Bánh mì ở đây! Bánh mì ở đây!” Fresh bánh mi (baguettes) being delivered and for sale by bike. I assume this happens across the city, we weren’t on a block with particularly high traffic or concentration of food stalls any more than other districts. Every morning in every city we heard a variation of this – who needs an alarm clock?

Our first food (beside the dragon fruit, baby bananas and lychees from the room) was from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. They had European continental items – powdered eggs (probably), sausages, ham and cheese – as well as Vietnamese options. From this first morning I fell in love with bún (noodles) for breakfast. I still miss it.

Bowl of noodle soup with Vietnamese ham and a bowl of sliced watermelon, pineapple and dragon fruit.

Chả lụa (Vietnamese ham) noodle soup and fresh fresh fresh tropical fruits.

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Tofu Mustard Green Soup – Canh Cai Dau Hu

29 Oct

When we came home with our little one, we were so blessed to have both families nearby to prepare food for us so we could focus on settling in as a family and not worry about nutritious food. My sister in law made a soup I had never tried before to go along with the dry lemongrass pork ribs that Anh loves. Way easier than I thought, Canh Cai Dau Hu – Tofu, Mustard Greens and Pork soup – has quickly become a staple. It cooks up fast and will fill you up even if you don’t have time to prepare a protein. In other words, most days that involve back-to-back nursing sessions, botched naps and blowouts🙂

Bowl of tofu, mustard greens and ground pork soup.

Simple and straightforward soup

Canh Cai Dau Hu

Serves 4 with two other dishes, or 2 with plenty of leftovers!

  • 1 bunch baby mustard greens, rough chopped
  • 1/4 – 1/2 lb ground pork (you can also use chicken)
  • 1 package soft tofu, cut in cubes
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 4 inch knob ginger, minced and divided
  • 6 cups water
  • 3-4 tbl Fish Sauce
  • 2-4 tbl Sugar
  • 1-2 tbl Mushroom seasoning
  • 1 tbl neutral oil

Heat oil in a 5 court pot and cook shallot until fragrant. Add 1/3 of the minced ginger, 1 tbl fish sauce and ground pork and mix well until cooked through.

Add water, 2 tbl sugar,1 tbl  mushroom seasoning and 1tbl fish sauce and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Skim any gunk that rises to the top for a clearer broth. Then you may add the rest of the ginger and cubed tofu. Simmer another 5 minutes and taste, adjusting as needed.

Gently stir in the mustard greens and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Make any final flavor adjustments and top with black pepper.

Serve with rice on the side or in the same bowl.

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