Pinch the tail, suck the head.
The New York Times has a great article about the food culture in New Orleans post-Katrina. For anyone who loves food, New Orleans has been and always will be a culinary mecca. The article caught my attention because of its particular highlight of the Vietnamese community there and how the flavors of Vietnam have influenced the indigenous cuisine. This influence can also be found in other areas of the country that have large Vietnamese communities like California, Washington D.C./Northern Virginia, Minneapolis and Houston.
But what really caught my eye was the other related article in the Dining & Wine section of the Times which took it a step further and focused on the Vietnamese twist to an old Cajun classic: crawfish. This one hit a little close to home, not only because a restaurant in Atlanta is featured, but also because it discusses how, like many other immigrants, Vietnamese immigrants have embraced an unfamiliar ingredient and adapted it to make it their own. Basically, the article provides a rudimentary glimpse into my childhood.
In future posts, I will share how, some 25 years ago, my mother used to make do with the lack of ingredients she needed to make traditional dishes. But here, I can provide an anecdote to how crawfish became part of my family’s recipe repertoire.
Even as a kid, I was obsessed with food. I remember watching Justin Wilson cook up Creole and Cajun classics on PBS. After seeing an episode about crawfish, I asked my mom to make a crawfish boil. She, of course, had no idea what I was talking about. As the Times article notes, Vietnamese people love seafood and my family is no different. We prefer eating seafood with the noted classic accompaniment: muoi tieu chanh (translation: salt pepper lime).
Crawfish, however, is not native to Vietnam. My mom had no idea what they even looked like. One day, I was with her at the farmer’s market when I spotted them in the seafood section. I give her credit for buying them and a can of Old Bay and boiling up a batch for her precocious kid. To this day, when she sees crawfish at the store or on television, she remembers her first encounter with these mudbugs and wishes I was in the same city so she could whip me up a quick boil.