We grew up surrounded by good food and cooking. Each family birthday was preceded by a flurry of preparation where my mom would always tell me, “It is better to have too much food for our guests than not enough.” And I would roll my know-everything teenage eyes and tell her to stop making such a fuss and stressing herself out. Still, I helped, mixing mashed potatoes from a box with a touch of sugar during American style Thanksgivings, washing fresh herbs to lay on a plate for hot pot, setting tables, pouring drinks for guests and clearing away plates. It was the rhythm of our home, this humming, buzzing kitchen with simple stove and dishwasher used only for storing tupperware.
Church events revolved around food too. Our pastor’s wife commanded a lively kitchen of all our moms and “aunties” to produce so much good food served humbly on styrofoam plates, with plastic utensils, but received so happily by the crowds on Christmas, Easter, fundraiser days. As kids, it was our job to help out during these meals. We passed out plates of steaming noodles, saran wrapped beautifully layered sweet sticky rice treats, helped our moms roll pumpkin rolls while sneaking swipes of sweet cream cheese filling, dried dishes til we were tall enough to reach above the industrial height sinks, and then we washed.
It is no surprise I so connect food with love.
And so today, I’m pierced through the heart by the cupid’s arrow of a simple dish so tied to my childhood as to render me in childlike awe and bliss.
A crusty french baguette, coarsely sawed in half lengthwise, buttered generously, sprinkled with sugar, and toasted in a toaster oven til the melty, sweet, crunchy, softness of it all was perfect. Banh mi bo duong – literally “Bread Butter Sugar”.
This childhood snack was made for my brother and me and her grandkids by the pastor’s wife when she babysat us. We’d poke our heads out from the forts we’d made from the long, thick sofa cushions and tumble into the tiny galley kitchen. The memory of her kitchen and my own mother’s kitchen blend to near indistinction as we lived in similar townhomes in the same neighborhood.
On biting in, our innocent palates were met with warmth, sweetness…comfort. A simple token of the care she took for us between the more involved meals that shaped our childhoods and cushioned our memories: caramelized pork and eggs stewed for hours to tenderness, birds nest soup for health, macaroni soup with seasoned ground pork.
But in those afternoons, we reveled in this uncomplicated treat. Its specialness and delightfulness equal to Saturday morning cartoons and new toys in our naive eyes. She sniff kissed our faces and sent us off to play. She always smelled of a soft rosy, talc-y perfume smell that I associate with grandmas even now.
It seems not long ago that she passed, but I just realized it’s been 6 years! A long life full of god and family and community. Her legacy lingers on in the warmth and love she ladled out so generously to her community. Today, I remember her and the love she showed me as a child. Her less than 5 foot tall frame, a fierce yet gentle force that helped shape me into the woman and lover of food I am today. Thank you, Ba Muc Su Phuoc.
(inspired by this post about an Indian version of this snack)