Saturday, April 22, 2006

ahan viet, mak mangkhout, and thit cho

i have said this before: it is pretty pathetic that i can spend 3 weeks (actually its closer to 4; but i say 3 because i tire of the question: "how do you get so much time off from work?") in developing coutries where people are in severe poverty, and i can come away having gained 5 pounds.

but when the food is this good, i don't know how to say no. (although i am anxious to get back to my home turf, where the food is more flavorful and spicey; viet food, while good, is sometimes bland and uneventful. i don't find a big distinction between what i eat here and what i find in the way of viet food back home in the usa.) i leave for Laos on monday morning, and i have a list of foods i still need to eat before i return home. but even if i don't finish the list, i can count the trip a success because i found mangosteen (mak mangkhout, as the Lao call it) see previous entry entitled, "kham trapped with joseph and jacob in Vietnam!"

i can't express adequately exactly how much i love this fruit, but those who have travelled to Laos with me (jacob farrar) can probably give you a good idea. if you have never have eaten it then just imagine your favorite fruit and how good it tastes... then multiply that by 5 - and you got an idea. so a trip to Asia is never complete without happening upon the mangosteen and eating a kilo or two.

here is what an American living in Java wrote in 1898: "The five white segments separate easily, and they melt on the tonugue with a touch of tart and a touch of sweet; one moment a memory of the juiciest, most fragrant apple, at another a remembrance of the smoothest cream ice, the most exquisite and delicately flavoured fruit-acid known - all of the delights of nature's laboratory condensed in that ball of neige parfumee"

and from we can learn that:

The mangosteen (garcinia mangosanta) is a tropical evergreen tree. The tree grows from 7 to 25 meters tall. In Asia, the mangosteen fruit is known as the "Queen of Fruits."

The outer shell of the fruit is rather hard, typically 4-6 cm in diameter. Cutting through the shell, one finds a white, fleshy fruit 3-5 cm in diameter. The number of fruit pods is directly related to the number of petals on the bottom of the shell.
On average a mangosteen has 5 fruits (round up figure).

for the full article (with links):

so i am forever in search of the mangosteen. eating it once is not enough. and the usa should ease its restrictions on Asian fruits. i have to go all the way to canada to get some mangosteen now (if i am not flying to Laos to get it), and it is expensive and not that good.

WARNING: i will now mention dog (cho) eating one last time (as promised - and so if you don't wanna hear, just stop reading here... cause the rest of this is only about that): i will confirm once more - BBQ cho is good, steamed cho is not so good. Sophie is adventurous, and she and i set off today in search of thit cho, the Viet specialty. Viet only eat cho during the second half of the lunar calendar because to eat it before is considered unlucky. the cho is prepared seven different ways - and dark dogs are considered more tasty. the diner will often order several different kinds of the preparation styles - as that is considered the best way to eat it.

we stumbled upon a dog restaurant, by 100% complete accident, and it was packed! (that is always a good signal that you have found a good spot to get some food.) but it was a little strange cause i got the feeling that we were sitting among an old fraternity organization of sorts; women don't usually eat cho, and so it was all these older men besides one other woman and sophie. but that didn't stop her. after the initial shock of seeing the cho layed out on the grill, we set to work. it took me a while to get the server to bring out the BBQ. all i got at first was steamed cho with some unidentifiable sausage, (and neither was very good). i finally had to get up and point at another guy's plate of cho before she got the idea. (i don't know what made her think i wanted steamed cho in the first place? do i look like the steamed cho kinda guy?) well, the BBQ was excellent, and even sophie was surprised about the taste. but the taste was more about the way it was prepared than any inherant flavor of cho itself. they had seasoned it with galanga and also gave us a lemon, pepper, and salt dipping sauce.

we finished the plate and decided to recommend the restaurant to all our friends when we got back to our respective countries. (it is not far from the Ho Chi Minh house and one-pillar pagoda; just ask someone, they will know).

but a quick analysis of the whole thit cho controversy: i don't have a big problem over eating a dog or any other animal. however, i can easily understand why dogs have been deemed "special" (ie., off the the butcher's list of meats to sell) by western society due to their willingness to connect and create a relationship with humans. that dogs will look you in the eye (in hopes of getting a scooby snack) puts them in a category all their own, and i am not sure that the flavor justifies the means. but all food is cultural, and in pursuit of cultural openness, i have opted to look at the dog eating in Asia differently. killing any animal for food is a messy and unsettling process when you look at the details, and so it seems somewhat contradictory to empathize too strongly with a dog bred for comsumption and then turn around and buy celophane pig meat at albertsons. and now i have turned preachy so i will turn off.

to connect with the anti-dog eating faction just click on the following link. be cautious; the website contains some graphic images.

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