My parents both come from large families, and as long as I remember at least once a month we would all get together for a huge party that would last all day. Sometimes it was for a holiday, or someone’s birthday, but more often than not it was just a random Saturday where we’d just gather and celebrate being alive.
My mom and dad were both refugees of the Vietnam war, and on my mom’s side they were displaced twice, from Vietnam and China from the Cultural Revolution. Escaping the Communists took two generations, a war, and living in desolate, remote refugee camps. Family was scattered to the winds, and after the camps people made lives where they could; I have cousins living all over the world, from Australia to Europe to Canada to the United States.
My mom arrived in California with her younger sister and her five year old nephew, unsure whether she’d see her parents, siblings, or any of her family again. She met my dad in Los Angeles in 1981 and went to school, working and then starting a family, and it took many years for her to work and be able to sponsor the rest of our family to come over. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and then my grandparents finally were all reunited after years of separation.
We would often have bánh xèo at these parties, my aunt cooking up a huge batch of these savory crepes in her backyard as everyone crowded around, talking and laughing as we sat on mismatched lawn chairs.
The yard always smelled of basil and mint, and the day would stretch into afternoon and then to evening, and there would be nonstop food and drink and conversation, children running around playing and adults relaxing over beer and cards.
I was an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction as a teenager, and I never saw a character that looked like me and had my background, going off and having adventures. I hope everyone can connect with Jess and her friends in the series, especially youth of color.
I wrote quite a few Vietnamese dishes into Not Your Sidekick. Jess and her family would have had a tradition of eating bánh xèo from time to time, but she doesn’t quite have a large extended family and the beauty of bánh xèo is to make them in large batches, since quite a bit of work goes into the prep for the dish.
Also, in 2123 in the North American Collective, land resources are devoted mostly to planting fruits and vegetables, not maintaining livestock for consumption, so eating meat is expensive, something a middle-class family like the Trans would do only on occasion. But they would still make bánh xèo and enjoy it just as me and my family do.
Bánh Xèo (Serves 12)
1.5 cups rice flour
2 teaspoons tumeric powder
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
3 cups water
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
1 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb pork belly (can also substitute thick-cut bacon)
1.5 lb bean sprouts
1 lb dry mung beans
Vegetables and etc
2 heads of looseleaf red and green lettuce
1 cup water, warm
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic, peeled
Set aside a half pound of mung beans and soak in water until soft (at least two hours.) Use a food processor or blender to grind the other half into a fine powder.
Prepare sauce. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Mix in fish sauce and lemon juice. Finely dice garlic and chile, add to taste.
Prepare batter. Set aside chopped scallions. Mix all batter ingredients together, including the powdered mung bean and refrigerate overnight or for twelve hours.
Wash bean sprouts and vegetables and set aside. Cut onions into strips. Blanch pork belly and slice in thin strips.
Cook each crepe. Heat skillet to medium to high heat, add about 1 teaspoon of oil. Saute a few strips of onion and shrimp, cook for about one minute. Add pork; shrimp should not be completely opaque yet. Add bean sprouts and mung beans. Add batter, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Tilt pan so batter is spread across entire pan. Cover for two minutes until batter is set. Remove lid and cook on low heat until crepe is crisp. Fold in half. Serve immediately.
To serve: Open a lettuce leaf and arrange bánh xèo, mint, other vegetables etc. roll and dip in nuoc cham.