This might be a cliché, but thinking about the small, secondary kitchen on the ground level of my parents' home leads me straight to my memories about my mother. There is a Chinese story about a man who cried whenever he was served sweet leek soup (canh hẹ), because it reminded him of his mother who used to cook that special soup for him.

         In that small, secondary kitchen on the ground floor, we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all cooked from scratch by my mother. The main kitchen itself was in an annex building connected to the main residence by a covered, tiled corridor about 20 meters long. My mother did not have any electric or gas range. She had only a raised floor of concrete where two open fires were made, pots and pans were put over a three legged support (kiềng) made of iron or a set of three bricks. Her maid had to keep the flames alive by blowing air on them intermittently, through a hollowed segment of bamboo tree (ống thổi lửa), or fanning them with a fan made from an areca palm frond (quạt mo cau). Rice was our staple. There were many kinds of rice. Its taste, consistency and even its aroma depended on its provenance. In the fifties, we still bought paddy (unhusked rice, lúa) from local farmers and had it decorticate by our domestics using a small manual grinding mill (cối xay). In fact, that kind of organic rice, which still kept a vitamin B rich outer layer of bran, was much more healthy than industrially processed rice that later became more and more popular. Gạo nàng hương and Gạo nàng thơm were very sought-after domestic products, brought from the plains of the Mekong River, in the Southern part of the country. Gạo Mỹ, imported American rice, although cheaper, was less well liked because its blandness. We occasionally ate yams (khoai lang) and different tubercles like củ sắn (cassava) or khoai tía ("purple yam") that we grew in our own field in the back of our house. At harvest season, after my brothers dug the beds for the tubercles, we just boiled them and ate them without any added sugar but somehow, in their natural and fresh savor, they were so sweet and so appetizing. However, once in while, we also had a special treat of very sweet cassava or purple yam porridge (chè sắn, chè khoai tía).

        Please read the rest of the story in THE SORROWS OF WAR AND PEACE.