Once upon a time I considered myself to be a decent cook. And then I came to Tra Vinh.
My kitchen supplies include about 80 spoons, 1 fork, 3 pots, 1 lid that doesn’t go with any of the pots, 2 scarily sharp paring knives and 1 machete-looking number. (I also have a tea set on a tray that says “True Nature!” for some reason.) A colony of evil ant overlords lives in the crack in the tile next to my sink. And my rice cooker is broken.
Now these shouldn’t have even been obstacles for any fairly competent human being. Unfortunately, I am a special case. It took me about 40 minutes to realize that my rice cooker was, in fact, broken. I taped up the opening to the ant colony but then felt guilty and took it off again. And I am still too scared to go the market by myself so I have been shopping at the sad and empty Vinatex down the road which has about twelve brands of fish sauce and not much else. For the first two nights all I ate were noodles and tofu and laughing cow cheese and the occasional egg, all heartily doused in nuoc mam. But yesterday I returned to the Vinatex, determined to vary things up and buy something vaguely good for me. In the meager produce section I picked up some tomatoes and an enormous sack of something green and leafy. “Excellent,” I said to myself, “Spinach-type-healthy things.” I threw it in my basket and went on my merry way.
That evening, I started some rice in one of my three pots, chopped me up a hard-boiled egg to throw in it, and then I reached for the spinach.
When I took it out of the bag I knew something wasn’t quite right – the leaves were weirdly glossy and spiny, like they had been plucked from someone’s front hedge. “Huh,” I thought as I threw a big handful into my hot pan, “must be some kind of special Mekong variety.” And then my kitchen filled with stinky dark smoke.
In the following spazzy moments I managed to open a window and get the not-spinach out of the pan but burnt my pot of rice.
A closer examination of the sack that the non-spinach came in led to the discovery of a teeny-tiny sticker on the bottom that read “Tra Xanh.” I had accidentally bought like fifteen pounds of green tea.
So the story ends with me eating a hard-boiled egg for dinner last night. And give me a call if you want some of my green tea stash. I’ve boiled three pots worth and I’ve barely made a dent in it.