My father was born in the year of the Pig. In Chinese zodiac, the Pig symbolises wealth and a good life. My father would often tell us: “Let’s go out for supper!” and we kids would jump with joy at hearing it.
Woks and flames, tables and chairs, light and noise
Epicureans come here for a wide night food choice
We used to go to this famous bustling strip of the Chinese quarter in Saigon for the night snacks. The quarter is an area that most Chinese including my Grandfather lived after running away from mainland China Communists in 1949. There was a smorgasbord of choices, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, drinks, desserts, fresh seafood and more. After the eating, we sometimes did a bit of shopping for toys, clothes, fruits and magazines.
Passing by a morgue on a dark road
Ghost tales recalled and fear overflowed!
Sitting in the car, I always wished if I could fly to pass the morgue quicker. Through the slits of the louvre wooden door, I thought I could see corpses lying on the benches and I had goose bumps. Then we stopped at the next block of the dimly-lit road at a street vendor carriage placed in the middle of the house with a few tables and chairs arranged around. The beef noodle soup there was much better than those in expensive restaurants. A few night customers gathered around the tables. We ate while the Chinese opera was played on a radio in the rear of the house. Behind the curtain, sometimes a baby cried and a mother soothingly talking to it in Cantonese.
Clamshells, clamshells and clamshells
The stack on the table swells
Then we came to the Vietnamese dining pocket within the Chinese quarter. Our family would ignore all the other food attractions and walk into the tent erected on a clamshell-paved floor. It was always crowded and hard to find a table. Sweet-juicy-meaty clams freshly steamed were served with fish sauce. The special fish sauce was the main factor to bring out the taste of the clam meat. It was an art to make that fish sauce with not so much lemon juice, not so much sugar and with just enough chillies to make it hot. Despite the simple settings of the stall, it had a famous reputation amongst clam lovers in Saigon.
The caressing wind, the tranquil night
The refreshing drink, the great delight
Now and then, my father would decide to take a stroll to the coconut stores at the back of the market near our house for a drink before we go to bed. On our way, the laughter of the kids and the voices of the adults cut into the thick night. The half-closed stores and the quiet streets made it seem as if we could hear the night breathe while we were enjoying the sweet coconut juice.
Grass jelly drinks and deep-fried noodles
Seafood congees and grilled cockles
All the dining out at night
Become a childhood highlight.
by Clem Evans.