Life Life

26/09/2019 - 07:46

Chicken "on the tree"

My childhood was the presence of wild vegetable soup, a bowl of fermented garden eggs, and a huge basket of morning glory in most meals. But the best of all was perhaps a dish called "chicken on the tree", also known as "vegan chicken," made from mom-grown banana flower.

The dish could make me tilt my neck up and shout "Superb!" while also suppress my craving for chicken meat.

Any time I crave for this dish, I begged mom to make this banana flower salad

Later, when I had more opportunities to eat vegetarian food, I found a lot of interesting things. For example, to cook a "vegan chicken" dish, one could use various ingredients to create similar meaty flavors, not from the tasteless mock chicken but from delicious fruits and vegetables showing the chef’s ingenuity.

Using shreds of dried bamboo shoots, tofu or banana flower together with onions and laksa leaves, mom made a similar dish to chicken. Perhaps to her, if chicken were replaced by one of these components, the dish would remain the same, and she would feel less sorry for our poverty.

Of these ingredients, banana flower was the easiest to find as it was always available in the backyard all year round. As of now, we’re having all varieties of banana in the garden such as chuối cau, chuối mật, chuối tiêu, chuối lùn

The blossom of any banana varieties can make the dish, but the best is that of chuối sứ. It tastes less acrid, and the flower’s appealing white color looks just like chicken breasts.

To make this unique "chicken" dish, mom thinly slices the banana blossom. Making 4, 6 or 8 portions depends on the size of the banana flower, but mom always makes the salad whenever she has one no matter how big or small it is.

Mom removes the tough, inedible cores of the young bananas inside, then separates the young, tender parts from the old. The older parts must be boiled before adding the softer pulps. When boiling, she adds some salt - an important ingredient to make banana blossom tastier when eaten.

The boiling phase is successful when the old parts are no longer chewy, and the younger pulp is not too mushy. Start tearing them into thin shreds. Strip off the young bananas inside and thinly shred the outer red petals. Peel the onion and thinly slice it lengthwise to avoid pungency when serving. Wash laksa leaves and finely chop them up. These three simple, cheap and easy to find ingredients were enough to prepare such a “sumptuous” meal for us back then.

Mom used a little salt, some fish sauce, a bit of scraped sugar from sugar pie to season the banana flower then mixed them well. Back then, we couldn’t afford MSG, so such spice was completely absent in my memory.

Perhaps because of that, its lingering flavor on me up to now is still the most original. After adding enough seasonings, mom added onions and laksa leaves to the mixture and stirred them well once more. Pepper was added as the last spice.

In general, the spices were used exactly the same as in chicken salad, but mom’s subtlety was to replace chicken meat with other cheap ingredients, so her kids felt like they were eating real bites of chicken.

And we whose childhood was full of hardship but filled with mom’s love always feel happy. The meals are tasty as always; whether they are mixed veggies soup with salt, salty fermented garden eggs for the winter, or this banana flower salad, our hearts always swell with pride for her talent.

Now, as I live close to her, it’s easier to beg for a bowl of banana flower salad whenever I want. Though I know the dish’s recipe like the back of my hand, only mom-made is tasty and gives me a very clear sense of the indispensable things in life, no matter how much more I grow up.

Story and photo by Yen Thuong

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