Life Life

23/11/2019 - 07:47

Grandma’s pork cooked until tender

In the old days, every time my grandma missed her hometown, she made pork cooked until tender. And whenever she did it, she sat quietly for a long time in the kitchen.

Sweet pork cooked until tender

The ripe afternoon sunshine went down through the corrugated iron roof of the kitchen, casting her long quiet shadow on the floor. The kitchen was tiny and gray. She sat there with smoke around her. Her old eyes were wet; I was not sure it was because of the smoke or because she was missing her hometown.

On those days, if my grandpa was at home, he would often hang around in the kitchen with her. His hands softly patted her on the shoulder, as she sat, quietly watching the fire under the pot.

I sometimes sneaked into the kitchen. The good smell of her dish urged me to do so, only to accidentally see his loving kiss that fell quickly on her wrinkled cheeks. 

Looking at his arms around his wife’s shoulder, I thought that hug must be even sweeter than the pork pot on the stove itself. I was not sure how she would react if she knew what I thought.

Grandma says she is originally from western Vietnam. She cannot explain why she dared to leave her hometown to get married with a man in Hue. It was her great grandmother who taught her how to make the dish. She then brought the recipe to her husband's family. Every time she felt missing home, she cooked it. The dish thus packs in it all her love for her hometown.

Grandma’s dish is made from pork side, eggs (chicken eggs or duck eggs) and coconut water, but it tastes very different. She says she uses coconut water only, and nothing else to color the dish.

Pork side is first marinaded carefully with fish sauce, salt, pepper and shallot; then is exposed to the sun until it becomes transparent. She then puts a pan on the fire, adds a tablespoon of cooking oil, waits until the oil gets hot, adds minced shallot and garlic. When shallot and garlic become brown, she throws in the meat and stir-fries it for a while, then pours in coconut water and cooks slowly on a small fire. 

After a while, she adds peeled boiled eggs. When the dish is finished, the lard smells good, the lean meat is tender, the skin is slightly crunchy, the egg is fatty and the meat juice is spicy and greasy. Pork cooked until tender is like a folk song in her hometown with very high notes and sweet low notes.

Grandma just cooks this when she has time. It takes 2-3 hours for the pork to be tender, as much time as when one cooks pho. She often starts at noon and finishes in the late afternoon. 

She says in order for the dish to be right, pork needs to be exposed to the sun for about two hours. On rainy days, she has to use charcoal instead. Actually, no one can feel fed up with spicy and crunchy pork with transparent lard. 

I can rarely eat it now. It does not mean she does not miss her hometown any more. Everyone misses one’s hometown. Previously, my grandpa took her home every year, but now she does not want to go. She says she has no relatives there now, and it is sad to be there without them.

My grandma now seldom cooks because of her weak limbs. She complains about her old age. Now and then, she wants to cook things that she likes, but she feels hard to do so. 

Every time I feel like eating pork cooked until tender, I grasp her hands. If she is in a good mood, she cooks a big pot for me to keep in the fridge. When she does not feel right, she says: “Ask your Mom.” But though my Mom is a good cook, her dish cannot compare with my grandma’s.

Story and photo: LINH CHI