Life Life

11/01/2021 - 11:06

It’s finger lickin’ good

The sight of girls eating leisurely and quietly using their thumbs and first fingers is certainly not unfamiliar. It is said that girls, especially Hue girls, should eat as little as cats do. But I like “girls of the river of Perfume” who eat in a natural and graceful manner.

Boiled mollusk tastes better when eaten by hand.

As told by Nguyen Dac Xuan, a researcher of Hue, the kings of the Nguyen Dynasty were very meticulous in eating with many attendants around to do their bidding. The king sat on a couch with one attendant at each side to talk with him while he was enjoying the food. Each meal consisted of up to 35 dishes. Relaxing music was playing while he was eating.

As a son of Heaven, the king must eat with elegance. He must watch even his smallest motions. Certainly he was not allowed to eat holding a bone in hand. I guess now and then the king himself wished he could do so in his golden palace. 

I recall the time when I was small. At death anniversaries in my native village, my younger brother and I were given the priority to sit with adults. They granted us fat juicy chicken legs and we were so happy about that. Chicken was not so cheap as today, thus only on special occasions could we have it. We dipped the chicken legs in the mixture of salt, pepper and lime juice. 

My nephews and nieces now have a habit which is both strange and familiar. They do not like chicken that my sister gives them. Instead, they like searching the dish for chicken bones. They say chicken bones taste better and it is fun to eat that way.

The world-famous fast food brand KFC used to have a well-known slogan: “It’s finger lickin’ good,” which I cite as the title of this writing. The slogan was brief, but very evoking: how delicious chicken bones on fingers.

Frankly speaking, bones and the stuff inside are as delicious and nutrient as lean meat and skin. Bones contain lots of protein and vitamins. That is why people often stew bones to get the broth for children, the elderly or the sick. That broth is used to cook soup too.

Boiled mollusk is well known in Hue as “tiring food.” Mollusks are placed in big plates. For big ones, diners use a pick. They also slurp some hot dipping sauce made from fish sauce, chili and lemongrass using a shell. Eating boiled snails by hand is interesting.

Beef noodle soup is the most popular breakfast in Hue. It is “tiring” too because diners like eating bones by hand, which is so tough but fun. 

Besides, there is an expensive dish that also requires “force” to eat. It is boiled crab. The diner has to use a special tool. Eating crab is both tiring and costly, but many people are crazy about it.

As for banh Hue (Hue cakes), in addition to the kind without the leaf cover, there is the kind wrapped in banana leaves. There are still diners who like to examine by hand whether it is nicely wrapped or not.

Sometimes licking sticky fingers is even more exciting than the food itself on the plate. Eating banh wrapped in leaves is thus delicious and fun.

Sometimes eating in an informal way by hand is fun. People feel closer to one another and life is thus more lovely.

Story and photo: Le Thuc Dan