Life Life

08/06/2018 - 21:42

Memory of Mommy’s Banana Pickles

I still remember exactly the meals we had in the olden days. Every time Dad saw the dish of salted banana pickles processed by Mommy, he then told us the same old story. The story was told so frequently that we would find something missing at the meals with the dish but without the story.

Pickled banana stem served with fermented shrimp sauce, a simple but delicious dish

“By that time”, Dad said, “Mr. Ca Phieu was the richest in the village. Rich as he was but the old man and his wife were notorious as the stingiest of the time. They were so stingy that in the harvest season that year when I worked as a hired harvester for them, they served my lunch with rice and just a dish of salted banana pickles to serve with shrimp sauce”.

Dad said that in the countryside the meal for the harvesters was extremely important and the foods served ought to be as hearty as those at a dead anniversary. Life was so hard that year so he had to work as a hired rice harvester for Mr. Ca’s family, partly because he wanted to enjoy a good meal, partly because he would   bring home the rice he was paid with for Grandmom.

Back to Mr Ca’s house with heavy bundles of rice on the shoulders after half a day of hard work in the rice field under the stiflingly hot sun at noon time, every harvester’s mouth felt bitter when all they saw in food tray was a dish of salted banana pickles and a small bowl of cooked salty shrimp sauce. To play trick on Mrs. Ca, the harvesters had the rice with only the sauce while secretly throwing the dish of banana pickles down in a corner of the table.  When Mrs. Ca saw the newly served dish of banana pickles eaten up in a flash, she felt so happy as to offer more consecutively.

Though Daddy did not like the meal with rice and fermented banana pickles he had at Mrs. Ca’s house, he loved the same dish processed by Mommy later after the wedding. This was the reason why the whole plot of 'chuối sứ' (a species of banana with thick skin and lots of black seeds inside) at the end of the garden always grew well and green. He said that he planted only two pups there that year. As time passed by, they developed into a large plot, and now whenever Daddy would like to eat banana pickle, he could find a tree for the dish with just a few steps round to the corner of the garden.

To make banana pickles, Mommy always chooses big banana trunks not yet as tall as one meter. She then peels off the outer old layers before cutting the stem into fine slices, which are later soaked in water to whiten and then taken out and left to let get dry. Next she mixes some water with salt (a little salty) and boils it, and lets it get lukewarm. The slices of banana stem are then put into a jar and pressed down tightly before the lukewarm mixture is poured in. The jar is covered with a lid tightly and left from 2 to 3 days. The pickle is now available when its fragrance is smelt.

To increase the flavor of banana prickle, my mother adds in some hot red peppers, pickled leeks chopped into short pieces together with some slices of sour starfruit. When she is too "lazy" to make the salt water mixture, all she does is mix fine slices of banana stem with pickled leeks and peppers together and then put and press them down in all a jar in an consecutive layers: a layer natural sea salt followed by a layer of banana slices mixed with leeks.

After pressing the ingredients tight into the jar, she added in a cup of water, and the pickled banana stem is ready to be served two or three days later. Mom once told us her tip, ‘Successfully processed banana prickle has a little sour and delicious taste; the salt water looks transparent and scum is not seen on the surface'.

When banana pickle is served with boiled pork and fish sauce, the taste is extremely delicious; It is also of no comment if this vegetable eaten with 'nước cá kho' (a kind of sauce made when fish is cooked with some water mixed with sugar and salt). On the day Mom did not cook fish, she makes some fermented shrimp sauce for the pickle, which is also add in so good a taste that we eat to satiety.

The way Mom prepares ‘nước ruốc’ (a diluted fermented shrimp paste) is quite simple. First, she pours in the pan some cooking oil, and waits unit it turns hot. After that she throws some chopped chili and onion in to add flavor. Next she puts some ‘ruốc’ (fermented shrimp paste) into a cup of water and stirs it. The mixture is then left until the dregs settle own. Mom then pours the upper brownish part of the mixture into the pan, which finally added with some sugar and sodium glutamate for a better taste. The bowl of sauce is ready for being served.

The taste of banana pickle fried with garlic makes us eat a lot more rice than usual. To make this dish, crushed garlic is thrown into the pan with heated oil. When the fragrance smells, the banana pickle is put in and turned over with quick turns, which is then added with sufficient seasoning powder.

Pickled banana slices served with ‘nước ruốc’ or ‘nước cá kho’ tastes delicious owing to its rusticity and rural character. The meals are normally served on a small mat in front of the porch, with the winds blowing up from the river, and the rustle from banana trees in the garden and all these make the taste of the banana pickle much more delicious.

By Ho Nghia