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01/08/2018 - 08:37

Wholesome gourd soup with mussels

Mom visited me this morning from the village, bringing two gourds whose stems were still green and bodies full of down. Mom said she had just picked them for me to make soup with mussels. On these so hot days, a bowl of this soup is great.

Wholesome gourd soup with mussels for summer days. Photo: Internet

Mom’s words reminded me of the old days. When summer came, children took their buffalos to the field to eat seedlings which had been left over. When they finished with seedlings, they could eat tender grass between the fields.

While the buffalos were grazing, the children were free. They went swimming in the river, looking for mussels. Yellow-colored mussels, each as big as a thumb, could be found in shallow waters; therefore, even those who were unable to swim could collect them easily. Every time their two hands were filled with mussels, they ran ashore and piled them up on the river bank. Unless anyone remembered to bring with them a bag, they would take off their shirts, tied up one end, making them into bags to dump mussels in. The whole family consequently had a good meal that day.

Previously, anyone in my village could catch mussels themselves for family meals or for sale at the market when they had too many. Some professional families such as Mrs. Nga’s or Mrs. Tuyet’s sent the whole family members, both old and young, to catch mussels from early morning to noon, then from noon to evening. If they were lucky, they could get up to two big baskets and earned tens of thousands dongs from selling them.

At that time, the river was abundant in mussels and anyone could catch them easily. Mussels were hence rather cheap, just one or two thousand dongs per can. Now mussels are sold by kilos and cost a little bit more, but just about 3 to 5 thousand dongs per can. So, a pot of soup for 4 or 5 people in a family just costs 10 to15 thousand dongs.

In my sandy native village, mussels are not as big as clams, but their flesh is hard and sweet. Those living in sandy river are yellow in color and look more eye-catching than those living in muddy creeks which are black in color and cheaper. Because many people choose shallow waters to catch mussels, those who live on selling mussels choose deep creeks so that they can catch more.

Mussels can be processed into several good dishes such as mussels stir-fried with pineapple and tomato, mussels mixed with rice vermicelli, mussel soup with water spinach or mixed herbs, pickles or lemongrass… the best of which is mussels with tender gourds. Mussels are soaked in water for a couple of hours to get rid of mud and earth. Then wash them well and boil them in a pot with as much water as you want.

When the water boils and the mussels’ shells open, pour the mussels into a basket placed on another pot to get the fluid. Remove the shells to obtain the mussel flesh, soak it again in water to make sure it is free of mud and sand. Add spices to one’s taste. Mussel would taste even better with white onions. Put a frying pan on the fire with some oil. Add minced shallot and white onion, then pour in spiced mussels and wait until they get hardened. The fluid obtained from boiling mussels is boiled again then add in gourd and mussels. Wait until the soup gets boiled again one more time. Top the soup with minced spring onion and coriander to add flavors.

Gourd soup with mussels can be eaten with rice, either hot or leftover. It is villagers’ favorite soup in the summer and the main dish for many families. Since every house has land for growing gourds and vegetables, and mussels are always available, gourd soup with mussels can be cooked at any time.

I have an uncle working far away from home. Every time he comes back home, he asks for this soup and my mother always satisfies him with a big pot of it. Once, we even ate it without rice and we were still fine.

Thinking of it has force me to go to the market, trying to find yellow mussels (like before) but I could not. I had to buy clams instead (which look like mussels, but are bigger) to cook with my Mom’s gourds. Though following the recipe, I found its taste not as good as my Mom’s. Anyway, the soup helped me overcome my thirst for her soup.

Story: Linh Dan

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