My Mom was an amazing cook. I miss her and her Vietnamese food. A Taste of Cần Thơ will be a series of blogs dedicated to my Mom (Cần Thơ was her hometown). Although I’ll never be as good of a cook as she was, I hope she’s smiling down on me and is proud that I’m attempting to duplicate her recipes.
In the Vietnamese culture, it is tradition to honor our deceased family members on their death anniversary (đám giỗ). My Dad passed away when I was seven years old, so growing up, my Mom would always cook and invite extended family/friends over every 8th of June to celebrate his life. She’d make lots of food and set it out on the table; then a brief ceremony of prayers would take place (cúng).
My Mom made it a point that among all the other food items, we had to include three must-have dishes: one salty dish (món mặn), which is usually some type of flavorful meat, one stir fried dish (món xào), and one soup (món canh).
The 26th of January marked one year since my Mom’s passing. I miss her so much. My siblings and I wanted to honor her the same way she honored our Dad and ancestors, with the same love and care. In a team effort, we attempted to duplicate her three must-have dishes. My job was to make the soup and the beef veggie stir fry.
This was my first attempt at making bitter melon soup (canh khổ qua), so I was a little nervous, but I’m happy to say that it turned out delicious! Here’s what you’ll need, and most of these items can be found at Asian supermarkets. Note: I made a double batch of this recipe since we had lots of people coming over. I am giving you the recipe for a single batch.
3 to 4 bitter melons (also known as bitter gourds)
1 lb of ground chicken (I used half dark and half white meat, but it doesn’t really matter.)
2 shallots (chopped)
1/2 a bunch of green onions (diced)
1 oz dried black fungus (approximately)
1 oz of bean threads (approximately)
1 tsp Knorr chicken flavored broth mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper (ground pepper is fine too)
Fish sauce to season
Cilantro (optional to garnish)
Step 1: Soak the dried fungus and bean threads in warm water.
Step 2: While that is soaking, season the ground chicken by adding the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mix it with a spoon. Chop up the shallots, and add that to the mix along with a dash of fish sauce. Mix it up again. By now, the fungus and bean threads should be soft.
Step 3: Remove the water from the fungus and bean threads. Cut the fungus into about 1 inch pieces and the bean strings into 2-3inch pieces. Add that to the ground chicken and thoroughly mix it up.
Step 4: Let the chicken sit/marinate. Wash and cut the bitter melons into thirds. Remove the cores using the end of a spoon, and throw away everything you’ve scooped out.
Step 5: Before you start stuffing your bitter melon, take an 8-12 quart stockpot and fill it with water about 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle in some salt and a tsp of the Knorr chicken flavored broth mix. Turn on the heat and start stuffing! The broth should come to a boil by the time you’re done filling the bitter melons.
Step 6: Mix up the chicken one last time, this time using your hands. Stuff the chicken filling into the bitter melons.
Step 7: If you have leftover filling, make little meatballs and add it to the broth. Remove the foam/bubbles from the top of the broth with a ladle. My Mom used to always do that to remove excess fat (hớt bọt).
Step 8: As your broth is boiling, gently add the bitter melons. Let it cook for about 15 minutes (until the meat is cooked and the bitter melon is soft, but don’t let it get too soft/mushy). Turn off the heat, and add chopped green onions, cilantro, and a couple dashes of fish sauce to season. Taste as you go and add more fish sauce if needed. Top with fresh cracked pepper & more chopped garnish when you serve it. Enjoy!
It was a beautiful life celebration in honor of my Mom. Everyone near and dear to her showed up. I cried while I was cooking several times because I realized why I was cooking. I wish I didn’t have to cook for that reason. I wish she was still here, but I can’t change the fact that she’s gone, and she certainly deserves to be honored with all the love and respect that she has taught us. I love you, Mommy.