By Andrew Lam, New America Media
In fact, as a child, I learned how to appreciate food not from fancy dishes my mother regularly whipped up, but from the simple meals my grandmother prepared. In her presence a piece of crunchy green pickled eggplant was incredibly delicious, and fried tofu dipped in sweetened soy sauce delectable. Often dinner with grandma would come with ghost stories and fairy tales she knew from her childhood in rural North Vietnam. And considering that grandma was the matriarch of our large clan with 42 grandchildren, I had felt extraordinarily privileged to dine alone with her.
After dinner, it would be time for prayers. I would help her light incense and candles and put up plates of fruits for offerings to Buddha and our ancestors. For an hour or so, she would chant and beat on a wooden fish, a percussion instrument made of a hollow wooden block originally used by Buddhist priests to beat rhythm when chanting scriptures.
Grandma passed away more than a decade ago. Now I am an adult living in cosmopolitan San Francisco, and incense smoke, wooden fish, vegetarian suppers and ghost stories are the rituals of a distant past.
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New America Media editor, Andrew Lam is the author of “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora” (Heyday Books, 2005), which recently won a Pen American “Beyond the Margins” award and “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres.” His next book, “Birds of Paradise Lost” a collection of short stories, is due out in 2013. He has lectured widely at many universities.