Thursday, March 13, 2008

Food Network, Ho Chi Minh, and the Mefong River

We love the Food Network Channel in this family. My husband--for whom cooking is a hobby (am I lucky, or what?)--is probably the biggest fan, but the rest of us have our favorites as well. Jacob often requests Unwrapped, and Alex and I enjoy watching the latest cake or pastry challenges. Just the other day, I discovered a brand new favorite: A Cook's Tour. And the episode I watched where the host visited Vietnam inspired me to abandon our regular studies and spend the day immersing ourselves in Southeastern Asian culture.

We began by finding Vietnam on the map and then labeling and coloring our own map to add to our World Notebook. After mapping it, we read about it. Once we discovered that the majority of people in Vietnam are Buddhists, we read about Buddhism. I was so impressed with Alex as she helped me complete a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting Christianity and Buddhism.

After reading about Vietnamese villages, rice paddies, and the beautiful countryside, it was time to see it for ourselves. I had the kids watch the episode of A Cook's Tour that was my inspiration, and it did much more than just discuss the food in Vietnam, though that of course was the focal point...and what totally grossed out the kids! I'm a little grossed out too by the menus presented: a duck--feathers, blood, innards and all--coated and baked in clay, lobster "blood" mixed with Vodka, and birds' nest soup. Even the narrator almost lost his birds' nest soup after he had forced it down.

So after the kids were completely disgusted, I suggested that we make our own Vietnamese meal. Needless to say, they weren't too keen on the idea as images of bird mucous and beaks ran through their heads. I sparked a little more enthusiasm, though, when I mentioned Vietnamese spring rolls and soup. We LOVE the Vietnamese (cooked) spring rolls! They were a favorite in Africa (we called them Nems), and Mark perfected the Nem long ago.

So my gourmet cook made up the Nem filling and set to work on the soup. While I was rolling Nems, I put my eldest to work on a little writing assignment:

My name is Ha Nguyen. I live in Vietnam. I am eight years old. I live with my mom, dad, sister, and grandfater. My dad is a fisherman. He sometimes brings home a fish or two (that's on special occasions). We mostly eat produce or rice. My favorite place to go is the marketplace. It has good food baskets and dishes. Besides the market, I love to go to my friend's house. Her name is Ha Ya. She's my best friend. I live happily here.

The End

(I provided her with the name of one of my former ESL students. She came up with Ha Ya herself (think Karate when you pronounce it!!).)

Once our dinner was prepared and our homework completed, we cleared an area in the family room, spread a sheet, and got ready to eat Vietnamese-style (or at least as was portrayed on A Cook's Tour). We got out our Asian dishes and chopsticks and settled on the floor for dinner. It was delicious! Now I'm just trying to convince Alex that a good Vietnamese child would probably have fruit for dessert, not peanut butter cookies!

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