Every evening, as I stare down at my small bowl of rice and its accompaniments, I think about how much I have changed since first coming to Can Tho three years ago. I used to enthusiastically gobble down anything that was put in front of me, including foods that I simply did not enjoy.
Part of the reason for my unbridled willingness to eat during my School for International Training home stay was the message constantly pounded into our heads that while in Vietnam we were to eat what the locals ate and do as the locals did. It wasn’t my place to say that as much as I wanted to do so, I could not eat rice with every meal.
Now, the novelty of Vietnam has worn away and my place as a guest in my sister’s house no longer exists. I am not a stranger to this small Mekong Delta city anymore, and my role in chi Huyen’s home is that of a younger brother to my older sister and her husband, an uncle to her two sons, and a son to her mother. I no longer need to say that I am full or unfamiliar with the foods offered to me if I don’t want to eat. Now if I don’t want to eat, I say so, and that is that.
There is a part of me that misses the young, adventurous spirit that I once had in Vietnam. I remember writing home about how shocked and delighted I was to try a plate of fried scorpion or how dreadful, yet exhilarating it was to eat a cooked, half-developed duck embryo while sitting on the sidewalk with my Vietnamese friends. Those days seem for the moment at least to have passed.
I went to the supermarket today and tried my best to find foods that bring me comfort or remind me of better times back home in the United States. Watermelon reminds me of my childhood in Longview, Texas; Rice Krispies, of the days that I lived on a strict budget while studying at Rice University; peanut butter and jelly, of my mother’s thriving daycare business during the eighties; and milk, of everything beautiful and regal about Texas bovine culture.
This is the only way that I know how to stay sane while living so far away from so much of what defines me. The sugarcane juice, fresh tropical fruits, and rock your body Vietnamese coffee all have a very special place in my heart. But there is nothing like the taste of nostalgia on the surface of one’s tongue.