Bun Rieu (Crab, Shrimp & Tomato Soup)
My family shows affection through food. We aren’t a chatty family (Asians!) so we show our love more through actions than words.
On the 2nd anniversary of my mom’s passing, my cousin brought me a big bowl of gia cay (not pictured, but a rare dish and a story for another day) and a large vat of bun rieu that she’d made with her mom. Bun rieu is one of my favorite Vietnamese noodle soups. I love the varied ingredients (shrimp, egg, ground pork, dried shrimp, crab, fried tofu, steamed pork cake…sometimes cubes of pork blood…or in my family’s case, quail eggs). Everyone makes it a little differently but it is almost always great…
My mom made this for us often and once even taught me to make bun rieu. Unfortunately, I never wrote it down and have never made it on my own…I was just using cooking as an excuse for us to spend time together.
In 2004, we lost my grandpa, grandma, aunt and uncle. It was an especially tough year for my mom; she had spent the last several years caring for my grandma who was bedridden after a stroke, then my grandpa as he slowly got the scrambles and finally my aunt, who had advanced epithelial cancer. It was a lot of work that took almost all of her time and energy (as well as the rest of my extended family’s). At the end of it all, she was lost. She had forgotten her previous life. So I went home and asked her to show me how to make bun rieu.
As we cooked, we remembered everything she did before all the illness. Besides driving my brother and I to school, games and lessons, she also volunteered as a translator for the Red Cross at Stanford Children’s Hospital. She worked at the Kiwanis’ Farmers Markets on the weekend. She visited with friends and family in the South Bay. She rarely did anything for herself but gave greatly to others. My brother and I were both out of the house so I encouraged her to find somewhere new to give her time. The following week, we volunteered at St. Anthony Padua’s Dining Room, where she could combine her love for feeding others with her need to serve. She volunteered there weekly (sometimes more often) until just a few weeks before she died. After she died, my dad took her place.
Lung cancer survival rates haven’t improved in 40 years.
Help me change this appalling statistic: