I mentioned this in a briefer format today.
In my workplace, I have a certain proficiency for sniffing out anything that's palatable, like those pigs in France that dig out truffles. If food walks in the door, I'll be sticking my snout out for a whiff.
Today, one of my new scholarship candidates tried smuggling in a package. It was a poor attempt. I saw the plastic bag swinging in her hand, the contents wrapped in paper and knew it immediately to be food. It was after the rice hour, so I reckoned she would be offering me something sweet within the quarter hour.
"What's that?" I said, brazen and direct. She searched for the right word.
"Cake," she replied in a not too specific way. Could be awful, could be a revelation, I was thinking. The Vietnamese word for cake refers to all manner of foodstuff in Vietnam. It could be a banana fritter (banh chuoi ran). Or tiny sweet cubes of green bean and sugar (banh dau xang). A steamed meat pie (banh gio), a steamed bun with mystery mix or quail egg (banh bao), even a plain bread roll (banh my) ...the list goes on.
"Oh," I muttered, not so sure I was any longer interested. I would have to miraculuosly appear again once it had been unwrapped. "Careful not to drop it on the carpet, " I continued, before heading off to some subject verb disagreement in another student's writing.
Ten minutes later I was back, peering through the glass of the door, like a rat with a gold tooth.
And I liked what I saw. Unwrapped on a chair, the 'cake' sat. Actually, a stack of cakes. The girls insisted I take two. I tried to act embarrassed but I knew this would happen and I knew they would answer all my questions. The generosity of students to teachers in this country continues to astound me.
From the province of Ha Tinh, one of the poorest in the country, this cake originates. Cane sugar and ginger are boiled to form a rich brown toffee. Peanuts are added and the mixture is spooned onto and then sandwiched between two rice crackers.The name is banh cu do and it is crisp, crunchy, sticky and sweet, all good attributes in a cake, whatever its name.
I departed. But not before saying thankyou. Genuinely.