I have a tendency to laziness. It's a character flaw that impedes the process here in these pages.
Here is what happens.
On a jaunt through the streets, I see a woman attired in heavy-duty blue-collar worker-wear dealing something edible from a basket. It looks unfamiliar which automatically makes it manna from heaven. These opportunities do not present very often, now that I've been dining on these streets for almost 10 years and documenting my experiences for six. And therein lies the problem. I've grown unused to these surprises. In some ways, I'll even admit to thinking I know everything about the things people put in their mouths in Hanoi.
Lazy and conceited, that's me.
These days I am not adhering to the basic rules of the food-blogger. I don't always take the camera. I make notes in my mind rather than on paper, then promptly forget them. I'm getting slack with the camera, too, not making sure that I've taken enough of a range of photographs from which to choose for the actual post. In fact, I've got several posts in draft that have may never see the light of day because the pictures are mediocre.
Another symptom of my laziness is that I speak Vietnamese like an organism lacking any linguistic capacity. Like plankton. I have lessons but they don't seem to be getting me anywhere. I can order beer but I can't say "how do you prepare your noodles?" or "is there a history behind this dish?" If I'm eating without my right hand man, I may still be able to piece together a story but it might have an erroneous translation or a fact I haven't been able to verify.
So, the aforementioned woman and her basket on the footpath is a case in point. A few snaps, a mental note or two about the ingredients and the method and I think I have the wherewithal to write a blog-post on something I've never eaten before. Sure, there may be some aspects of this snack I have knowledge of; I see the giant rice cracker (bánh đa) broken in half and recognise it as something sold by vendors near bia hơi outlets to accompany Hanoi's famous draught beer. I also know the dried mung bean (đậu xanh) powder, commonly sprinkled on some sticky rice dishes in Hanoi. There's sugar, too.
One element of this dish known as bánh đa kê eludes me, however. It is a yellow spread, thick, sticky and almost eggy to my taste buds. The blue-shirted purveyor scrapes this stuff from a plastic basin and smears it across the rice cracker before sprinkling the yellow bean powder and sugar on top. With a resonant crack in half, a rice cracker sandwich of sorts is formed and placed in a scrap of notepaper.
And off I go. I have one hand steering the motorbike, one hand bending this snack into the hole in my face while my mind is regretting not seeking out the information about the sticky yellow paste. Later, in desperation, I utilise the lazy bastards' method of research, googling and tweeting for answers. Seeds eaten by birds are mentioned, the grain millet comes up. But I'm none the wiser about how seed or grain becomes paste or about whether my egg suspicions are warranted.
In short, I'm questioning my own legitimacy as a food-blogger, if I should be persisting, given my inadequacies. A kick up the behind is clearly in order.
But...also...WTF is that gooey yellow stuff on that rice cracker?
Bánh đa Kê
mobile vendor on wheels