Over the weekend, the wife and I traveled to Austin to celebrate her aunt turning 60. I dare say I was more excited about the get together than her aunt. Why? Because of the food, of course. Her aunt is an amazing cook whose poor bookshelf is under undue strain from all the cookbooks she owns. Put the same amount of weight on the back of a pack mule and you'll be charged with animal cruelty. So in tried and true Vietnamese tradition, a birthday celebration means the birthday girl hosts an elaborate meal for everyone traveling from afar. Needless to say, I was giddy with excitement.
For appetizers, my aunt-in-law (AIL) and my mother-in-law (MIL) rolled these picture-perfect spring rolls filled with lettuce, rice vermicelli, Chinese sausage, grated carrots, and fresh-picked happiness. What is it about mothers that everything food related ends up being near perfect? While rolling these, the two of them were gossiping like school girls and bickering like nemeses, both seemingly not paying attention to the food. However, this photo shows spring rolls that look more appetizing than those at most restaurants. I guess it's the secret superpowers of moms.
For soups, we had a choice of two options. And, yes, I chose both options. The first was the wonton soup made with a pork/shrimp mixture. The broth, unlike commercial versions that are basically salt water, was a flavorful orgy of fresh chicken stock, sweet radishes, and pungent green onions. The wontons were cooked perfectly so that the dough was not a mushy mess.
The second soup option was a tradition Vietnamese beef stew called bò kho (pronounced baw caw). Chunks of beef shank and tendons are slow cooked until melt-n-yo-mouth tender in a broth infused with lemongrass and star anise. The carrots are in the mix to successfully alleviate any guilt for the indulgence.
And for the main course we had crab fried rice and fried shrimp patties. Now don't go thinking it's patties of ground shrimp, which can also be delicious. These patties are made with fresh whole shrimp and mung bean both melded together with batter. So when it comes down to it, it's battered fried shrimp. The inclusion of mung bean, like the carrots in bò kho, is really just there to break up the richness of the oily fried goodness. This foto only shows two patties but I easily consumed half a dozen. The red peppers helped kick the party into gear. Take a bite of the shrimp patty, take a bite of pepper, stuff my mouth with fried rice, wash it down with beer, repeat until physically incapacitated. So many meals of my life follow these simple steps.
Believe it or not, this was only lunch. My AIL prepared enough food with a dozen people in mind but there were plenty of leftovers. But as always, the leftovers end up being like socks in the laundry; it all eventually mysteriously disappears.