Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Little green bean cakes and my memory of "chị Ký"

These little green bean cakes in shape of colourful fruits would recall many people among us about a sweet childhood. We used to love these cakes, we could look at them, admire them long before eating, we could check one by one, we could jump and scream with joy "it's a mango, it's plum, it's a mandarin..." All these cakes made of green bean, sometime people could mix the green bean paste with coconut milk, to make it tastier...but I personally prefer the pure, fragrant green bean flavour.

         The green bean cakes in shape of colourful fruits - a sweet memory of my childhood.

Today these cakes seemed no longer popular as before, but when I see it, I always remember my cousin who used to make these beautiful miniature fruits for me in the past. I still remember my cousin used the oil to make a better shape of the cakes. I didn't like the oil's smell, I told her once and it seemed upset her...

                          I didn't see these cakes for long...

My memory of my cousin, a woman whose life was not easy, probably never faded away. I used to call her "chị Ký", I couldn't say how close she was cousin to me, I still didn't know why everyone called her "chị Ký" when her real name was "Hồng". She was talkative, my mom had to stop her talking all the time. God seemed didn't give her any mercies. She was skilful at some cooking but she was a such "butterfly" in her personal life and a "loser" in everything she did. My memories about her are the different pictures at the different times, not connected to each others...

                        made of green bean, coconut milk, gelatine and raisin...

It was sometime before 1975, I was about 5 or 6 year old, chị Ký took me to a big villa of some high ranking army officer in Saigon. I never imagined why my mom allowed me to go with her...My cousin was a beauty at that time and probably a girlfriend of many officers ( I was told about that later!). We arrived to the officer's villa in his jeep in the evening. She left me with some Coca Cola in a big living room, high ceiling with the luxurious chandelier which brightened the room with its flashy light, high windows with the chiffon curtain...I couldn't remember how long I was there, waiting for chị Ký in that quiet room, I was too young to wonder what happened with them upstairs.

                           The cashew fruit, the perfect shape

From time to time she suddenly appeared to our doorstep, my mother always supported her by loaning her some money that she never paid back...One day my mom decided not to loan her any money but to buy her a sale-cart so chị Ký could sell the fruit cocktail (sinh tố), at the entrance of our alley in the neighbourhood. In the afternoon I used to come there, standing behind the cart to play like a sale guy...I even tried to make a cocktail with jackfruit.

My mom bought all items so chị Ký could made the malt candy (kẹo mạch nha), I remember a giant pan for making malt in our house, I didn't remember how good the malt candy she did, but it greatly attracted our curious neighbours, it was a long day to make the candy. After months I saw the fruit-cocktail cart left abandoned in the corner, the big pan gone and chị Ký disappeared.

                       There is a super thin gelatine cover, tasty, sweet with some raisin inside. 

Another story about my cousin. It was in early 1970s, there was a big rumour in Saigon about some King of some country in Africa (edited: in fact it was a President Bokassa of Central Africa) was looking for his daughter with some Vietnamese woman during his service in the French colonial army in 1950s. Someday chị Ký came to our house together with young teenager girl, mixed with African and Asian, she asked my mom to adopt this girl, so my mom could make a fortune...My mom blamed chị Ký "Why you are always doing a nonsense". This word "nonsense" was like an unseparated part of chị Ký, whenever someone in the family talking about her.

                     It should be a good treat during some special family occasion 

The last memory about her...
In 1975 in the turbulent April chị Ký suddenly, as usual, came to our house with a lot of food cans, food bags that she probably took from the US warehouse at the port during the chaos...That could be the only time she brought something to our family.
Later whenever chị Ký stopped by, she was dressed very poorly, several worn shirts on her and she was smelly, her voice was deeper, her thick, back hair before now became pepper-and-salt. I noticed her tired eyes...I couldn't find again the image of her beauty of the old days that I hardly remember.

She became like a witch in my eyes. I already forgot when I met chị Ký for the last time...All years passing by, until the day I was told that chị Ký spent her last days in the hospital without anyone nearby and lonely passed away. Very few people in the family knew about it. Her image gradually fading away in our mind...but strangely every time I see these small little cakes...I recall her, my late chị Ký!

                         A big box of 22 different fruits - 95,000 VND

I bought these little cakes at 392 Điện Biên Phủ, a shop named "Cafe Châu Sài Gòn", 95,000 đồng per box with 22 cakes, but you could also call  09 333 888 70 to order for delivery. The cakes are good, a bit sweet but tasty and you could keep for 4 days in the fridge. 

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