BY: Mylo Lam
Canh chua, translated as “sour soup,” is a tamarind-based stew that originated in the Mekong Delta.
¾ cup of “I barely know this man”
½ teaspoon of “I barely know his father”
6 cups of “I guess we’re all running away together now”
2 tamarind pods – picked from the tallest tree in the middle of a storm
1 pineapple – quartered and sliced (good luck)
2 tomatoes – quartered and sliced (good luck)
bean sprouts – as many as you can get your hands on
1 catfish – avoid the blood swimming downstream, if possible
- 1 handful of escargots (i.e. edible snails)
- 1 non-venomous snake (go for the head with a blunt object)
8 cups water – again, avoid the blood
Dash of whichever herbs and spices you can scrounge or barter for:
- Thai basil
- red chili pepper
sugar (get some from a fruit?)
1 deck of cards
- Two weeks before April 17, have a dream. All around you is fire except for a 40-foot statue of Quan Am off in the distance.
- Flee Phnom Penh. When your boyfriend tells you to run away with his family, refuse. That relationship isn’t going to last anyway.
- Be on the run for two weeks. Then, while running through the fields, see your boyfriend and his father chasing after you. No one else in their family is with them.
- For safety reasons, collect ingredients late at night/early in the morning and with a lookout.
- For the tamarind, have someone at the base of the tree, ready to catch it.
- Add water to a pot and bring to a boil.
- While water boils, play cards to pass the time.
- Add catfish/escargots/snake to pot.
- Add sugar.
- Smash tamarind to a fine pulp (feel free to use same blunt object used to kill snake).
- As your boyfriend sits there, realize you’ll probably have his children.
- Look over to your boyfriend’s dad, realize he’ll be your father-in-law.
- Say nothing.
- Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, then turn off heat.
- Toss in bean sprouts, garlic, and Thai basil.
- Quietly enjoy this meal.
- Eight months later, get to the border of Vietnam.
- Wait until the sun rises on January 1st.
- Have your future father-in-law use what little Vietnamese he knows to get you in.
- Hope you can get the ingredients needed to make proper canh chua.
- Have a dream you’re walking down a narrow concrete stairway, leading to the outside. At the base is a two-headed snake gazing at you.
- Realize you’re pregnant with your first daughter.
Mylo Lam is a writer and performer from Los Angeles. He and his family were refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. He holds a B.A. in communications and theater from UCLA and a Master of Education from Harvard University. His work will be published in the upcoming issue of Barrelhouse. More of his poetry can be viewed at mylolam.com.