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

Protein alternatives:

  • 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
  • garlic

sugar (get some from a fruit?)

1 deck of cards


  1. 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.
  2. Flee Phnom Penh. When your boyfriend tells you to run away with his family, refuse. That relationship isn’t going to last anyway.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Add water to a pot and bring to a boil.
    • While water boils, play cards to pass the time.
  6. Add catfish/escargots/snake to pot.
  7. Add sugar.
  8. 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.
  9. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes, then turn off heat.
  10. Toss in bean sprouts, garlic, and Thai basil.
  11. Quietly enjoy this meal.
  12. 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.
  13. 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