One day I found Mom sitting on the floor, at the low table where we ate all our meals, the one with the elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay of peacocks. She bought it from one of the Asian markets in the International Village. It sits in her house today, and she still eats most of her meals there, though she has a Western dining room table now. When I go home, this is where she serves me eggs over easy and pho.
Incidentally, I have no good photos of the table because it’s always covered in food. This is the best one I’ve got:
My mother is what I would call an obligatory grazer – she rarely eats full meals, instead picking at this and that throughout the day. Her favorite things to eat are items that take considerable time to pick at: turkey necks, oxtails, chicken feet. Things you wouldn’t consider very filling and have a poor effort-to-calorie ratio. She also has a sweet tooth and indulges in miscellaneous Asian cookies and French chocolates from Pa Thom. She is a champion snacker.
That particular day, years and years ago, she was eating something new to me.
“What’s that?” I asked.
She turned and smiled widely, lips and eyes squeezed tight to reveal almost nothing. Everyone says I have the same smile.
“Ice cream and kao-niew,” she said. “Want to try?”
Indeed, she had a scoop of vanilla ice cream mixed in a bowl with gobs of sticky rice. I thought it was weird but no more so than anything else she ever fed me. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it was something she had eaten in Laos or something she invented more recently. After one bite, the dish seemed as normal to me as apple pie or kao thom.
By the way, kao-niew with vanilla ice cream tastes like a rich man’s version of rice pudding.