Family food: com gia dinh


Sometimes dinner is just dinner–nothing fancy, nothing complicated.  Way back in the day when my family ran a restaurant in SoCal (a venture that failed rather spectacularly), we offered com phan gia dinh (family dinner).  Every evening, families who had reserved portions of the family dinner would arrive with multi-compartment tiffin containers, into which would be ladled soups, stir-fried vegetables, braised meat/fish, and rice.  You paid by the portion, so one portion would provide enough of each dish for one person.  The portions were generous and the prices ridiculously cheap–for $8-10 dollars, you could have a fantastic multi-course dinner.

The dishes would be the kind Vietnamese mothers and grandmothers made–hearty and satisfying.  Dishes were rotated daily so that you would never get the same things twice in a week.  Soups were of the canh variety–clear-broth with veggies and maybe some meat or seafood.  The meat/fish course could be braised thit heo kho (braised pork and eggs), ca kho to (braised caramel catfish), or even suon nuong (grilled pork chops).  The veggies could be rau muong (water spinach) or mustard greens or bok choy.  And, jasmine rice, of course.  Sometimes there may be dessert, some kind of che (pudding).

Although my family’s restaurant got a lot of business for these family dinners, we often passed judgement on the clients: only families who couldn’t cook would order out every night.  Now as a working mother, I would gladly pay for such a service!  Alas, no such service exists in Arlington.  So, I often make my own com gia dinh, and tonight it featured steamed fish with ginger and scallions, fried bitter melon with scrambled eggs, stir-fried baby bok choy, and rice.  I sent some over for the gia dinh (family) next door, too!

Note: I would prefer to steam whole fish, but fillets work well when whole is not an option.

IMG_7740Steamed fish with ginger and scallion:
1 lb flaky white fish fillet (flounder, cod, hake)
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned and a few slices finely chopped
2 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola, sunflower)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
2 tablespoons chicken stock
steaming dish and bamboo steamer set over a wok

IMG_7741Bitter melon:
1 large bitter melon, sliced in half length-wise, pitted, and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons neutral oil
2 garlic cloves finely minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon fish sauce
black pepper for garnish

Bok choy:
1/2 lb baby bok choy, trimmed, rinsed, and sliced in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon neutral oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce

IMG_7743Steamed fish: Arrange fish fillet in steaming dish (glass or porcelain dish), sprinkle a couple of pieces of ginger atop, cover tightly and steam for 12-18 minutes depending on thickness of the fillet.  In the meantime, heat oil in a small sauce pan, saute shallots and chopped ginger until fragrant (about 20 seconds), add soy sauce, rice wine, and stock/water.  Bring to a low simmer and remove from heat.  Once fish is cooked (should be flaky and opaque), carefully drain as much fish liquid as possible and sprinkle with scallions and julienned ginger.  Bring sauce to a quick boil and then pour immediately over fish, scallions, and ginger.

IMG_7745Bitter melon: Heat oil in a frying pan until hot, then add garlic stirring until fragrant.  Add bitter melon and saute until cooked but still crisp (about 4 minutes).  Add fish sauce.  Add beaten eggs and stir-fry, breaking up big chunks of scrambled eggs, until cooked through.  Serve with a dash of freshly ground black pepper.

IMG_7747Baby bok choy: Heat oil in a sauce until hot, add garlic then bok choy and stir-fry until cooked but still crisp–about 3 minutes.  Add fish sauce.

Serve immediately with jasmine rice and cold beer or a dry Sauvignon Blanc.

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