Rice Talks: Food and Community in a Vietnamese Town
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Rice Talks explores the importance of cooking and eating in the everyday social life of Hoi An, a properous market town in central Vietnam known for its exceptionally elaborate and sophisticated local cuisine. In a vivid and highly personal account, Nir Avieli takes the reader from the private setting of the extended family meal into the public realm of the festive, extraordinary, and unique. He shows how foodways relate to class relations, gender roles, religious practices, cosmology, ethnicity, and even local and national politics. This evocative study departs from conventional anthropological research on food by stressing the rich meanings, generative capacities, and potential subversion embedded in foodways and eating.
the ones who maintain the household by tending to the family’s physical needs. They are also responsible for the family’s prosperity, because women, and not men, were traditionally involved with trade and commerce (Pham 1999: 38–39; Nguyen, T. C. 1993: 69). Thus, the fact that the protector of the house resides by the hearth acknowledges the centrality of women and of cooking in Vietnamese society. Indeed, the fact that the god of the hearth reports on family affairs to the Jade Emperor reflects
requires complementary vegetable gardening and animal husbandry, while it celebrates the successful harvest, and expresses the wish for bumper crops. As with the other Tet dishes, hopes for plenty and prosperity are intermingled with real livelihood anxieties, reflecting the unstable nature of the season. Consequently, practical and symbolic measures are taken to ensure the preservation of the stored crops. Due to the extensive boiling, the lard, and the leaf-wrapping, banh Tet can keep for a
9, 10–11, 71, 74, 85, 95, 227 areca nuts, 104, 123, 147, 152, 156; cultivation of palms, 5, 287n12. See also betel quid (trau cau) Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), 9, 46, 284n7, 287n9, 292n8 aroma of food, 40, 50; to balance am and duong, 55; of rice, 23, 24. See also nuoc mam (fish sauce) ash rice cakes, 78, 221, 229, 231, 233, 246; legend of, 223–27 Ashkenazi, Michael, 19, 23, 43 authenticity, 94, 99, 177, 227, 282nn10–11. See also identity Avieli, Irit, 20, 46, 57, 132, 251, 258,
herself: lettuce, mint, coriander, ngo om, bean sprouts…. She said that the ratio between the different greens depends on seasonal prices: when lettuce is cheap, there is plenty of it in the mix, but when the price goes up (usually during the flood season in November–December), she substitutes them with other cheaper greens. I squatted on the cement floor near the tap, filled a plastic basin with water, and soaked the greens. Squatting on one’s heels “Vietnamese-style” demands a painfully
for the controlled release of such tensions. The mere presence of extended family members calls for proper conduct even when problems arise. When Cu’s uncle insulted his hosts, he did it gently and the reaction was poker faces all round and the containment of the insult. Tones were maintained at normal level and everyone made believe that “everything was all right.” Of course, Cu’s uncle publicly made a statement that could not be ignored either. All the members of the extended family, as well as