Nectarine and pickled cucumber rice paper rolls {vegan + gluten-free} #immigrantfoodstories

In all the years I’ve shared my stories in this space, something has always stopped me from sharing any of the most harrowing story I know. It’s never felt like my story to tell and even today, I feel a little nervous because it’s not my story. It never will be. But in light of all that has and is happening over in the US the past few weeks, I feel it’s as important a time as ever to share these exact stories. In the hopes that we can all grow a little bit more tolerant, grow a little bit more welcoming and grow a whole lot more grateful and full of love, for our fellow humans.

I often think about how differently my life would’ve turned out, had there not been a war in Vietnam…

I was born 5 years after Saigon fell to the communist North, 20 years after the war began. It was also the year my husband (age 5) and his family successfully fled South Vietnam (after three previous foiled attempts). Floating silently in the dead of night down a series of smaller rivers in a boat hand-built by my father-in-law, they connected to the Mekong River and from there floated out into the open sea. To safety, or so they hoped. My husband, Si, is one of 9 children. His parents wouldn’t risk jail, robbery or death to save their family, unless the risk of staying was far greater than the risk of leaving. I can’t even being to imagine the choices they had to make.

3 days after leaving Vietnam they arrived in Malaysia, thankfully all alive, but only just. For many years after Si and I first met, I queried him on why his memories of it all were so faint. I mean, 5 years old you remember a bit right? After talking with my mother-in-law a few years ago, I finally got to the bottom of the missing memories. Over the three days it took to get from Vietnam to Malaysia, Si and his siblings floated in and out of consciousness, severely dehydrated, scorched from the blazing South East Asian sun and no doubt starving (as they had fled with only a handful of coconuts to feed 13). Can you even begin to imagine?…

The fact that they all made it alive is something my mother-in-law still marvels at. Her stories of whole boats, crammed full of dead bodies washing up on the beach near the refugee camp they called home for nearly a year, still sends chills up and down my spine whenever I think about it. Not everyone was as lucky as them.

Many Vietnamese called these camps home for years and years, but through luck, sheer determination or a combination of both (I’m sure), Si’s parents managed to secure sponsorship from an incredible family in Perth, Western Australia and the rest they say, is history.

What if there was no war in Vietnam and Si’s family never had to flee? What if a sponsor never came and he lived his whole life in that camp in Malaysia? What if, what if. Questions I often ponder. I think it’s pretty safe to say my life wouldn’t be what it was right now.

In the current uncertainty of the world, the way I see it is we have two choices. To accept everyone and all as ONE human race. Or believe the fear-mongering people in power and go against human decency, setting out to divide an already divisive world. I’m well aware of the privilege I hold as a mostly pakeha (European) person, born to a New Zealand family. I know the struggles I have in my life are nothing compared to so many others in this world. It breaks my heart to think that people from war-torn countries may not be allowed to lead a life of relative safety, a life like my husband now has simply because of the religion they follow or the country they are born in. Sure, recent refugees and immigrants will tell you that the pain and hurt doesn’t always go away once they’re safely on foreign soil. Racism and horrid humans exist everywhere, I know. But to be able to put your children to bed, in a bed, in a house, without bomber planes flying overhead, well, shouldn’t that be something every human on earth deserves?

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I think it’s fair to say, I LOVE Vietnamese food. If you own my first cookbook or were following me on Instagram when we traveled Vietnam with the kids are few years ago, you’ll know my two favourite dishes are banh xeo (crispy rice flour pancake, pg 126 in My Darling Lemon Thyme) and rice paper rolls (my original recipe features on pg 72 of the same book). While Vietnam shares many of its dishes with neighboring countries, including chao (rice congee) and many of its sticky rice sweet treats, rice paper rolls and banh xeo as far as I know are quintessentially Vietnamese. (I do have a vague memory of a deep-fried rice paper roll version in Cambodia or Laos, but I’m talking about just the fresh kind here).

Rice paper rolls (commonly known in the US as summer rolls) are traditionally served family style. Everything is placed in the centre of the table and everyone helps themselves, making and eating as you do. We’ve eaten them most weeks since Si and I first met, I don’t think I could ever tire of them. Even in the midst of winter I get cravings for their minty, salty/sweet goodness. The version I’m sharing today is a riff on ones we used to make when we lived in Perth, with mango trees in our backyard. Sadly, there’s no mangoes here in NZ (I refuse to buy the sappy imports from Peru and the Aussie ones are EXPENSIVE as hell) so nectarine stands in its place, providing texture and natural sweetness. The quick cucumber pickle is something I’ve made for many years, and is something I’m always adding into everything!

This post is part of a synchronised blog series from a bunch of my food blogging friends around the world, instigated by dear friend Kimberley Hasselbrink and created to bring immigrant stories and their amazing food to the world. You can follow along via social media by searching the hashtag #immigrantfoodstories and also make sure you check out all the other blog posts, stories and recipes below:

Eat this Poem- Warm Potato Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette and Lots of Herbs

Honestly Yum- Lu Dan (soy eggs)

Kale & Caramel- Fatteh with Cumin Chickpeas and Tahini Yoghurt

The Year in Food- Winter Squash Fritters

Full-filled- Lahanodolmades- Greel Cabbage Rolls with Avgolemono Sauce

Floating Kitchen- Eetch/Mock Kheyma (Armenian Bulgur, Parsley and Tomato Salad)

Brooklyn Supper- Spelt Crust Apple Pandowdy

Farmette- Sharba Libiya (Libyan soup)

Crepes of Wrath- Szarlotka (Polish apple pie)


PS. Thanks SO much to everyone for your insane response to my last somewhat emotive blog post. I will be responding to that all as soon as I can. Much love xx

Nectarine + pickled cucumber rice paper rolls

The natural sweetness of nectarines is the perfect partner to my favourite quick-pickled cucumber. I’ve used cashew nuts here, but use roasted peanuts if preferred. Once all the cucumber has been eaten, you can use the picking liquor to make another batch and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days. It’s awesome added to salads and sandwiches. If you’re a lucky Aussie or live somewhere where mangoes are abundant and beautiful, by all means use them in place of the nectarines. 
Makes 10-12

Pickled cucumber

50ml apple cider vinegar

100ml cold water (filtered)

25g unrefined raw sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 telegraph cucumber

 

2 firm nectarines, sliced thinly

1 x 35g packet vermicelli noodles (bean thread), soaked in boiling water 10 minutes + drained

1/2 cup toasted cashew nuts, roughly chopped

handful mint leaves, lettuce or sorrel leaves, chives (I also used rocket (arugula) flowers from my garden)

1 packet large Vietnamese rice paper

 

Dipping Sauce

Gluten-free hoisin sauce (I used Ayam brand)

The juice of 1/2 – 1 lime

Finely chopped red chilli, to taste, optional

 

To make the pickled cucumber, combine apple cider vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside until cool. Julienne the cucumber either using a mandolin or with a sharp knife. I tend to leave out (and just eat!) the middle seedy bit as it’s a bit too watery to julienne. Place into a bowl and pour over cooled syrup. Stir and set aside until required or cover and refrigerate for an hour or more if you have time.

To make the dipping sauce, combine as much hoisin sauce as you think you’ll need with a little lime juice, to thin. Transfer to dipping bowls and scatter over chilli, if using.

To make rice paper rolls, get yourself a nice flat bowl and fill 3/4 with warm water (either hot from the tap or use boiled filtered water and cool with cold water). Dip one rice paper in the water quickly, just enough to wet but not soften. Transfer to a large plate. Add a little of each filling, then fold up as shown above and roll to secure. Repeat with more rice papers and ingredients and serve with dipping sauce. Enjoy x

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  • Lan | MoreStomach
    February 7, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    we also escaped vietnam via boat. i don’t remember it, i was just two. we managed to get to Bataan, Philippines. we were also very lucky, we were only there for 6 months and then sponsored to the US. i wonder how life would be if i we had not left our coastal beach town of Nha Trang.

    thank you for sharing your husband’s story. and thank you for embracing diversity, in life and in food.

  • Nik Sharma
    February 7, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Such a beautiful story of courage and strength, Emma! XOXO to you and your family.

  • Joyce @ Sun Diego Eats
    February 7, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    It’s crazy how easy it is to forget that the primary motivation behind incredible feats of courage like this is the universal human will to provide a better life for your children. People don’t risk their lives crossing deserts and oceans to steal menial low-income jobs or to become a rapist abroad.

    Thanks for sharing your husband’s story, with so many people on different platforms sharing their own immigrant or refugee pasts it reminds us all we are much closer to people with similar such stories than we think.

  • Keao Daniels
    February 7, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    Such an amazing story to read. Thank you for sharing yet another piece of your life and for the inspiration. Xx

  • Kris
    February 7, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    A beautiful post — thank you for sharing your husband’s story! Had me in tears and reminded me of the stories my elder relatives would tell about fleeing the Ukraine in the early part of last century. Through your words and food you manage to bring light to difficult subjects and to ultimately unite us all. ox

  • Paige
    February 7, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Beautiful project. Your contribution is powerful. Thank you for helping to raise the consciousness of us all.

  • Cheryl Lindblad
    February 7, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Always inspiring to read about the lives of other people. It is so easy to get caught up in one´s personal life. I always find that my reaction to personal stories is gratitude and appreciation for the world that I live in. Thank you for your story and the inspiration.

  • kim
    February 7, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing your husband’s story. It sent shivers down my spine thinking about those poor little kids starving, without fresh water on that crammed boat. I can not understand the lack of concern some have for refugees. It makes me feel so, so sad. Xxx
    Ps Vietnamese is my favourite food!!!

  • Liz (Good Things)
    February 7, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Dearest Emm, thank you so much for sharing this amazing story about the journey your husband’s family took to freedom. I, too, am the child of migrants. My parents, with my older siblings, fled their homeland to the safety of the west just after the Uprising of 1956. My family is just one of many, many, many millions who need/ed help and understanding. I am completely gob-smacked by the ever-growing culture of fear-mongering around the world, and the inaction of many governments to assist those who are most in need, and heartbroken to read the plight of those people in this modern world. That’s why I’m donating a percentage of the royalties from my book, which is about my family’s story, to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I will read the other stories from the blog list with great interest and share them widely. Thank you again. xxx

  • Dana
    February 7, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    Thank you for recounting this story. I appreciate hearing personal histories and my heart is breaking daily at the sad ones. “You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” I’m looking into sponsoring a family, but my country makes it illegal….. so, I’m looking at other ways to help. I’m sending you so much love and best wishes.

  • Shannon
    February 8, 2017 at 12:17 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It is so important to hear these! I remember reading something once (although I’m not sure who to credit the quote to) along the lines of “it is easy to hate someone until you know their story”. I try to convince myself that all of the anger, fear and hate towards refugees comes from a place of ignorance and that combating that ignorance with the stories and experiences of real people is how we move forward. These stories remind us of humanity and trigger our compassion and that is such a gift. Again, thank you.

    PS: The rice paper rolls look delicious! I’ve never thought of adding fruit before, can’t wait to try them.

  • Liberty Browne @ Homespun Capers
    February 8, 2017 at 2:56 am

    I loved reading this, thank you for sharing Emma 💚 It’s a really great initiative as a whole. I’m Australian of mixed heritage, and my mum often talks of how my great grandmother would “hide” her Greek heritage in an era (50s) when her nationality was not particularly welcome in Australia. Her fridge was filled with tinned asparagus and white bread, no celebration of good food at all. No pride in heritage.
    We need to spread love and tolerance, and we need to welcome other cultures – especially when they have risked their lives to make a better situation for their families.

  • Carlos At Spoonabilities
    February 9, 2017 at 12:08 am

    Such a beautiful and inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing. Lovely!

  • Jacquie
    February 9, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    What a story!we all come from somewhere and maybe we all should remember that.You sure got me thinking lately,i think you need to know that(:I have been making sure I leave comments of support for a lot of brave ladies lately instead of just drifting through blogs.yep,you sure got me thinking

  • Ashlae
    February 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Such a powerful story, Em. I am beyond thankful for your willingness to share and have the utmost respect for Si and his family. I can’t even imagine being faced with the decision to flee ones home but what a beautiful ending it had. Hugs to you, lady.

  • Jamie E Little
    February 15, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Thank you for this story, it is so important in these times.

  • Deborah (Vintage Macaroon)
    February 16, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Great writing Emma. Love this post, and all the other #immigrationfoodstores. Its important for people to hear how our lives would be so different if people hadn’t moved around the world, whether thats through immigration, migration, or as refugees. It makes our world so great.

  • Ruby & Cake
    February 18, 2017 at 4:34 am

    I’m really pleased you decided to share this story,the Vietnam war was devastating to so many and is a prime example of why we shouldn’t be closing our boarders to those who need help. Our community benefited hugely from settled refugees who brought so much with them. The state of the world is so scary but it is heartwarming to read so many voices speak up about their own or others experiences. Love the photos and the idea of putting nectarine in fresh spring rolls. Yum!

  • Mithra
    March 4, 2017 at 7:58 am

    I loved your blog..I Definetly try this recipe for weekend !!