My Asparagus Dealer

A few weeks ago, I had my first taste… and I was hooked.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The cravings were powerful. Almost daily, I’d find myself going back for more. But alas, the supply had run out. I asked everyone I met if they knew where I could score some. I was jonesing something awful.

Then yesterday morning, my phone rang.

It was my dealer.

“I got some product”, she said. “It’s 45 for the good stuff and 35 for the regular”.

I quickly got my wallet and hopped on my motorbike.

Within 10 minutes, I was the gleeful owner of two kis and couldn’t wait to get home for my fix.

My asparagus fix, of course. What were YOU thinking?

My precious...

My precious…

Moving to a foreign country leads to the inevitable cravings. No matter how good the food is where you are, ask any long-time traveler what their food craving is, and the answers will likely surprise you. You sometimes surprise yourself. Foods that you never really ate all that much of when you were back home, all of a sudden have the lure of crack. For me, it’s things that remind me of Costco. And home. But mostly Costco.

Like ready-made mini-quiches. Yummmm. And salmon. I could eat whole slabs of salmon. And cheese. Always cheese.

I will always love you…

It’s not that these things aren’t available here in Vietnam. (Well… sometimes they aren’t.) But when they are available, they cost an arm and a leg. My local supermarket has salmon. But it’s $5 for an unappetizing, frozen two-bite piece. When I was last at Costco, a whole side of fresh salmon was about $18.

Then there’s the cheese. Splurging just to buy a tiny bit almost makes it worse. I find myself rationing it out like a desert island survivor. (Yah! I finished a blog post today! I think I’ll reward myself with a nibble of cheese… Woo hoo! A new episode of Modern Family on Hulu? Bust out the cheese!) It’s pathetic. I’ll admit it.

The other day, I went to a shop downtown that specializes in selling imported goods. Ostensibly, I was there to buy some Thai green curry paste, but lingered around the frozen bagel section and trailed my fingers ever so lightly along the tubs of cream cheese. Then I saw it. A bag of dried cherries, cranberries and almonds. I had to conscientiously stifle my Pavlovian drooling and had a lump in my throat when I checked the price tag. $20. Ouch. For a bag of glorified trail mix. Really?

I sadly put it back on the shelf. “It will be mine. Oh, yes. It will be mine”, I whispered to myself in a steely voice.

That’s why I was so excited when a few weeks ago, I saw asparagus at the local market for only $2 for a half kilo bunch. I had never seen asparagus sold in Vietnam before, even though it’s supposedly grown somewhere in the hill country. Yes, it made my pee and sweat reek (you should have seen the oh-my-God-what-is-that-unearthly-smell looks I was getting from my tennis league…) but I didn’t care. It was delicious.

A small price to pay, really.

Day after day, I’d wander past the stall to the point where the seller just shook her head when she saw me, forlorn yet hopeful. “People in this market don’t know how to eat this”, she told me. “It’s too expensive. We hardly ever have any”. A dozen other vegetable sellers echoed her. They hadn’t even heard of asparagus before. Like EVER. I even google imaged asparagus to show them what it was. “Nope. Never seen it”, came the inevitable reply.

So I did what anyone in need of a good fix does. I gave my phone number to a dealer. “I’ll call you when we get some in”, she said.

I’ve been happily eating asparagus for days. Blanched and in a salad. Grilled with a little olive oil. Stir-fried with beef.

Which led me to buy all the stir-fry ingredients pre-prepared at the same local market. It’s not Costco mini-quiches, but I’ll take it.

You people simply do NOT know how good you have it…

100g of finely diced shallots and garlic for 20 cents. Vietnamese garlic is tiny compared to regular garlic. All the home cooks swear that it tastes much better, but my clumsy non-chef fingers take forever to peel shallots and garlic. Veto.

Everything’s bigger in America?

Pre-cut assorted vegetables: carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and string beans. Half kilo for $0.70

I mean, who has time to chop broccoli?

Pre-sliced beef. 200 grams for $2.00. 15 minutes later, the stir-fry was ready. Life was good again.

If loving asparagus is a sin, then I’s be guilty.

What about you? What’s your go-to food craving when you’re far from home?

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19 thoughts on “My Asparagus Dealer

  1. gwen healy

    that is the most beautiful asparagus I have ever seen and I live in the U.S.! made me want to just snatch it right off the monitor. give that vendor my phone number!!!!! I’m chopping veggies right now, how long did you say the wait was????

    1. James Post author

      Thanks, Gwen. Chopping veggies is for chumps! Now that I’ve found the place that has it ready chopped, I can’t see why I’d ever do it myself again. I just got another pound of it today. Perhaps blanched and combined in a watercress salad along with the roasted sesame Japanese dressing I just bought. Vietnamese cooking doesn’t have a lot of leafy greens – they’re mainly used as a garnish, so I sometimes get salad cravings too!
      James recently posted..The Agony and Ecstasy of Bargaining in VietnamMy Profile

  2. Helen

    We have asparagus sometimes, but it’s about $4 per kilo . . . worth it! I’m addicted to leeks and salmon. I get them across the border in Thailand. A splurge, but well worth it!

  3. chu Bach

    I make a note to remind me to bring you next April from Costco some frozen goodies like Swiss fondue, smoked salmon. I guess they can survive 48 hours between freezers. Other suggestions?

    1. James Post author

      I have friends who buy a small styrofoam cooler and load it up with frozen steaks and salmon, etc. every time they go back to the US. One time, there was an overnight power outage (not uncommon in Phnom Penh) so everything thawed out. They spent the next week gorging on steaks and salmon! But fondue and smoked salmon sound amazing! If there’s room, almonds and cranberries, please! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
      James recently posted..Are you a celebrity? Cuz I just might stalk you…My Profile

  4. cosmoHallitan

    Love this one! What I wouldn’t do for a Costco run right about now. I would buy bags and bags of pre-washed baby spinach. Here in Shanghai, even at the Western market, the mature plant is still attached to the root, dirt and all. Not fun to prepare. Plus we depleted our supply of sunscreen and Deep Woods Off with Deet in Thailand.
    cosmoHallitan recently posted..Exploring Thailand’s Sukhothai RuinsMy Profile

    1. James Post author

      My last few trips back to the US, visiting friends in Hawaii has been my last stop before Asia. They now know to just leave me at Costco for a few hours while I roam the aisles like a half-starved zombie looking, touching and trying to hold back tears. A huge TUB of fresh peach salsa? Check. A wheel of cheese as big as my head? Check. Slabs of salmon? Check.

      With how much you LOVE food, why don’t you guys have a Chinese cook already? I had a part-time cook in Phnom Penh and by the end of her 8-year tenure with me, we had worked out a menu with hundreds of items. At the beginning of each month, I’d plan out exactly what I wanted to eat and it’d magically appear. The. best. ever.
      James recently posted..A Trip to the Supermarket (Now With Photos!)My Profile

  5. Kyla

    I’ve never been far enough away from home for long enough to experience the Food DTs of which you speak which in and of itself makes me not feel so sorry for you.


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