Cháo Bồi (Vietnamese seafood porridge)

Whenever people ask me what my family eats for Thanksgiving, I’m somewhat hesitant to answer, fearing that we Nguyens might seem unpatriotic.


Although we have embraced many cultural aspects of our adopted nation, we go rogue at the end of November. We’ve lived in the United States for almost 50 years, but some foods aren’t entirely in our vacation orbit. After roasting giant supermarket turkeys in the late 1970s, my mother permanently replaced them with eighty-six in favor of chickens (a popular meat in Vietnam) stuffed with sticky rice, shiitake mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and sip of cognac. Potatoes were best fried, baked, roasted, or simmered in gravy dishes, never mashed. (Why would you need mashed potatoes if there’s sticky rice?) Until recently, she avoided Brussels sprouts, thinking they were defined by the overcooked canned orbs we were served at the refugee resettlement camp when we arrived in the United States.


In my 40s, I certainly don’t live and cook under my mother’s control, but I’ve never been comfortable with conventional Thanksgiving either. When I was in college and living with my brother in Los Angeles, we oddly baked a box of commercial bread stuffing and were disappointed. When my Irish, German and American boyfriend invited me to his family’s Thanksgiving, I immediately said yes. It turned out that his people preferred to dine at Lawry’s in Beverly Hills, where everyone ordered prime ribs and rounds of martinis. (I followed suit because, honestly, I was still a prime rib virgin in 1990.)


I married this boyfriend, in part because he understood and accepted my family’s traditions. My dad passed away in 2021, and as long as my mom lives, we’ll be at her house this Thanksgiving feasting on favorite Vietnamese dishes. She will spoil us with heaps of fried imperial cha giò rolls and platters of herbaceous goi (mixed salads). And we’ll be slurping up cháo bô`i, a rice porridge loaded with seafood and silky tapioca pearls (recipe on the right), and, before the meal is done, we’ll want to dibs on leftover soup . (That’s never a problem because she will have made a triple batch.)


My mother’s cháo bô`i is a light and savory porridge of shrimp, crab and mushrooms suspended in a silky soup of rice and tapioca pearls. The rice grains are parboiled and then simmered until their ends split and “bloom” for a soft texture. For a nice finish, cut the shrimp in half symmetrically so they cook in pink-orange curls.


Our Thanksgiving ends with slices of fresh Fuyu persimmons and mooncakes. These sweets reflect the season: the fruits are harvested from my generous neighbor’s trees, and the cakes connect us to Teˆ´t Trung Thu, the Mid-Autumn Festival, an important harvest festival in East Asia. which usually takes place in September. It signals a time to rest, consider nature’s bounty, reunite with loved ones, and feel grateful. – Andrea Nguyen

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