I feel like I have to share with you great memories of a place that used to be, and I am sure, a place that if you look hard, you can still find. In my youth, we used to go to Dalat once a year. I came to anticipate the scent of pine trees, the gushing waterfalls, the exploding color of its gardens, and the mist that hangs there in the early summer morning, which of coursse is Dalat's wet season (although there are many sunny days even during the rainy season). But one of the highlights of any trip to Dalat, for me, is preparing for it, and driving there. I remembered that my Mom used to prepare for the trips several days in advance. We would pack our big coats, our long-sleeved blouses, and leggings, which I only got to wear a few times in those ill-fated ballet classes that my Mom thought would turn me from a tomboy to what, a girl? But the best is the food. We only have one type, very basic, but we only have it when we go to Dalat.
So what is it? The first ingredient is a lot of rice, placed in a piece of fabric, then squeezed repeatedly until all the air has gone out. It's not too much different from making sushi rolls, except that the bamboo mat restricts the squeezing a bit, and the sushi roll is a lot fluffier. After the squeezing process, what you would have is a cylindrical roll of rice that is as heavy as a piece of brick. The rice is then sliced into one-inch thich slices, then wrapped in a plastic bag. That's our starch. What to accompany the rice? My mom would prepare this chicken dish, which is actually fairly simple. The chicken is cut into large chunks, with all of the skin and bones still on, then stir fried in garlic until golden, then you add soy sauce, sugar, and lots and lots of pepper. The sauce is thick, and when drizzled on the rice, makes heaven. That is what we always bring.
The drive to Dalat took us through strange sceneries. The city is at high elevation, the Truong Son mountains seemed huge to a little girl, and we passed through switchbacks, something you never see around Saigon and the Mekong Delta. We always stopped by streams that owed their births to the gushing waterfalls, that again formed because of the huge dam near Dalat, and amidst that beautiful scenery, had our fabulous rice and chicken lunch. While the absolute magic of that was gone when I went back and took the same trip to Dalat, the logic being that my whole family was not there, I still love the rice, the chicken, and the streams.