I grew up eating a sticky, mochi-like Vietnamese cake that my mom and Vietnamese family friends would buy for us that was coconut and cassava-based. I always enjoyed it, but I never actually knew what it was called. Then, at our home in San Francisco, we hosted a potluck dinner party where I invited a friend and her husband over, and as their dish, they brought over a sheet cake that was just like this cake from my childhood, coconut and cassava based. I inhaled it and wanted to make it and recreate it.
Well, then I forgot about it, and I had another bite of it somewhere, and then wanted to recreate it again. Then, I found a recipe for it in a Vietnamese cookbook I own, and it called for frozen shredded cassava. The local Chinese market I got to in Manhattan Chinatown never had it, so I gave up. But given that this brunch party is happening this weekend, I knew I wanted to try a new Asian dessert. I HAD to make this cake. I was craving it in my head. So I did a quick Yelp search for frozen cassava and finally came across an actual Vietnamese grocery store in Chinatown that not only sells frozen cassava but all kinds of fresh Vietnamese baked goods (like Vietnamese “tamales” and sticky rice cakes).
I went tonight and was in heaven. It’s not a big store, nor is it fancy, but it’s packed with all kinds of goodies. Endless Vietnamese baked goods, Vietnamese ham (cha lua), all kinds of frozen goods that I could tinker with. Cut and grated lemongrass was packaged and frozen in the freezer — that would be an incredible convenience. Fresh Vietnamese rice noodles neatly packaged were lined up by the cash register. There were all these products I’d never even heard of before that I knew I had to do more research on. What would I do with frozen purple yam?
I can’t believe it took me over ten years to take the few seconds to research Vietnamese groceries in this city. Now, I can overcompensate for lost time by always coming here every time I go down to Manhattan Chinatown.