Little stools for little people

Since we’ve arrived in Vietnam, Chris has been excited and eager to try the food, but depending on how simple and hole-in-the-wall the restaurant or food stall is, he’s been dreading the seating situation… as in, do I actually get to sit in a proper chair, a normal-height stool, or a teeny tiny stool that barely clears one foot tall?

For whatever reason, the first time I came to Vietnam in 2008, the tiny sitting stools didn’t phase me. I just accepted them and sat on them. The more no-frills the place was, the more likely the establishment was to have these small stools for sitting. As several people we spoke with joked and commented, “Vietnamese people are a small people. We are not tall.” ¬†Even my dad, who is the same height as Chris at 5’9″, found them comical 11 years ago when we came together, reminding him of the past, and commented that they weren’t great for his back. But he didn’t complain at all and just took it all in.

At this point in our trip, it’s hard to count the number of times we’ve had to sit on these tiny stools while eating. Then when we arrived at a much anticipated banh cuon shop (these are steamed Vietnamese rice rolls typically stuffed with minced pork, shrimp, cloud ear mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms, then dunked in nuoc cham dipping sauce; one of my absolute favorite dishes on earth), Chris immediately whined and whinged. “Are these people trying to kill me?! I don’t know how long I can sit like this. Order quickly so we can eat quickly and go.”

We ordered our banh cuon, Vietnamese cinnamon meatloaf slices, pork and lemongrass skewers, and freshly pressed soy milk. Although Chris usually doesn’t care for soy milk, he has been really enjoying the soy milk here, which is what I call real soy milk as it was meant to be prepared and enjoyed: fresh pressed from steaming soy beans, with just a touch of sugar to sweeten. I have fond memories of enjoying this beverage almost every morning off the streets in Shanghai, and also on the last Vietnam trip. During my childhood, my mom frequently bought fresh soy milk from a reputable Asian shop on Clement Street in San Francisco. So the taste and texture have been with me forever. So while I still like soy milk in the U.S. out of a carton, even with its added preservatives, thickeners, and who else knows what got added into it, I will always have a soft spot for real Asian soy milk. And now I know I can get Chris to drink soy milk if I get him the authentic stuff.

As soon as we were done eating, Chris pressed me to pay as soon as possible and leave. I guess this is just another one of the small benefits of being petite: the tiny sitting stools don’t bother me as much, and I could probably sit all day like that without any pain or knee buckling.


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