Not going to lie the last few weeks have been a tough one for me and my family. On August 9th at 7am, my mom calls me to tell me that I need to fly to Michigan because my grandpa wasn’t doing well. I booked the first flight the next day out to Michigan only to find out that I was too late. To be honest, I was sad but it was a long time coming. My grandpa had been in decline for years. The week that followed was a total blur with emotions ranging from sadness to pure joy. I got the chance to spend some time with my entire family, something that I have not done for 5 or so years. A part of me feels like my grandpa’s final gift to us was bringing us together again.
The meaning of life in the West vs East
During my trip, I watched the movie “The Farewell” about a family preparing for the death of their mother/grandmother by telling her a lie so that she didn’t have to carry the burden of her sickness. In the movie, one character talks about the difference between the East and West. He says that in the West, we believe that our lives belong only to ourselves but in the East, they believe that a person’s life belongs to everyone. This was something I thought a lot about as we prepared to send my grandpa home. I realized how much my grandpa’s life touched so many others even those not a part of our family. It really felt like he was a part of all of us and that’s why so many people stepped up to help us give him a proper send off.
I also realized that family is not built only by blood but by those who are there for you without hesitation when you need it the most. Part of the difficulty of my grandpa’s funeral service was that he was Catholic while most of the family is Buddhist, so in order to be a part of the ceremony, a person had to speak Vietnamese well and be baptized. That eliminated basically our entire family, so my aunt’s adoptive family stepped up to perform a lot of the religious portions of the ceremony.
I honestly have never met more decent people in my life. While I have known them my whole life, I never really considered them a part of my family because they are not related by blood. I was definitely wrong. I remember walking up to my aunt’s sister, and I told her that I didn’t know what to say because they stepped up when we couldn’t. And she said, “We’re all family. We always thank him for letting us be a part of his family.” When she said that, I nearly lost it. There are no words to express how I feel about them. I guess all I can say is thank you.
Hollywood’s Vietnamese Chicken Curry
As I look back on the past few weeks all I want to do is find some comfort in the things that are familiar for a little while. And because it’s me, I find comfort in food. I stayed at my aunt’s house while I was in Michigan, and she is literally one of the best – if not the best – cooks I’ve ever met. All her food seems to give you a warm hug when you eat it. This Vietnamese Chicken Curry is one of the dishes she made me and my cousins. I feel like this dish most represents her. She’s spicy like curry powder but also sweet like coconut milk. She also always stands apart from the crowd like the bright yellow color of this dish.
So you’re probably thinking why am I calling it HOLLYWOOD’S Vietnamese Chicken Curry. My aunt’s real name is Huong. Hollywood is a nickname my family gave her because she walks with the confidence of a Hollywood leading lady. And on a personal level, if making a dish could make you famous, this would be the one that would do it for her. lol
What makes a Vietnamese chicken curry special?
When my aunt was making this dish, I asked her what was in it. She laughed at me and said, “Oh you know a little bit of this and little bit of that.” And I said, “That’s not very helpful!” But the truth is most Vietnamese cooking is through taste and feel which is vastly different from cooking in the West where we have precise measurements for every ingredient. So because of that, this is, in a sense, my own version of her Vietnamese chicken curry recipe.
The hallmarks of a good Vietnamese chicken curry is a bright yellow soup made with curry powder, fish sauce, coconut milk, and lemongrass. The soup is a lot more watery that Indian curries and similar in consistency to Thai curries. Most Vietnamese curries are also eaten with noodles not rice. This recipe in particular is special because my aunt adds cream of mushroom to it for texture and flavor. Yes you read that right! That red and white can of Campbell’s soup goes in here. Trust me it’s amazing.
Making this curry
Even though this curry may look difficult, it’s actually quite simple to make! First brown your chicken in a large soup pot. This adds some color and flavor to the chicken. Then add in your curry powder, oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and bay leaves. Mix everything together and make sure the chicken is coated in the spices and sauces. Add in the carrots and mix well. After about 30 seconds, add in the rest of the ingredients up to the onion. Bring the pot to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add in the potatoes and simmer for another 30 minutes. Lastly, add in the coconut milk and cream of mushroom and simmer for 15 more minutes. The soup is done at this point. Serve over noodles and a squeeze of lime juice.
Substitutions and Adjustments
Below are some additions and substitutions you can make!
- You can add in 1 daikon to add more sweetness to the soup.
- If you don’t want to eat it with vermicelli noodles, you can substitute it with rice or bread. I prefer baguette bread with the curry.
- You can substitute the chicken thighs and drumsticks with chicken breast which will reduce the richness of the broth. The bones add richness to the broth.
- You can use any kind of potatoes for this recipe.
- Shallots can be substituted for onions.
Did you make this chicken curry?
If you made this dish, I would love to see!
Hollywood's Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)
- 2 lb drumsticks
- 2 lb chicken thighs with bones
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp curry powder
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 stalks lemongrass cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 carrots cut into chunks
- 4 cups water
- 1 can chicken stock 14.5 oz
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 russet potatoes cubed
- 1 can coconut milk 14.5 oz
- 1 can cream of mushroom 10.5 oz
- 1 package vermicelli noodles
- 1 lime
- Salt chicken pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large soup pot. Add in the chicken and brown on all sides.
- Once the chicken is brown, add in curry powder, oyster sauce, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass and bay leaves. Stir well. Make sure chicken is coated in the sauces and spices.
- Add in the carrots and mix well.
- Next, add in water, chicken broth, and the onion. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. Check the soup for impurities after the 15 minute mark and scoop away any that you see.
- After 30 minutes of simmering, add in the potatoes and simmer for another 30 minutes.
- Lastly, add in the coconut milk and cream of mushroom and simmer for 15 more minutes.
- Serve with vermicelli noodles and a squeeze of lime juice.