Monday, November 11, 2013

Nab Vam

Nab Vam 
Seattle Center's Hmong New Year, $2

Food is a big component of Hmong New Year or Xyoo Tshiah, the only major holiday observed throughout the Hmong diaspora.  There's pork in several formats, there's a spicy salad of pounded green papaya, there's the chewy confection ncuav, a mochi cousin made from pounded sticky rice.

And there's nab vam, a dessert-drink hybrid so colorful it rivals the appliqued costumes worn by many of the young celebrants.  Although nab vam is often translated as "three color dessert," the variety of textures in each cup is at least as important and often more numerous.  As Sami Scripter and Sheng Vang explain in their excellent Hmong cookbook, Cooking from the Heart, "Westerners are  used to solid and liquid food being separate.  That is not so for the Hmong (and Asians in general), who delight in a variety of slippery, crunchy, chewy, and watery sensations all happening in the same dish.”

Nab vam's textural delights usually include crunchy crushed ice, runny caramel syrup, unctuous coconut cream, slippery strings of rice flour jelly, and bubbly balls of "frog egg" tapioca.  Extras might include crisp water chestnuts, soft-cooked beans, or juicy bits of chopped fruit.  How popular is it?  Scripter and Vang's standard recipe makes 40 servings.    

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