I don’t remember the first time I ate bánh đậu xanh. All I know is that upon entering any Asian grocery store, I (and my siblings) automatically make a beeline for the snack aisle to grab at least a box or two. It’s a form of muscle memory, the way I gravitate toward items like fresh long nhãn, which we eat right out of the colander when we visit our relatives in California. Or nước rau má that comes in a white can with giant green leaves sprouting from the bottom, a favorite drink of Bố’s and mine. Buying bánh đậu xanh conjures up other food memories: The satisfyingly crisp edge of a bánh xèo next to the just-slightly-mushy interior; the giddy indulgence of chè ba màu after dinner out at a Vietnamese restaurant, with family gathered around a long table.
Bánh đậu xanh defies categorization. It is sort of green, but also sort of yellow. It is elegant in its simplicity—mung bean, sugar, and soybean oil are the only three ingredients listed on the box—yet consuming it is anything but elegant when the delicate squares are pulverized by the slightest pressure of your fingertips.
Mẹ tucked a slim box of bánh đậu xanh into a care package of sorts that she mailed me a few weeks ago, as I awaited my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. When I opened the box and let each tiny square melt on my tongue, I imagined it as a balm—a reminder of the simple delights of childhood and the small moments of joy to find in the present.