Posted by: sharemore1 | September 27, 2011

Cooking Dinner for 19–Vietnamese style

“Fifteen of my math students are coming for dinner tonight,” my husband Moshe announced last Saturday morning.  “I also invited a couple of faculty members.”  Before I went into full panic mode he assured me the students would take care of everything.

Looking around our small apartment and knowing we only had service for four, such a dinner party seemed impossible.  How could I have guessed that these students, used to solving complex math problems, could transfer their problem-solving skills to the kitchen?

The students zoomed in on heavily-laden motorbikes, parking them in our courtyard.  Up two flights of stairs they lugged bags of vegetables, meat, noodles, oil, vinegar, fish sauce, hot sauce, rice pancakes, bowls and chopsticks.

Encountering the Floor

They quickly got to work, dividing up the tasks.  Not enough counter space?  No problem, they squatted on the floor.  We didn’t have a meat grinder?  No problem, one of the boys minced the pork on a cutting board.  Three students worked around the stove and the sink.

Even I got into the act, chopping vegetables. “Thinner, thinner,” they urged as I attacked

Making Spring Rolls

the carrots.  I had to slice them into thin julienne strips and chop them into tiny pieces for the spring rolls.  Then I tried my hand at rolling.  Sitting on the floor I moistened the rice pancake, added the pork and vegetables and rolled it neatly, or as neatly as I could.  As soon as we had a plateful, one of the students fried them and cut them into chopstick-sized pieces.

Boys and Their Toys

Several times Moshe had to run to the store, for honey, soft drinks, cups and serving plates.  During the nearly three hours it took to create the feast, some of the boys took a break to play video games.

Finally the food was done and we stood around admiring our work. But where would we all sit?  Certainly not on the six chairs around our dining table.

Where Would Everybody Sit?

No problem.  The students spread last Sunday’s New York Times on the floor, laid out the sumptuous food and we all gathered around.  Hungry after our hard work, we devoured dozens of fried spring rolls with dipping sauce, the best chicken mushroom soup I’ve ever tasted, a second soup made from pork and bamboo, noodles, two kinds of salad and juicy dragon eyes (longan) for dessert.

No Table? No Problem.

Then, as quickly as they came, the students cleaned up and left.  They rolled up the garbage in the newspaper, washed pans, and cleaned and packed up the bowls and chopsticks.  As the students maneuvered their motorbikes down our alley, they left us with a clean apartment and enough food to last through Monday.  With new respect for their problem-solving skills, I was already thinking ahead to the next party.


  1. Please keep this blog going, I am enjoying your adventures so very much.
    Thanks for sharing. Hugs from Allyn

  2. How wonderful! I had some students over for a gathering. Had to leave for a funeral – came back and all my wine had been consumed. Of course, it was after a faculty member encouraged opening my wine cooler for opportunites.

    I loved the story and the photos. Thank you, Elizabeth

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