A special gift to melt her sweet Vietnamese heart?
February 18, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I want to get a nice gift for a lovely Vietnamese friend. She just gave me a Tet present - a decorated envelope with a lucky $2 bill. We've been flirting for several years, and now it looks like we might be about to get serious. I want to get her something that will have special meaning for her Vietnamese background... and will also (hopefully) melt her sweet southeast-asian heart. Any suggestions from Mefites familiar with Vietnamese culture? Also, I am willing to spend up to $50 for this gift.
posted by metabeing to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My first impulse says "give her food." Mung bean cakes and/or fruit, wrapped in red.
posted by zennie at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2008

I just wanted to say go for it! Good luck! yey love!
posted by Neonshock at 1:04 PM on February 18, 2008

How about an envelope with a lucky $50 bill in it? That would melt my heart!

Sorry, that wasn't helpful.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:05 PM on February 18, 2008

actually food does sound good. yum yum vietnamese spring rolls!!! you could learn a vietnamese recipe and bake/cook her something? you probably shouldn't attempt a whole meal if you're not that good at cooking or following recipes... but maybe something manageable like dumplings or spring rolls or cakes etc.
or you could learn a vietnamese song (ah... one of those male-female love duets? there are so many of them!) and surprise her at karaoke. :)
posted by aielen at 1:21 PM on February 18, 2008

You mentioned her race/ethnicity five times in this question and pretty much nothing else about her. What is she interested in? I think a gift along those lines would be more impressive than a Vietnamese flag or whatever. Not every day is Tet.
posted by 1 at 1:37 PM on February 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Consider getting her something that expresses your identity.
posted by mkultra at 1:50 PM on February 18, 2008

Best answer: Flowers and fruits are common gifts in vietnamese culture-- though they're sweet, they wont necessairly sweep a girl off her feet.

i'm vietnamese, and if i were in her position, i'd stick with food. why don't you cook her a traditional vietnamese meal? if a guy surprised me with that, i'd be in love-- even if the food wasnt 100% correctly prepared. just the thought of him putting that much effort into reading about and learning my culture would be enough for me to feel woo-d. its a good step towards getting serious, in my book.

do you know what part of vietnam she is from? different regions have different specialities.

my family is from the south and i'd fall head over feels over thit kho or ca chien. aside from being comfort foods, they're also very easy to cook.

here's a recipe for thit kho thats basic and easy to follow.

here's an ok recipe for ca chien though i wouldnt use snapper, i'd use tilapia or branzini.

Serve either with white jasmine rice. Follow with tea. Then commence to the kissin'! :c)

Another idea-- maybe just some banh tet! (cake for new years) If you go to a vietnamese deli or grocer, you can probably still pick some up. Though new years was a week ago, its still celebrated for pretty much the entire month. Ask for banh tet or look for packages wrapped in banana leaf, then saran wrap and also a red and gold label.

Good luck!
posted by modernsquid at 1:51 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First of all, lay off the "melting her southeast Asian heart" claptrap, because it makes you sound like an insensitive tool with a fetish for hot Asian chicks. Seriously, we can spot that from a mile away and it's unattractive as heck; grow up.

That said, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you made an unfortunate choice of words in an effort to be cute/funny and are really interested in this one girl whose culture you are genuinely trying to get in touch with in order to get to know her better, as an individual. In which case, good for you. My biggest tip to you is to listen to her and to enjoy stepping outside your cultural comfort zone. But obviously, that's not very helpful for a gift. So here are some ideas:

If you have access to an Asian store with a good selection of Vietnamese food, they may have frozen meals you can heat up in the microwave - banh cuon is a classic, and almost never available in restaurants because it's so popular (that sounds counter-intuitive, but see, cooks can't keep up with the demand). My family is from Hue, so I also love banh bot loc. Something you might actually be able to make is banh mi. (Check all of these out on Wikipedia's Vietnamese cuisine page.) Also, popular canned drinks in Vietnam are guava, guanabana/soursop, and if you're really brave, basil juices. On preview - modernsquid's suggestion of the rice cake is also a great idea.

Non-food options: do you know how old she is? Figure out her Zodiac animal and get her the appropriate stuffed animal. Keep in mind that the Vietnamese Zodiac is slightly different from the Chinese; for example, instead of the Rabbit, they have the Cat.

Good luck!
posted by bettafish at 2:05 PM on February 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Apologies to those possibly offended by "sweet Vietnamese heart" claptrap - chalk it up to that silly-making feeling of "maybe this could be love about to happen!" :-) The question was about this specific girl and her specific heritage, not about "hot asian chicks" in general.

Having said that, I appreciate especially (so far) the answers from modernsquid and bettafish. I do enjoy cooking, and I would love more suggestions of great easy to make Vietnamese cuisine. That Wikipedia page is fantastic, thanks betta!

If she were to come over for dinner, let's say, what suggestions do people have about those little touches that could make it very special? I am thinking of decor, serving suggestions, timing, sequence of presentation, that kind of stuff, always keeping to the Vietnamese cultural norms.

Does anyone know of a site or page that describes how traditional Vietnamese meals are served, etc?

This is fun! Ask mefi, you are wonderful.
posted by metabeing at 2:34 PM on February 18, 2008

No worries - I figured you could just be getting carried away by young love, etc etc.

For serving the meal ... not too many insights there as most of my experiences with home-cooked Vietnamese meals involved family reunions with about forty thousand relatives, which precludes any particularly fancy procedure. Wear some red, because it's a lucky color for Tet. If you need to buy chopsticks, you want the longer, slightly thicker kind that you see in Chinese restaurants, not the smaller, delicate kind that Japanese use.

If you actually have her over during the Tet period, you could have a bowl of fruit nearby. This is for the ancestors to eat; at the end of Tet, the family eats the fruit (after the ancestors have eaten the "fruit spirits" or whatever), so it's not wasted. Since you're not actually Vietnamese, I wouldn't make a huge production. Find a nice dish, stick a couple of pieces of fruit in there, maybe put an unlit candle nearby (you guys can light it if you want over dinner), call it a day. Don't overdo it - you don't want her to feel like she's "performing" her culture for you, after all, so just keep in mind her personality and what she's shared with you in the past, and follow her lead.

You do realize you're going to have to tell us how this goes, right?
posted by bettafish at 3:05 PM on February 18, 2008

bettafish mentioned about the food presentation not being an actual presentation or procedure.

Vietnamese (and many many asians) will always eat family style. that means cook whatever main dish and sides you'll be making and serve those in big bowls/plates. Then two smaller bowls for rice (one for yourself and one for her).

also-- note the chopsticks please. vietnamese food can be hearty and those dainty little japanese chopsticks will get you no where. You're looking for the bamboo chopsticks-- they are usually the absolute cheapest but they are the sturdiest and best.

and about the fruits-- fruit is very common as a desert in many asian cultures including vietnamese. some typical vietnamese fruits are: mangos, durang (only if you're incredibly brave-- this one isnt normally liked by non-vietnamese and even some vietnamese at that), oranges, clementines, bananas.

also for tet, tea is very common. jasmine is very popular.

you could also do ca phe (vietnamese coffee). you can get all the stuff you need at the vietnamese market. my family has always used brand.

and betta-- thanks for pointing that yellow fever out. I was too nice and overlooked it, but yes, it can be VERY VERY VERY CREEPY. (NOT GOOD).
posted by modernsquid at 10:02 AM on February 19, 2008

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