The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs was the first book I read in anticipation for my own trip to Hanoi. Wanting to soak in everything I could in my short time there, I first absorbed Dana’s memoir of living in Vietnam.
The title comes from the unofficial name of her street address. Since there are so many scooter mechanics on her block and the most popular and coveted scooter at the time was the Honda Dream, it came to be known informally as “Dream Street.”
In The House on Dream Street, Dana gave me a wonderful orientation to living in Vietnam. Starting with navigating the trials of transportation and then getting to know her landlord and the family and then friends of the family. Early in the book she shares her first major culture shock.
“It would be more dramatic to say that my first major crisis in Vietnam occurred with I was accosted by a gang of drunken war veterans, or when I was suddenly overcome by a life-threatening disease, but it didn’t happen that way. This small and nonthreatening confrontation with a tiny, semi-developed bird felt like disaster in my mind, and my new found sense of oneness with Hanoi suddenly shattered. I held the small pottery bowl in my hand paralyzed.”
Dana had been given balut, the number one most terrifying food in the world. It is a fertilized duck egg hard boiled and served peeled on a bed of greens in a small bowl. It was also a dish I wanted to try.
I was excited about leaving my cultural prejudices behind and trying strange new foods. Even so, there was another dish I knew I would be unable to face: dog. I wanted to open my mind and respect the culture of my host country. I wanted to to try everything but my body physically rebelled at the idea dogs could ever be considered food. Again, Dana came to the rescue.
“Just in case I found myself face to face with something I absolutely could not eat, Tra had taught me the Vietnamese way to avoid anything unappealing. ‘Just say, “Không Biét ān’ she instructed: ‘I don’t know how to eat it.”
The House on Dream Street had given me the secret code! apparently, “không Biét ān” was some sort of epicurean safe-word when living in Vietnam! Thanks to Dana, I could refuse dog in a culturally appropriate way. I could face the Hanoi food stalls with confidence to seek out my little bowl of balut.
Where the Story Takes You:
Dana lives in Hanoi and though she does take a few side trips, most of the action takes place in the city. When I arrived in Hanoi, I found her descriptions of riding the rivers of humanity were right on the money! Bicycle, pilgrim, scooter, there is a communal sense to Vietnamese life that is hard to describe. Dana does it beautifully.
What Wander~Readers Will Love:
Experiencing the story simultaneously through Dana’s western eyes and the eyes of her Vietnamese friends. It’s like a cultural “he said – she said” that really informs your perspective.
By the way, if you are curious about my own experience with hard-boiled fertilized duck egg, that link will take you to the video on my Facebook page. After an appetizer of silk worm salad, I get down to some serious duck egg business! Oh, and here’s a recipe if you want to try it at home.
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