Huyen Tran is shown in her commercial kitchen at Clark Point Catering in Southwest Harbor. She caters functions ranging from small private dinners to weddings.  FILE PHOTO

Baffling big bird becomes turkey ham

Editor’s Note:

In 1979, Huyen Tran and her parents and five sisters fled Vietnam and survived a harrowing boat journey in which they were robbed by Malaysian pirates. Living for a year on a small Indonesian island, the Trans eventually were accepted to resettle in the United States, where they lived in Philadelphia. Huyen, her husband and two children now make their home in Southwest Harbor, where she runs her own enterprise, Clark Point Catering. 

By Huyen Tran

I see many places offering Thanksgiving meal baskets this time of year. Part of me feels the urge to sign up to receive a basket. Nostalgia from childhood, memories of my mother and tradition, I guess.

Growing up, some kind person always gave my family a basket. As newly arrived refugees, from a land of no turkeys, it’s the most confusing basket of goodies. A grotesquely giant and weird chicken-like specimen, frozen rock solid, like nothing else in the grocery store, taking three-plus days to thaw. Canned dark, jelly-like substance. Really dried crumbled bread in a bag. No instructions.

Every year, my mother would thaw that bird and debone it to make it into a Vietnamese ham. We loved eating that ham. Each year, when that Thanksgiving basket arrived at our door, my sisters and I dreaded it as we knew that in a few weeks, our mother would make us give up a whole weekend to sit and pound that turkey meat into a paste. She would mix it with some magic spices she concocted, portion the meat and wrap it into logs, neatly tied with twine and steamed into ham. 

While the rest of America enjoyed their turkey roasted, we ate turkey ham with rice noodles and herbs, staring at the can of cranberry and bread cubes, wondering what in the heck does one do with those things? 

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