It took almost 25 years to find out what was wrong with me. Even when I was a very young girl, I would pass out during mass, during school, at anytime and anywhere. My body would be forced into purging activities that were painful and made me feel like I was dying. But I was always okay, each and every time. In Viet Nam, many of us are “hit by bad/excess wind” – when there was no good explanation as to why someone gets repeatedly sick. The cure for it is to perform coin rubbing or coining. The Vietnamese term for it is Cao Gio – “scratch the wind away”. It is widely believed that this “excess of wind” in the body can cause ailments such as aches, pain, colds and etc and can be treated by “releasing” wind from the body. Cao Gio pulls the wind to the surface of the body and creating a pathway in which it could be released. The amount of wind Cao Gio gets rid off is measured by the degree of the redness that appears on the body after coining, which also measures the severity of the illness. If the red marks that appear are mild, the illness is believed to be minor. Yes, it sounds completely ridiculous but that is the common diagnosis and fix when no one can explain why a person just passed out and then be fine within hours or a couple of days.
When I first came to America and was living with my foster family, the passing out episodes occurred less frequently. I was glad as if I was to get sick; there will be no one there to perform coin rubbing on me. The passing-out episodes started again when I went to college and moved to a city where Asian foods were much more readily available. No doctor was able to figure out what was wrong with me after each passing-out episodes. When I mentioned “hit by the wind”, I received “she is nut” look which was completely understandable! After while, I did not bother going to the doctor as there was nothing they could do for me. I suffered each episode knowing that they will pass.
When I graduated from college and went to work in Southern California; the passing out episodes occurred much more frequently. I was frustrating as I had to miss work when I actually was not as sick. It was frustrating as I did not know how to explain it to my colleagues and bosses that I could get sick in front of the eyes out the blue, scared them half to death with the purging activities , went home, went to bed and went back to work looking like a ghost the next day. I went to all sorts of specialists who had my brain CAT-scanned, my heart examined…the verdict: there was nothing wrong with me! I was just too stressed out for some reasons!
Finally, upon recommendation from my personal doctor, I went to see this young neurologist who just graduated from Stanford Medical School. I was skeptical as I saw a couple of neurologists already. He had me in his office asking me to describe to him my daily routine in term of working, eating and sleeping. After an hour or so, he told me he got bad news and good news for me. He told me the good news is that I get one of those migraine headaches that affect most Asian women and that he can prescribe me pills to take as soon as I feel the migraine coming my way. The bad news is that if I don’t want to have those episodes; I need to stay away from the following food ingredients that trigger the migraine. Here is the list:
• Sodium Nitrate
• Food dyes
I was a single gal living in San Francisco at that time so eating out was something I did everyday (something most everyone did everyday!). So, not being able to eat out at my favorite Asian places was not easy! I started to eat at non-Asian places as well as places that I know will not use MSG as that seems to be the one thing that triggers the migraine easiest for me.
Because of my issues with food allergies, Jeff and I take food allergy very seriously. When we started Indochine; we made a commitment to cook without any of the above ingredients that make me sick. This explains why as much as Jeff loves Pho, we did not do a Pho restaurant because EVERY Pho place uses MSG! That is the only way every Vietnamese cook knows how to cook Pho! The light yellow hue that you see in our sauces and in our tempura flour come from turmeric instead of yellow food coloring due to my intolerance with food dyes. For the beautiful orange/red hue in the Pad Thai, paprika is used instead of red color dye.
I hope this not-so-short note explains a little bit about why I cook the way I do. I hope that if you have any food allergy that you feel you have found your ‘road warrior’ in Indochine – someone who understands and will take the journey with you through the maze of food.
Eat well. Be well.