Khanh-Hoa Nguyen stirs a pot of green papaya and pigs’ feet soup. The clear broth and pale green chunks of unripe melon are redolent with fish sauce, the way her own mother prepared the soup after Nguyen’s sister gave birth.
After her second year at the University of California at Berkeley, Nguyen was spending the summer at her parents’ home in Los Angeles, watching her mother prepare big pots of Vietnamese postpartum foods for her sister.
“I don’t think I would have known if I didn’t go home that summer,” says Nguyen, who is now co-editing one of the most comprehensive English language cookbooks featuring traditional Asian foods for new mothers.
For generations, new Vietnamese mothers have eaten this stew, just as Korean mothers have downed bowls of seaweed soup and Chinese women have simmered pigs’ feet with ginger and vinegar. The food traditions stretch back for centuries, part of the practice of resting for the first 30 days after giving birth that is common throughout Asia.
Photo: Grace Hwang Lynch for NPR
Caption: Dr. Marilyn Wong serves green papaya and pigs’ feet soup, a Vietnamese dish believed to fortify new mothers.