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|Kevin Thach working in his first-ever Vietnamese food truck in downtown Vancouver, Canada. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Thach)|
When she stood at the busy Amsterdam Central Station, Phong Diep suddenly bumped into a small stall selling Vietnamese ‘banh mi’ (Vietnamese sandwich) in the food court area. With a menu presented in Vietnamese language, the stall allured visitors with the appetizing aroma of fresh bread, pâté, Vietnamese sausage, salad and sauce. Despite the distance, she could hear several Vietnamese words and sentences, which made her feel like she was close to the motherland.
It remains unknown who was the first Vietnamese to bring Vietnamese dishes beyond the country’s boundaries as cultural and commercial products. No matter who it was, they must have been bold and brave for this decision, as it was a tough challenge to collect all the ingredients to cook authentic Vietnamese dishes while abroad, particularly in the past when the aviation sector had not yet been developed.
It is heartening that more Vietnamese stalls and restaurants have been opened in Overseas Vietnamese communities abroad, and that they have won much appreciation from the people in the host countries.
Phong Diep recalled the owner of a Vietnamese ‘pho’ (noodles with beef or chicken) restaurant in San Francisco, who appealed for customers’ forgiveness as his restaurant can only serve them dried rice noodle rather than fresh ones. A bowl of ‘pho’ on offer at the restaurant is twice or even three times bigger than the one in Vietnam, served with fresh chilly and beansprouts.
However, what impressed Phong Diep was the way the bowl of pho was delivered to customers by the restaurant owner, which made her feel as if he was processing a very valuable object.
The owner even waited until customers finish their meal to ask for their opinions and comments about the taste of the broth and the sweetness of the beef. He said that Vietnamese pho must be cooked in the right way so that his Vietnamese customers can ease their homesickness and so foreign customers can experience an authentic taste of Vietnamese gastronomy.
He stressed that it is not a problem if the name of the cook is not remembered, but the name of the dish cannot be forgotten.
Vietnamese restaurants in foreign countries have become favourite addresses for people in the host countries. What is more interesting is that in the past, Vietnamese dishes were mostly introduced by Overseas Vietnamese families, but today, more and more Vietnamese youngsters are becoming involved in the popularisation of their country’s traditional cuisine by opening Vietnamese restaurants abroad.
|Nguyen Khanh Vuong Anh, a Vietnamese student in Australia, cooking 'banh xeo' (sizzling rice pancake with pork and shrimp) in a video clip shot in the Mekong Delta. (Photo courtesy of Vuong Anh)|
They include brothers Tran Van Bang, Tran Van Bach, and Tran Thi Lieu, who founded Anh Em Quan Shinookubo, a small food court offering ‘pho’ and ‘bun cha’ (noodle with grilled fatty pork) in Tokyo, Japan; Jinny Lien Ngo, the owner of a small cafeteria with ‘pho bo’ (beef noodle) on its menu in Moscow, Russia; 23-year-old Kevin Thach, who opened the first-ever Vietnamese food truck providing customers with various options for ‘banh mi’ and ‘goi cuon’ (spring rolls) in downtown Vancouver, Canada; and Nguyen Hoang Le My with her small food startup ‘Banh Mi Girls’ in The Hague, the Netherlands.
In the same effort, 25-year-old Nguyen Khanh Vuong Anh, a Vietnamese student in Australia, launched a bilingual YouTube channel in English and Vietnamese to introduce Vietnam’s tourist spots and specialities to the world.
By reaching many foreign countries, Vietnamese food is growing in popularity and has been established as an effective way of advertising Vietnamese culture to international friends. Vietnamese dishes have been inscribed on the must-try list of many international gourmets.
A number of Vietnamese dishes have been ranked in the top list of many prestigious magazines. ‘Pho’, ‘bun cha’ and ‘banh mi’ were listed among the world’s top 100 famous foods by the World Records Union (Worldkings) in 2016. In December 2019, CNN named two Vietnamese dishes, pho and spring rolls, in its list of the world's 50 best foods.