Overseas Vietnamese Bring Unique Vietnamese Dishes to New York
|Noodles with tofu and shrimp paste (bun dau mam tom) is famous in New York in recent days. Photo: Nico Schinco/The New York Times.
In Vietnam, noodles with tofu and shrimp paste (bun dau mam tom) is a popular dish that can be found anywhere on the street. Ingredients include fried tofu, noodles, cucumber and some herbs, dipped with shrimp paste.
Shrimp paste has a "heavy" smell, it is not easy for foreigners to eat. Some Vietnamese can't eat it either. This dish is rare in New York. Therefore, Jerald Head and Nhung Dao decided to open the restaurant Mam NYC in the southeast of Manhattan in September 2020.
The restaurant is only open 3 days a week: Friday from 17h to 20h30 and Saturday and Sunday from 12h to 16h. Each serving of noodles with tofu and shrimp paste (bun dau mam tom) is sold for US$32 (equivalent to VND800,000).
Bun dau mam tom on the sidewalk in the US
Jerald Head said the reason for making bun dau mam tom to be the main dish on the menu is because he and his wife both love it.
"You can't find a restaurant selling noodles with tofu and shrimp paste in New York. Diners will be excited to enjoy a new dish. We know that they will love bun dau mam tom as we do," the restaurant owner said.
For diners to enjoy authentic Vietnamese food from appearance to taste, Jerald and Nhung presented the dish in a flat winnowing basket lined with banana leaves. All ingredients such as tofu, green sticky rice patties, and blood sausage are prepared by the couple.
"We make tofu with a 60-kilogram machine imported from Vietnam. First, we grind the soybeans into milk. Then cook and press them into pieces of tofu," Jerald said.
|The price of bun dau mam tom is US$32, equivalent to VND800,000. Photo: @mam.nyc
Customers sit on the sidewalk on weekends
The restaurant space is not too large but has a cozy feeling. On beautiful days, diners can sit on low blue plastic chairs brought from Vietnam to enjoy bun dau mam tom, like sitting in Vietnam. This is also the reason why Mam NYC attracts many diners.
|The restaurant space is not too large but has a cozy feeling. Photo: Nico Schinco/The New York Times
Since February, the restaurant's popularity has begun to spread. Hayden Phung, a Vietnamese who lives and works in Philadelphia, said that the noodles with tofu and shrimp paste at Mam NYC is better than the one she used to eat in Hanoi.
"The shrimp paste at the restaurant is prepared in the same way as Hang Khay in Hanoi. My favorite is blood sausage in this dish, the taste is good. To me, this dish is worth the money," said Hayden Phung.
This Vietnamese diner also thinks that the quality of the dish lies in the effort of processing each ingredient. When she eats, she feels the chef's enthusiasm and nostalgia for the taste of bun dau mam tom in her hometown.
|Tables and chairs were brought from Vietnam. Photo: Hayden Phung, @mam.nyc
|Photo: Hayden Phung
Nguyen Uyen, a Vietnamese expat living in New York, is happy to have the taste of her homeland so close to her.
"I'm happy now that I can eat bun dau mam tom on any weekend. All ingredients are delicious, especially fried tofu. I ate here in 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant has been operating regularly again recently. The blood sausage has a much better taste than before."
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For foreigners, Vietnamese shrimp paste is difficult to eat because of the strong smell. However, when touching the tip of the tongue, mixed with crispy tofu or blood sausage, the special flavor of shrimp paste gradually spreads in the mouth. Bun dau mam tom is gradually conquering the taste of diners.
The name of Mam NYC began to spread everywhere. Recently, the restaurant was honored to be ranked 26th in the top 100 best restaurants in New York City voted by The New York Times.
An article about the restaurant also appeared in The New York Times with the title "Mam Serves the Most Exciting Vietnamese Food in New York".
"Mam tom is the color of a day-old bruise. It has the insistent, nostril-permeating odor of old seafood left in some back corner of the fish market where the cats always seem especially agitated. Imagine scraping the anchovies off a couple of pizzas and leaving them out on the counter for the summer, and you have a good idea how mam tom smells," Pete Wells wrote.
|The ingredients are all processed by Jerald and Nhung. Photo: @mam.nyc
The writer of The New York Times was charmed by the Vietnamese plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalk. "Diners often sit on the sidewalk or along the brick wall of the playground, surrounded by pedestrians, dogs and vehicles. It feels like having lunch in Hanoi," the author said.
With Jerald Head and Nhung Dao, bun dau mam tom and street food culture has been warmly welcomed by international friends, making them feel proud. In the future, they will open more branches and introduce more Vietnamese dishes.
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