Vietnamese Pho Hanoi
Chef Stories

Behind the scenes of Vietnamese Chef Andrea Nguyen’s Flavor-Packed Life

We left Saigon in 1975 when I was only six years old and eventually made our way to California as a result of the Vietnam War. When I was a child, our diet consisted of dishes made by Vietnamese immigrants who were striving to preserve their native flavors. We were looking at ways to maintain our identity while also embracing a greater culinary curiosity as a result of being surrounded by so many diverse cultures and viewpoints.

Of the five kids, I’m the youngest. My mother trained me to be her assistant after realizing that I made a superb kitchen worker. She showed me how to make rice as the first item, therefore I frequently made it for our family.

Vietnamese Banh My

"Banh Mi is a Vietnamese history lesson in a sandwich, in my opinion"

Vietnamese cuisine is inventive and adaptable and is heavily influenced by various cultures. As the local cuisine, it takes flavor inspiration from Indian, Portuguese, French colonial, and Southeast Asian influences as well as neighboring China and the rest of Southeast Asia.

Think abou “bánh mì” sandwich. You have French baguette-style bread with butter, herbs from the New World, and charcuterie from Vietnam. You might also add some Chinese meat, such as Cantonese char siu pork. The entire meal turns into a sandwich-sized history lesson about Vietnam.

Vietnamese Dining

"Vietnamese cuisine is casual and frequently shared"

My family and I were amazed by the wide variety of foodstuffs available in the United States, including butter and white sugar, which we were unable to find in Vietnam. We were familiar with spaghetti and brownies by reading American culinary publications. We were also able to prepare Vietnamese meals using common ingredients found in American supermarkets, like cilantro (coriander), mint, rice, and soy. Even at the age of 88, my mother is still quite interested in learning about other culinary traditions and styles.

Vietnamese cuisine is particularly sociable, with dishes almost often shared rather than plated individually. For instance, in a Vietnamese home, you can make your own rice paper roll with any combination of the ingredients (vegetables, grilled fish, and various herbs).

Slowly preparing food and considering your ingredients is a far richer experience than simply gobbling it down. You then impart your talent to your family. My parents used to argue over the many methods to roll rice paper because each of them believed their particular technique was superior.

Vietnamese Pho Hanoi

"Pho noodle in Hanoi is a purist version that reflects the traditional culture of the northern Vietnam"

I would concentrate on the three noodle soups, moving from the north to the south, if you were visiting Vietnam for the first time. You should try pho noodle in Hanoi, the nation’s capital. The cuisine originated here, and the capital’s purist rendition embodies the traditional culture of the north, despite the fact that you can now find it all across the nation—there are even ph cocktails and pho burritos—and that’s where you can get it today. There won’t be large garnish piles or extra sauce to add, and the dishes will be smaller.

Arrive near the start of service if you’re going out for dinner because the broth will be more flavorful and fresh-tasting. A little fat is beneficial when eating beef or chicken meat because it adds flavor. A excellent bowl should leave you licking your lips as you leave; the taste should stay in your mouth.

Bun Bo Hue Noodle

"In the heart of Vietnam, people are survivalists who make the most of what they have."

When you get in Hue, which is 600 kilometers south of Hanoi, you should taste “bun bo Hue”, the local noodle soup. It has a bold flavor because it is created with lemongrass, beef, and pork. Vietnamese citizens in the middle region are resourceful survivalists since they are crammed in between the north and south of the country. Bun Bo Hue really captures this sense of tenacity and earthiness in my opinion.

You ought to sample hu tiu (hu tieu) once you descend towards the southern tip of the Mekong Delta region. It’s a colorful, synergistic noodle meal that may be served dry or with soup and contains up to three different types of noodles. The protein used varies; sometimes it’s pork, other times it’s chicken. H tiu is a meal that is unique to the south of Vietnam; it is this entrepreneurial rainbow of ideas with the attitude that “everything goes.”

Vietnamese Ingredients

"You should get your hands dirty with the ingredients in a cooking class"

Markets have a significant role in Vietnamese culture, therefore it’s worthwhile to visit at various times of day to observe daily life. You may, for instance, get a bunch of chubby tiny bananas since they are so creamy, solid, and delicious, or try a fresh fruit smoothie made with enormous avocados. Make sure the cooking class you take isn’t taught in what I refer to as a “dump and stir” style. Try to go to a local market with your teacher so you can be really hands-on with the ingredients rather than having everything planned out for you.

Vietnamese cuisine is widely available. Start with a small amount of fish sauce if you’re trying it at home. With daikon radish (or turnips as a substitute), carrot, sugar, white vinegar, and water, you may make what I call “Any Day Pickle.” Keep the pickle in the fridge and use it whenever you want to give a rice bowl or bánh m a Vietnamese flavor. You may also make nuoc cham dipping sauce by adding fish sauce.

Vietnamese dish on Instagram

"We must maintain a connection to tradition in the Instagram age"

Vietnamese people have a strong sense of emotion. When we think of returning home, whether it be physically or mentally through food and its preparation, we get homesick. For me, cooking and eating are fundamental aspects of the human experience and they help me identify my culture.

I believe it’s crucial to remember what makes a cuisine intriguing and unique in the era of Instagram reels and TikTok videos. We must continue to use traditional flavors and cooking techniques, such as making cá kho t (a fish dish) with bittersweet caramel sauce rather than Coca-Cola, or using coconut water from real green coconuts rather than coconut soda. By clinging to these things, we gain a deeper understanding of humanity and a sense of our origins.

About Author

Chef Andrea Nguyen

The creator of the cuisine blog Viet World Kitchen is Andrea Nguyen, a Vietnamese novelist and cooking instructor. She resides in Santa Cruz, California, and Vietnamese Food Any Day, her most recent book, is currently available.

Read more about Andrea Nguyen profile and her recipes

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