A Vietnamese-American Chef Shares How Food Connects Her to Family History

A Vietnamese-American Chef Shares How Food Connects Her to Family History

In 1975, the Nguyen family left Vietnam for America. As Andrea Nguyen recalls, her mother carried a shoulder bag containing a survival kit of family photos, instant noodle packages and a handwritten recipe notebook. Andrea explains how the book and its recipes were a critical way the Nguyens could hold on to their family history—and the history of where they came from.


Familiar strangers: A talk with co-author of “Mango and Peppercorns” about growing up Vietnamese-American, mothers, and food

Counter staffer Tricia Vuong chats with Lyn Nguyen about a shared history as children of refugees.

Lyn Nguyen grew up chopping vegetables in the kitchen of Hy Vong (“hope” in Vietnamese), Miami’s first Vietnamese restaurant. Whenever it was packed, kindergarten-age Lyn would assume the role of dining-room ambassador. She’d circulate and tell customers, “The kitchen is really slow tonight because my mother’s in a bad mood.”

Pictured above (left): Lyn Nguyen with her mother, Tung, on Christmas, 1982. Counter staffer Tricia Vuong (in pink) with her mom and sister, 2000 (right).

Her mom, Hy Vong’s chef and co-owner Tung Nguyen, had left the Vietnamese rural village of Điện Bàn and fled the country altogether after the April 1975 fall of Saigon. Tung, one of the “boat people,” spent nine days at sea before being rescued and taken to a refugee camp in Guam. She was then flown to Fort Indiantown Gap, a Pennsylvania military base that processed 20,000 Vietnamese newcomers. Finally, 27-year-old Tung wound up in the Miami home of Kathy Manning, a white graduate student and refugee-resettlement volunteer. There, Tung realized she was pregnant from a brief relationship with a refugee she met in Pennsylvania—a fleeting connection that she didn’t discuss with her daughter. Instead, Tung told Lyn her father was a South Vietnamese soldier who died during the war. Lyn was born Phuong Lien Nguyen in March 1976, named for both the phoenix tree and the lotus flower.

Courtesy of Chronicle Books

Mango and Peppercorns is a cookbook-memoir about Miami’s first Vietnamese restaurant, Hy Vong, and the two women who ran it.

Tung and Kathy opened the restaurant in 1980, often butting heads over how to run the establishment. They were the epitome of mango and peppercorns—a dish of opposites Tung created and sold in the restaurant (which closed in 2015, but later reopened for pop-up events and takeout during the pandemic). Still, Tung and Kathy formed an unlikely but enduring family that included Lyn and Kathy’s own mother (whom Lyn considers her grandmother).

Tung, Kathy, and Lyn recently released a cookbook-memoir titled Mango and Peppercorns, co-authored with former food critic Elisa Ung. It was a two-year project, and Tung was initially against it. Creating the cookbook forced her to confront the past, including sharing the truth about Lyn’s biological father.

I was drawn to Lyn’s story and the cookbook, so I reached out to interview her. Over the course of our talk, we discussed growing up American without a Vietnamese community, being raised by single-mother business owners, and how our parents’ refugee story has influenced us as the second generation. In many ways, Lyn’s story is the quintessential American dream, complete with an elite education and a good job. She went to undergrad at Harvard, received her MBA at Cornell, and now she’s the founder of an artificial intelligence firm.

Though decades apart, we are both the children of Vietnamese refugees. I didn’t read books by Vietnamese authors while growing up, never mind any that spoke to the experience of how I felt trying to assimilate. We had that same childhood bowl cut and I, too, was that quiet kid hanging out in the family business. Most weekends of my early childhood, I played Neopets and ate Panda Express takeout in the breakroom of my parents’ nail salon. The windowless, concrete room in the back was separate from the salon, which had eight tables and one of those clunky early 2000s television sets. The pungent smell of acetone wafted through the room, cutting into the sweet and sour aroma of our orange chicken.

Over the course of our talk, we discussed growing up American without a Vietnamese community, being raised by single-mother business owners, and how our parents’ refugee story has influenced us as the second generation.

When my parents divorced, my mom, sister, and I moved from Cleveland to Southern California, where my mom opened her own salon. During our first year, we all shared one bedroom in my cousin’s house. Although we were now on opposite sides of the country and our dad wasn’t around anymore, not much really changed for me. Yes, we had to make new friends and adjust to living in a new house. But my mom had always been our caretaker. She made sure there was rice in the cooker and food in the fridge. She took us to school and picked us up, paid the bills and threw us birthday parties. To be honest, I don’t have many memories of my dad except for when we were all at the salon together and the occasional Sunday dinner at Friendly’s. The days of sitting in their breakroom ended and instead shifted to quiet, lonely dinners at home—eaten in my room while doing homework—as my mom spent her nights closing up shop.

Writing this, I realized I still haven’t uncovered extensive details about my own parents’ escape from Vietnam. I do know my dad left as a “boat person” and was transported to a refugee camp in the Philippines. He was sponsored by a Baptist church and later arrived in Longview, Texas. My mom’s family—which included her parents, two brothers, and two sisters—came through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP). The ODP was signed between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in May 1979 after traumatic stories of Vietnamese fleeing by sea surfaced in the media.

Last year during the pandemic, my mom and I exchanged stories about life in quarantine. I expressed how it was difficult living alone and not being able to speak to a human face-to-face. My mom had a different outlook. When Saigon fell, her family didn’t leave the house for a couple weeks while they waited for the chaos to settle. Quarantine reminded my mom of those times. In her eyes, the pandemic was easy. She no longer had to commute to work, had a roof over her head, and meals to eat at home.

I am also grappling with feelings of guilt for not knowing more. For not having the verbiage to communicate with my ancestors and not being able to fully grasp what my parents endured, in what feels like another lifetime.

In 1984, my mom’s family finally came to the United States after a long paperwork process the seven of them shared a two-bedroom house near Los Angeles’ Chinatown. My gung gung (Cantonese for maternal grandpa) worked as an assistant cook, my po po (maternal grandma) was a seamstress, and my mom’s first job was typing ads for a newspaper. Their family was middle class in Saigon they owned a house in the city, my gung worked for an import company, and my mom had a private English tutor. But when they arrived in the United States, my mom couldn’t afford to attend college.

Neither Lyn nor I were raised hearing stories about our parents’ upbringing and how they came to America. I called my mom while writing this to ask her some of these things she’s never shared with me before. Even now as an adult, thanks to therapy and conversations with other Vietnamese friends, I’m working through how to process my family’s intergenerational trauma and unspoken history. I am incredibly grateful to have been raised by such a strong, smart, and powerful woman, and I hope to carry on her legacy through my work as a journalist.

But I am also grappling with feelings of guilt for not knowing more. For not having the verbiage to communicate with my ancestors and not being able to fully grasp what my parents endured, in what feels like another lifetime. Mango and Peppercorns speaks to a larger story about immigrants and refugees working toward building a better future for the next generation. And for me, Tung’s chapters especially offered insight into a perspective that reminded me of my mom and what it must have felt like to run a business and raise two girls in a new country.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Phuong Lien (now Lyn) helping her mom Tung cook at Hy Vong in 1982.

Tricia Vuong: I spent preschool through sixth grade in a small suburb outside of Cleveland. There weren’t any other Vietnamese families I knew of, and maybe one or two other Asian families, period. I had no exposure to the culture or food except whatever my parents made at home. My parents were also trying to assimilate into that community and like many Vietnamese refugees, they went into the nail salon industry. The prevalence of Vietnamese-Americans in the nail salon industry skyrocketed after the war when Hollywood actress Tippi Hedron started a program for 20 refugee women. They quickly learned the vocational skills of how to do a manicure fast forward to today, when Vietnamese immigrants dominate the $8 billion dollar industry.

I spent evenings and weekends at the salon. And eventually when I got older, I remember helping them run the credit-card machines and was even able to do manicures at one point. What were your earliest memories of your mom and Kathy opening up Hy Vong? How did some of the Hy Vong customers later turn into your community?

Lyn Nguyen: So I don’t remember much of them opening up because I was about 4, but I do remember—and maybe it’s because everybody tells me about this—I would go there after school and that was my babysitting. I’d get out of school and then my grandmother would pick me up after her work, around 6 or 6:30 at night. So from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., I was at the restaurant, and my mom would put me to work in the kitchen. Whether it was peeling carrots or washing dishes, I was always helping and doing something. An hour before the restaurant opened, the busboys would come and I would help set the tables, put down placemats, fold napkins, and things like that. I remember very vividly playing little games in my head, thinking ‘who can fold it faster’ or ‘I’ll go left in this direction today and then right.’

Read the full transcript for Lyn Nguyen’s audio quotes here.

TV: So your mom and Kathy have an incredibly unique relationship, as friends but also as business partners and in some ways as parents raising you. They didn’t always get along and clearly disagreed on how to run the business, but in the end they shared similar values and had a tremendous impact on you. What was that relationship like growing up?

LN: You know, they had very distinct roles. I think of Kathy as my aunt or almost like if I had a father. She filled that kind of role. She was the person who would play with me and take me to arcades so we could play Atari. My mom was my mom. She was the one that made sure I had enough to eat and got enough sleep. Growing up, I think I had a closer relationship with Kathy because she understood what I was going through a lot more since I was growing up American. But my mom was always my mom it was never a competition of who was and who wasn’t. Kathy would always defer to my mom. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night at anybody’s house because that’s not allowed in Vietnamese culture and that’s what my mom wanted, so that’s what Kathy adhered to.

Tung and Kathy formed an unlikely but enduring family that included Lyn and Kathy’s own mother (whom Lyn considers her grandmother).

TV: In the book, you mention several times that you didn’t crave your mom’s Vietnamese cooking and wanted to eat “American” fare like the spaghetti and meatballs your grandma made. Why did you prefer those dishes at the time?

LN: I think a part of it was just being like everybody else. And because I had to go to the restaurant after school, having American food at home was different. It was a bit more of a novelty versus the food that I was surrounded with at the restaurant. My grandmother made fried chicken with yellow rice and green beans slathered with butter, and that was one of my favorite meals growing up. She was also the one home with me on the weekends, so when friends came over she’d cook for us whatever she knew how to, such as spaghetti and meatballs or dried beef gravy. I grew up finding those foods very comforting.

TV: I think for a lot of Asian families it’s difficult to express emotions through words, especially those who come from two different generations. The language and culture barriers can pose a separate challenge to communicate. I know my mom always expressed her love through food even though she is fluent in English. My grandmother doesn’t speak English at all and I can’t speak Vietnamese or Cantonese (her native language), so we rarely sat around and ate at the dinner table together, but she would always push more food onto my plate to make sure I was full. Even though my mom was gone during dinner most nights, she always made sure there was food in the fridge for my sister and I when we got home from school.

How did food play a role in your mom’s ability to express her love for you?

TV: You’ve mentioned how writing this book forced your mom to recount her history and share it with you, directly or not. You disclose that you didn’t know about your biological father until the book-writing process and even then, it wasn’t from your mom. I think, as children of Vietnamese refugees, our parents have sacrificed a lot for us and in return also suppress a lot of the trauma they endured to make sure we’re okay. Of course, I didn’t realize this at the time. But now [as] I get older, it’s something I think about often.

Can you share what happened during the writing process? How did your mom react when she realized you found out the truth about your father?

LN: It was interesting because she never told me and I happened to find out from Elisa, the woman who was our writer for the book, and she found out through Kathy. I think a lot of people thought it’d be more of a shock for me or that I should have open wounds, but I never missed not having a dad. I never had that desire to find him, and maybe it’s because I have really strong role models in my mom, Kathy, and my aunt. Or maybe it’s because my mom did create a story in my head so I had something. When I found out, I was actually more traumatized by the way she left Vietnam, how she had to watch her friend die [in one of Tung’s chapters, she recounts the day she fled Saigon and how she witnessed a close friend’s drowning during the journey], and the way she was treated as a person, versus the details about my father.

I think for me, that was the real reason why I wanted to write this book. It’s like you said, we don’t talk a lot, we don’t sit down and talk about our history. I really wanted to know my mom’s story because I thought it was really interesting and something I wanted to have. The whole book gave her a platform because I felt like she worked so hard and didn’t realize what she had accomplished. She didn’t realize that what she did was really unique and she should be proud of herself, so the book was really to celebrate my mom.


AANM presents a Yalla Eat! series in the form of Instagram Takeovers by different Arab American chefs, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. ET. Each guest chef will cook and demonstrate a delectable recipe on AANM’s Instagram stories, with the dish and ingredient list announced ahead of time so that audiences can prepare and follow along. All recipes are archived in our Instagram Highlights as well as below, to refer back to.

Yaseen Jawad (oh_my_foodness) presents Layali Lubnan

Yaseen Jawad is an Engineer by day and a home chef by night. Born and raised in Michigan with roots from Sierra Leone, Yaseen makes everything from traditional middle eastern and African dishes to the latest trending recipes on social media. He strives not only to make his recipes tasty but to make them foolproof so that even beginners won’t feel intimidated when entering the kitchen. Yaseen owes his kitchen successes to his mom for teaching him everything there is to know and especially for handing down their favorite Middle Eastern and African recipes to share with the world. Yaseen loves cooking for his wife as she is his biggest critic and thanks her for the constant love and support to push him through new culinary boundaries. He showcases his love for cooking on his Instagram page @oh_my_foodness.

Ingredients:

For the semolina base:
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup semolina
1 teaspoon each rose and blossom water.
Pinch of mastic

For the custard layer:
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon each rose and blossom water
Pinch of mastic (crush with sugar)
Puck cream in a can (optional)

Crushed pistachio and simple syrup to garnish

Mai Kakish (Almond and Fig) presents Fried Tomatoes (Alayet Bandoura)

Mai Kakish runs Almond and Fig, a memoir told through food. She cooks to remember the place she came from, Palestine, and to pass that connection on to her children and others. Through Almond and Fig she shares meals and her family table sharing the food that taught her about her identity, culture and family. The kind of food that makes memories and tells stories. She believes that food not only plays an important role in forming traditions and social interactions, but is also a tool to tell a story about culture and identity. Through her cooking and stories, she hopes to inspire others to cook food from an often misunderstood part of the world, and help create new memories and conversations around their own dinner tables.

Ingredients:

5-6 large tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 serrano or jalapeño pepper you can leave it whole or seed and dice (optional)
4 garlic cloves, sliced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon dried mint to finish

Reian Abdin (shami_eats_and_treats) presents Musabaha

Reian Abdin is a Syrian American born in New York and raised in South Carolina. She is a proud mother of her three little ones. Having a family of her own showed her the importance of preserving cultural identity and she loves doing this through her food, sharing recipes for dishes she grew up with on Instagram and Youtube. She wants others to be able to enjoy traditional Middle Eastern food just as much as she does, and be able to recreate them in an easy way without having to guess ingredients and amounts through sharing these recipes she hopes to instill the love of a home cooked meal and inspire others to elevate their dishes and try new recipes.

Ingredients:

1 jar (400 grams drained) chickpeas with their liquid
4 tablespoons tahini
1 lemon, juiced
3 garlic cloves
Salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons labneh
Dried parsley and red pepper powder for garnish

Monica Isaac (Cairo Coffee) presents Arabic Coffee

Monica Isaac is a first generation Coptic Egyptian living on the eastside of Detroit. She is the owner of Cairo Coffee, a specialty coffee shop and community-lending library in the city. Cairo Coffee focuses on building relationships with local vendors and small businesses and training young Detroiters through their Barista apprentice/skill-sharing program. Monica is also a proud community member, organizer and creator in different mediums.

Ingredients/supplies:

Arabic/Turkish style ground coffee (Cairo Coffee uses a 50/50 blend with cardamom from Hashems Roastery in Dearborn)
Sugar
Water
Spoon
Qahwah/demitasse set (cup and saucer, or a regular espresso set)
Dallah/rakwah (traditional coffee pot with a handle)

Samantha Sanchez (HaveSpicesWillTravel) presents Om Ali

Samantha Sanchez has a background is in Cultural Anthropology and Education, but cooking is her passion. She has been blogging and sharing recipes on Instagram and Facebook. Her page, HaveSpicesWillTravel was born from her love of culture and cuisine. Not everyone has the opportunity to travel often and immerse themselves in new cultures and tastes, but one thing everyone has access to is… spices! A story, a tradition, and of course a recipe help to teleport our tastebuds to new places. Samantha is the winner of the Daybreak Press Award for Best Cookbook in 2020 for her groundbreaking book, Ramadan Recipes, the first and only cookbook dedicated to the Muslim holidays and the amazing variety of cultures that make up the Muslim community.

Ingredients:

4-6 croissants
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Assorted nuts (walnuts, pistachios, almonds)
Raisins, chopped dates, apricots
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 can of table cream
Rose petals for garnish (optional)

Summar (The Cozy Home Chronicles) presents Vegan Mahklama

Summar is a mom of three completing her Ph.D. in anthropology at Wayne State University. When not writing her dissertation, she writes about all things home life and motherhood on her blog The Cozy Home Chronicles. She believes coziness is a labor of love that can be built into simple everyday moments whether it’s crafting with your children or putting together a nourishing home-cooked meal. She’s especially passionate about sustainability and is always looking for ways to lessen her impact, including experimenting in the kitchen to make delicious plant-based versions of traditional Middle Eastern dishes.

Ingredients:

1 (14oz) block of firm tofu, drained and crumbled
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 medium vine ripened tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

Lama Bazzi (TasteGreatFoodie) presents Roasted Eggplant Salad

Lama Bazzi is the founder of TasteGreatFoodie, a page where she shares diverse food recipes that are mostly healthy, and sometimes not! She has a social media presence on known platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube with over 40 thousand followers combined and has an upcoming blog on the way. She started cooking seven years ago when she got married and moved to Florida. Without any prior cooking skills, her mom guided her over the phone and her passion for cooking bloomed. About two years ago, she began sharing her love for simplified recipes and turned it into a business. She has been featured in Voyage Magazine Miami and has collaborated with known brands, such as Morning Star, Starkist, Lactaid, Post, Van Foods, BJ’s Wholesale and Crescent Foods. She is a stay at home mom of two little girls whom she homeschools. Her children are her absolute favorite food critics.

Ingredients:

1 whole eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons green onions, chopped
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt to taste
Pomegranate to garnish

Lamees AttarBashi presents Baked Kufta Parcels

Lamees AttarBashi is an MBA Engineer turned TV chef and personality, an international culinary enthusiast with a focus on Middle Eastern cuisine, a recipe developer and a constant Nomad who spent most of her years traveling the world and learning about different cuisines and food. Her passion for food led her to complete a Diploma in Hot kitchen from ICCA (International Center for Culinary arts) in Dubai, along with various certificates of cooking with many international and Michelin star chefs. On her TV show Lamees’s Dining Table she got to showcase her love for Middle Eastern and international food, along with regular appearances on TV shows like Sabah El Kheir Ya Arab, Sabah El Dar and food festivals like Dubai Food Festival and Sharjah Food Festival. She is currently in the last stages of launching her own superfood snack company Bashi’s Superfood Snacks, that focuses on natural, superfood healthy snacks in a tub with a no-nonsense approach to snacking and indulging.

Ingredients:

For the kufta:
1 pound ground meat
1 tomato, minced
1 onion, minced
1 bunch parsley, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons flour

For the sauce:
1.5 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water


How Cooking Connected One Chef with Grandmothers Across the World

Chef Brooke Siem shares recipes for sweets from some of the most seasoned hands in the kitchen.

From the time I could chew, I spent afternoons in a double-wide trailer with my mother&aposs first husband&aposs mother, a diminutive woman named Ellie who cared for me as if I were her flesh and blood. She always set out the same spread for lunch: flat-iron grilled cheese made with white bread and a single slice of American cheese, dill pickles, salty chips and ice-cold well water.

Year after year, I sat at that checkered-cloth-covered table in Reno, Nevada, and listened to Ellie&aposs stories about arriving at Ellis Island from Italy, raising her 11 younger siblings during the Great Depression and dealing blackjack at the once-famous Harolds Club casino for the likes of Sammy Davis Jr.

That was my introduction to the link between cooking and storytelling, and discovering the tales behind recipes has been the driving force of my career ever since. After attending the Institute of Culinary Education, and then co-founding a Manhattan bakery, a win on the hit Food Network show Chopped in 2016 helped me fund a year-long trip around the world. Instead of spending my mealtimes in restaurants as I traveled, I decided to return to the home kitchen. I missed the warmth of Ellie&aposs table, and how a simple meal and conversation filled my soul. The Grandmother Project was born.

Across nine countries on four continents, I sought out grandmothers willing to share their stories, their kitchens and their recipes. I met these women through friends of friends, extended family and kind strangers. Sometimes I needed translators, sometimes I didn&apost. We gathered around stoves and talked about love and loss, hardship and grace. Each time, I was reminded of the power of preparing food with others. It is more than a means to nourishment. It&aposs an expression of love that transcends borders. Here are some of my favorite memories from that year abroad, and the delicious desserts we prepared together.


Chef ‘connects the pots,’ brings Ibanag cuisine to America

When you say Filipino food or Pinoy cuisine, in the United States or anywhere else in the world, people immediately think of adobo, pancit, lechon, or sisig. But have you heard of lomo-lomo, batil patung, pinataro and sinanta? Probably not.

In her book, Connecting the Pots, published in 2019, Malou Perez-Nievera, an Ibanag from Tuguegarao, Cagayan, writes about the Ibanag cuisine and childhood recipes, alongside her family’s stories and her migration from the Philippines to Melbourne and eventually to America.

“The recipes I shared in my cookbook are both traditional and my modern take on Filipino food. I have been developing recipes that are true to Filipino flavors but look different in its execution,” Malou explains.

In a 2019 survey by YouGov, a UK-based company, showed Filipino food as among the least popular of cuisines from 24 countries. Chinese, Japanese and Thai food are the top favorites.

“I don’t think it is one of the least, but rather people are not just familiar with our cuisine. My goal has always been to transition it from ethnic curiosity to educating them and make the crave for Filipino food,” Malou says.

From Manila to America

Who would believe that this culinary expert once set off a fire alarm when she tried to cook fried chicken? Malou laughs at memories of a DIY (do it yourself) life when she arrived in New York in the ‘90s.

In the Philippines, Malou’s family had helpers. When her in-laws migrated to the US, they encouraged her to try living in America. With her three kids, she flew to New York where her husband was a graduate student.

“Back in the Philippines I designed my own clothing line called Northern Crew. My brother and I had stores across the Metro and in the South. I also had a catering business and I managed stores of a

fast-food chain,” Malou shares.

In her big family, Filipino spaghetti and fried chicken — aside from traditional Ibanag food — are mainstays of every gathering. But oftentimes, especially when the kids were growing up, their food became a source of some “embarrassment.”

“One evening, my son’s friends rang the doorbell while we were having dinner, enjoying dinuguan (pork blood stew) with rice. We opened the door, and when we came back to the table, we were surprised that the bowl of dinuguan suddenly disappeared. My son hid it under the dining table so his friends would not pass judgment on our “different” cuisine,” Malou shares.

Food blog, YouTube Channel, cooking class

Malou started the blog Skip to Malou in 2009. Not only a passionate chef, Malou also has a gift for story-telling. Each dish has a story to tell, with which every Filipino viewer from around the globe can connect.

Malou launched her YouTube Channel “Skip to Malou, Cooking with a Filipino Accent” on August 17, 2012 with “how to cook fried chicken a la Jollibee.” It is a 10-minute step-by-step guide to frying chicken close or very similar in taste to that of the most loved Philippine food giant, Jollibee. It garnered more than 700,000 views and 350 comments. Presently, her channel has more than 10 million views and 54.7 thousand subscribers.

Malou Perez-Nievera’s book “Connecting the Pots.” CONTRIBUTED

“I think my avid followers who come to my series of pop-up dinners love my belly-chon, fresh lumpia and my Ibanag dishes such as batil patung (Tuguegarao version of pancit) and sinanta (also an Ibanag noodle dish),” Malou shares.

Malou relates that she “accidentally” launched her culinary career by teaching classes in culinary schools in St. Louis, Missouri and nearby cities when their family moved there in 2011. Her cooking class has around 30 students.

“There are not as many Filipinos here in Saint Louis compared with major cities in the US. There’s a handful of Filipinos enrolled, but mostly I have non-Filipinos,” Malou says.

Food reminds us of home

Growing up in Tuguegarao, Malou says some of her childhood favorites were: Ibanag longganisa for breakfast, pinataro sticky rice balls with caramelized latik (coconut crumbs).

But the food that best remind her of home are lomo-lomo and calderetang kambing (goat stew).

Malou confides that her culinary journey started by remembering her father. “My father took pride in cooking and serving the food of his culture,” Malou recalls.

Lomo-lomo is pork sautéed in ginger and seasoned with bagoong monamon (anchovy sauce) and vinegar. The dish is typically served for breakfast with a steaming platter of white rice.

In college, Malou often traveled for 10 hours from Manila to Cagayan.

“The bus left Manila after dark, and just as the sun started to rise, I would arrive in Tuguegarao. And there was Papa in the kitchen, cooking lomo-lomo. This was his official welcome home banner! It was his language of love. It was his tight embrace,” Malou reminisces.

Food as identity

Foods brought by migrants to their adopted countries have contributed to cultural diversity.

“Our food is part of our culture and our culture should be passed on to the next generation. Bringing our food to our adopted country is a symbol of identity a symbol of pride. Our food mirrors our culture, our history, our values and beliefs,” Malou says.

Malou also believes that sharing food with other nationalities is important.

“When my daughter’s boyfriend’s family joined us for dinner, my go-to introductory food goes beyond the conventional adobo, pancit and lumpia. I love to start with sinanta, lechon pork belly, beef morcon and seafood paella, as my take on Filipino food is to highlight the eclectic flavors from Southeast Asia and Spain.”

Malou compares herself as a person to calamansi (Philippine lime). “It has its own distinct citrusy notes that come strong and very fragrant. A squeeze of calamansi over your dish brings out an authentic Filipino flavor. Or you could squeeze it and make a refreshing drink. Just like me: small yet could fill up a room,” she laughs.

Malou does not plan to hang up her apron yet. She will continue cooking, writing and vlogging.

Every time you eat dinuguan, sisig, adobo and the food of your childhood in a foreign land, Malou has this to say:

“Embrace your uniqueness. Be proud of yourself, where you come from — your family, food and culture.”


Don't Call It 'The New Ramen': Why Pho Is Central To Vietnamese Identity

A bowl of pho, a beef and noodle soup, served in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Pho has a rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture. Andrea Nguyen for NPR hide caption

A bowl of pho, a beef and noodle soup, served in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Pho has a rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture.

I fell for pho in Saigon in 1974, when I was 5 years old. When my family came to America in 1975, my mom satisfied our family's cravings for the aromatic beef noodle soup with homemade batches, served on Sundays after morning Mass. As Vietnamese expatriates, we savored pho as a very special food, a gateway to our cultural roots. When we didn't have pho at home, we went out for it in Orange County, California's Little Saigon, patronizing mom-and-pop shops that welcomed us with the perfume of pho broth.

Nowadays, there are many more pho options beyond the Vietnamese communities, and I love to check them out whenever possible. From the cooks in the kitchen to the servers and customers in the dining room, more non-Vietnamese people are getting into the pho scene. As a cookbook author and cooking teacher, I also know firsthand that a multicultural mix of home cooks across America is interested in making pho.

The soup's crossover from Asian enclaves into the mainstream is surely what inspired the editors of Bon Appétit to launch last week's ill-fated instructional video for eating pho. By now, you may have heard of the debacle: The magazine invited a non-Asian chef to explain the differences between ramen, another popular Asian noodle soup, and pho and to share his best-practices for how to eat the noodle soup. They pitched the video as a public service announcement: "PSA: This is How You Should be Eating Pho." Encouraging the food-obsessed to follow their lead, they declared that "Pho Is the New Ramen." The video went viral — but for all the wrong reasons. The backlash — accusations of cultural appropriation and imperialism — caused a virtual boil over. Bon Appétit quickly removed the video and issued an apology. (You can still see the video here.)

Much of the anger centered around the choice of a white person to authoritatively speak about an Asian food. As the chef shared his personal insights, he never mentioned his fondness for the soup, his personal connections to it. That omission was an editorial mistake. Treating pho as merely a fashionable food negated its rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture.

Pho has always been unpretentious and democratic, inviting everyone to experience and appreciate it. However, pho also represents the history of Vietnam and its push for self-determination. Born during the French colonial period, this dish persisted through political upheaval and economic hardship, then resettled and flourished with Vietnamese immigrants all over the globe.

Pho has a story that's much longer than a noodle strand. The noodle soup was created at the beginning of the 20th century as genius make-do cooking. French colonials in Vietnam ordered the slaughtering of cows for the steaks they craved. The bones and tough cuts were left to local cooks, who were used to cows as draft animals but soon found a way to turn the leftovers into delicious broth with rice noodles and thinly sliced meat. It was sold as affordable street food that vendors customized for each diner. Pho fans came from all backgrounds, as the soup's popularity spread — from Hanoi in the north to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the south. Inspiring cooks and even poets, it became Vietnam's national food.

Vietnamese people are nationalistic, and pho is not only part of their cuisine but also their pride. Yes, it was the French who made beef scraps available, and yes, many of the initial pho cooks were Chinese, but the noodle soup was created in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people made the best of their circumstances and turned the situation into something of their own. No one may claim pho but the Vietnamese, whom, as history has proven, are a feisty bunch.

We'll never know how aware the critics who took Bon Appétit to task were of pho's history and meaning. As a Vietnamese-American, I wasn't angered that the chef featured in the video was white I'm glad that this soup that forms such a rich part of my cultural identity is gaining new fans, and I welcome all into the kitchen to cook it. But, for an authoritative lesson on pho, which is what this video purported to be, why not tap one of the many Vietnamese-American mom-and-pop shops that have long kept this traditional soup simmering around the country? Or, how about letting a Vietnamese-American chef compare notes with the non-Asian chef?

At Mic, a news site with a millennial audience, the controversy was framed as "Columbusing" — a word that describes when white people "discover" something that has been around for years, or even centuries. The term was new to me, but the concept was not. For years, some people conjectured that pho had strong French roots because it resembled feu ("fire" in French), as in pot-au-feu, the boiled beef dinner. The noodle soup's name most likely evolved from the Vietnamese pronunciation of fen, the Chinese term for flat rice noodles. In applying the Columbus metaphor, Mic signaled that pho had truly become part of America's multicultural table. It had become a vehicle for having a difficult, important conversation about race.

This controversy will likely dissipate, like so many things on the Internet. But if there's anything to be learned from the video fiasco, it's this: Food can — and should — be a way for us to foster deeper understanding of one another.

Andrea Nguyen is a teacher, consultant and author of the forthcoming work The Pho Cookbook.


Chef Liz Rogers Tells Southern Family Tales Through Her Ice Cream Brand, Creamalicious

As Memorial Day approaches, we are all running towards the warm, sunshine-filled days of summer. This year, perhaps even more so than ever before as we seem to be coming out of the confines of the pandemic, little by little, and what says summer better than ice cream? We have a very special brand to introduce you to that should now become a staple in your freezer this season.

Chef Liz Rogers may live in Ohio, but her origins and culinary influence are distinctly Southern. The executive chef and restauranteur can trace the influences on her cooking right down South.

"I&aposm actually from Cleveland, Ohio, but my aunt and a lot of my relatives are from different parts of the south… really deep southern roots and really that&aposs what grew up eating is Southern food," she told Southern Living in a recent phone call.

Rogers has drawn on that influence and the memories of learning to bake desserts from her grandmother in a cast iron skillet that has passed down generation to generation for years and now to her, to create her own brand.

"Creamalicious is about four generations of family-owned recipes, baked from scratch in their entirety, and they&aposre intertwined in a super-premium ice cream base. So, it&aposs a very high quality, very creamy, 13% butter fat ice cream that&aposs very decadent, very indulgent."

So yes, the flavors for each ice cream not only represent classic desserts, but they also contain them. Completely. The Porch Light Peach Cobbler has a base of thicky, luscious cream speckled with cinnamon and nutmeg with roasted peaches and pieces of buttery, flakey, like your mama made it, bites of crust folded inside. The Thick As Thieves Pecan Pie is just outrageously delicious. It truly feels like you sliced a piece of the very best pie you can find and threw it in a gentle blender with a pecan ice cream that whipped the two together in a loving hug. Seriously, get some of this immediately.

But Rogers also told us that it isn&apost just all about the flavor. That she hopes she&aposs also telling a story with each pint. "It talks about real people. It talks about real things. It just represented family and it represented love and history and culture," she explained. Each flavor represents so much more than the ingredients that it contains.

"The red velvet cake literally was a celebration cake, it&aposs what African Americans ate to celebrate their freedoms. We talk about the porch light peach cobbler and its very symbolic to &aposthe light is always on.&apos If you saw that light on someone&aposs porch it just means welcome…This house is safe."

To find out each of the backstories of each flavor, you can purchase Creamalicious either online or at select Walmart locations, Schnucks, Meijer, and Rogers hopes more supermarkets will follow. If you don&apost see it in your store, ask them to start carrying it. This is how Chef Rogers&apos dream will grow, one scoop at a time. She is, as she told us, "one of the first African American ice cream manufacturers in the world and as of today, the only one in mass production."

WATCH: Can Dogs Eat Ice Cream?

But she hopes she will encourage others to follow her path. As she says, "there&aposs a dream in every scoop. I always say that because right there in that pint, I want people to be a part of my dream. They are a part of my dream. That as an entrepreneur I can&apost change the world but I can make ripples in the pond and I can touch someone. And honestly if I can touch someone and then they can make ripples further than I can and then they can make ripples and then they can touch someone and the same thing."


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Timoshkina, who left Siberia at age 15 to attend school, has been living in England for half her life. This distance, she says, has allowed her to cultivate a new relationship with the food of her homeland. In 2015, after earning a PhD in film history, she combined her two passions — food and film — in a supper club, KinoVino, which continues today.

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'Know The History': A Texas Chef's Thoughts On Food And Juneteenth

Before President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday this week, the day — which memorializes the day in 1865 that enslaved Texans found out they had been freed — was mostly celebrated by Black folks in Texas. So we decided to talk to Christopher Williams, a Houston-based chef. Williams says people who are newly learning about Juneteenth can partake in the food and traditions, but should first and foremost acknowledge what the day represents, "before you throw that hot dog on the grill or whatever you're going to do. Know what this is really about."

Endowing food with deeper meaning is Williams' bread and butter. He has culinary entrepreneurship and community service in his DNA. The great-grandson of a pioneering Texas businesswoman, Williams feeds a lot of Houston's foodie crowd at his restaurant Lucille's, in the city's Museum District. That's where people come to meet and greet over plates of what Lucille's advertises as "well-refined Southern cuisine, defined by history." It's where then-candidate Joe Biden came last summer to meet George Floyd's family after Floyd's homegoing service.

In addition to feeding foodies, Williams decided it was important to help feed people who couldn't afford fancy restaurant meals. So he started Lucille's 1913, a non-profit that provides meals for people in underserved communities in Houston, and helps train people for jobs in the food industry.

Earlier this week, I spoke to Williams about the origins of Lucille's, the nonprofit that grew from it, and his mixed feelings about how to commemorate Juneteenth. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

I understand you and your brother Ben, who is also in the business, chose the name and place of your restaurant, Lucille's. You were an experienced chef in search of a restaurant, and you located it in an old house?

Yes. The house was built in 1923. And it was actually my older brother who suggested, "let's name it after Great-Grandma." And I said, "that's perfect," because it gave us a story, and it gave me a point of focus for our style of service and what we would actually serve.

You also have a nonprofit arm of things, which you named Lucille's 1913. Why?

The reason I named it "1913" is because I was trying to triangulate when exactly our great-grandmother, Lucille, started her business. We knew that it was right around the time she got married. And we also knew that she started her business for the exact same reasons that we did, which is that she knew she was a master of her craft and she was trying to find a way to better her community.

[Editor's note: In addition to being a home economist and educator, Lucille B. Smith created a hot roll mix that was sold in grocery stores, and ran a barbeque business and store in Fort Worth. She cooked for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt, and received a thank-you note from then-President Lyndon B. Johnson for sending Christmas fruitcakes to servicemen during the Vietnam War.]

Your great-grandmother mastered the perfect quick hot roll. And you followed in her footsteps as a master chef. That's come in handy in the past couple years, right?

Well I am by no means a master chef—but I know how to cook and I know how to do a lot of cooking. And the pandemic really does shine the light on these food insecurities that have been here for ages. And so we just started to act. What I didn't expect was for her name and her legacy to really create and drive the ethos to how we do business. It's a very community-first approach that I guess is in our blood and in our entrepreneurial spirit.

As far as we know, Juneteenth was first observed in Texas, and while it's become nationally known in the past several years, it was thought of for a long time as a Texas holiday. You're from Houston. Did your family observe Juneteenth?

To be completely honest, Juneteenth is just like most holidays for us. This is, I guess, really ingrained in our familial approach it's just a day of service. So it wasn't a day for us to go out and have a party in the park or whatever. It was a day for us to go serve our community. Juneteenth has always been work for me.

What do you think of the whole notion of the holiday, though?

I just drove from Houston to Halifax, Nova Scotia, all the way up the East Coast. And I'm looking at our beautiful, beautiful country. It's gorgeous! But at the same time, with every breath that I have taken at the beauty, it's followed by another breath, thinking about the horror of the history of this country and how it was only great for some, not most — especially not African Americans. So it's a tough thing for me because it's like, why? Why do we need to celebrate an awakening of decency? You know what I mean? The psychological chains of slavery are just so deep. I'm still struggling with what is the right way to celebrate. And I don't know if "celebrate" is the word for it, honestly.

Yeah, I think that we could call it a day of acknowledgement. But I don't believe it's a day of celebration. Personally, I'm not comfortable with celebrating it. I'm definitely comfortable with the acknowledgement of it.

As someone who comes from the state where Juneteenth began, any advice for people who do want to note the day in some way?

I'd say at least know the history. Tell me what it means before we get into the food and before you throw that hot dog on the grill or whatever you're going to do. Know what this is really about.

Is there a particular item on the Lucille's menu that is Juneteenth-appropriate?

One of our dishes that we've been serving since we opened up is our watermelon salad. It has that red component that most people have always associated with the holiday [representing the blood that was shed by enslaved Africans]. So that's just a simple watermelon salad with fresh baby arugula and a strawberry-jalapeño vinaigrette, with a little bit of feta cheese, and maybe some roasted pistachios and red onions.

Lucille's Watermelon Salad

4 cups fresh cut watermelon

½ c thinly sliced red onion

½ c roasted shelled pistachios

6 fresh hulled strawberries

1 t sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit

In a blender, combine the strawberry, jalapeño and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. While the machine is on, slowly add all of the olive oil. Add salt and sugar to taste. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except pistachios. Pour in the vinaigrette and toss until the cheese starts to bind with the leaves. Separate into four portions and top with crushed pistachios. [Copyright 2021 NPR]

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Maneet Chauhan Talks Family, Food, and How Traveling Has Influenced Her Culinary Career on Biscuits & Jam

The chef joins us for this week&rsquos episode of Biscuits & Jam.

About਋iscuits & Jam:  In the South, talking about food is personal. It’s a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living, sits down with musicians and chefs to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they’ve been shaped by Southern culture. Sid will take us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.

Episode 14: September 15, 2020

Download and listen to Maneet Chauhan onਊpple Podcasts, Spotify, or everywhere podcasts are available.

If you’re a fan of the Food Network program Chopped, you know Maneet Chauhan well for being a judge throughout the run of the show. Graduating at the top of her class from India’s number one culinary school, she led kitchens in both New York and Chicago, before setting her sights on Nashville, to launch the Morph Hospitality Group with her husband Vivek. Now with four restaurants in Music City -- each delivering different spins on American, Indian and Chinese cuisine -- Maneet is set to release a new book this fall, full of recipes from every corner of her native country.  

On Learning to Cook at an Early Age

“I think I started cooking in sixth or seventh grade. My mom was the main cook in the family until the time I started cooking. I was obsessed with desserts! I think the reason why was because I would see these pastries and cakes in books, but they weren&apost available in India. I wanted to learn something different."

On Realizing She Wanted to Go to Culinary School

"When I was in school, everybody knew about my obsession with cooking and food. So whenever our family friends would invite us to their house for dinner, they would call up my parents and say, you guys come around 7pm and send Maneet at around 3pm so that she can help us cook. I started realizing what a great connector food was.  I realized, that I could do something that I love and people loved me for it. That was a no brainer. But I grew up in a community where every kid was studying to be a doctor or an engineer. And if you&aposre really thinking outside the box maybe an accountant. And there I was thinking of becoming a chef, which was barely acceptable in India at that time. On top of that being a girl and a chef. But, my parents were very supportive."

On Moving to Nashville

“My husband and I have always been wanderers, and we explore each and every opportunity that comes our way. It was love at first landing in Nashville, because as soon as we landed, not only did we fall in love with how beautiful the city and the area is, but also how welcoming the people are.”

On Hot Chicken

“I love a good hot chicken!  It needs to have all the criteria. It just cannot be hot. It needs to have other flavorings to it too. It needs to be crunchy and crispy and it needs to be succulent and moist inside, not over cooked.”

On Her New Cookbook

In her new cookbook &aposChaat: Recipes From the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India&apos (available on October 6, 2020), Maneet Chauhan brings readers along on a delicious, vibrant, and personal journey sharing the flavors and cultures of Indian cuisine.

Visit our Podcast Primerਏor information on how to download and listen to a podcast.

For the full interview, download and listen to Maneet Chauhan onਊpple Podcasts, Spotify, or everywhere podcasts are available.