The taste of motherland

Friday, 2019-02-08 10:12:37
 Font Size:     |        Print

Foreigners enjoy Vietnamese 'Pho' at the event hosted by the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa in December 2018 to promote Vietnamese culture and cuisine (Photo:
 Font Size:     |  

NDO – Food is the fastest way to bring the image of Vietnam to the world, like the way Miss Vietnam 2017 H’HenNie made deep impressions on attendants at the Miss Universe 2018 thanks to her baguette-themed national costume design.

Although there are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants around the world, not many of them can convey the authentic Vietnamese taste. However, Vietnamese people who are living far from home can find the taste of their motherland in dishes in the host countries, as recapped by journalist Phuong Mai in her recent article in Thoi Nay (Present Time) newspaper.

It was the first time I met a man who hadn’t seen moon cakes. He was Chuyen, a 50-year-old man who has lived in Cuba for more than three decades. When I gave him a box of moon cakes which was brought from Vietnam, he confusedly asked me how to enjoy it.

During his childhood in Vietnam, his family was so poor that Mid-autumn Festival was an expensive dream to have. When he was a young man, he went to Eastern Europe for work, and then married a Cuban woman to live in Cuba. Due to the geological distance, he has returned to Vietnam a couple of times over the past 30 years, none of them were made during Full Moon festival.

Therefore, before I presented it to him, he hadn’t seen any examples of a moon cake throughout his whole life. Nether had his family members. It was their first time tasting Vietnamese moon cakes.
30 years living abroad, it seems that Chuyen has localised like a Cuban man. His son was born and raised in Cuba, and as for a 20-year-old young man, Vietnam is just a small spot on the world’s map. Chuyen can have fish sauce for his meals, but not his family members. They have Cuban dishes and speak Spanish.

Our meeting took place simply and traditionallyin the way people often think about Vietnamese food: a meal with nem ran (fried spring roll), served with sauce made from water and salt, dried noodle, lettuce, and mung bean sprouts.

Traditional Vietnamese moon cakes

When I was in Ecuador, I visited a Vietnamese restaurant, which is named Uncle Ho, several times. Its menu includes ‘nem’ (spring roll), and ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noddle), obviously. The restaurant’s owner is a young man who hasn’t been to Vietnam. He just heard about the Asian country via TV and had a bite of Vietnamese dishes in the US. As there are not many Vietnamese restaurants in Ecuador, he gave a Vietnamese blend to his restaurant as a way to promote its brand.

That Vietnamese dishes can help a restaurant go viral is encouraging news. The restaurant is rated 4.5 on Google, which can be seen as a success of its owner.

Wok, a popular fast food chain in American countries, also takes advantage of Vietnamese market share. In such countries as Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, Wok has launched a series of Asian restaurants, which are decorated with a red star, hammer and sickle, Wok’s most-appreciated dishes are nems pring rolls, pho ga (chicken noodle), banh xeo (pan cake), and bun thit nuong (noodle served with barbequed pork).

Like many other Vietnamese restaurants abroad, dishes at Wok are just a simple duplication when compared to the original. For example, ‘banh xeo’ fillings include frozen shrimps while ‘nem’ is filled with crab and fish or even cheese. According to Wok’s country director in Colombia, who has spent dozens of years living in Asia, the toughest challenge is finding ingredients as many indigenous Vietnamese herbs and vegetable are not available in Colombia. Consequently, Vietnamese dishes at Wok are often served with mint and lettuce. However, the restaurant is really a relief for Vietnamese people who miss the taste of motherland.

Restaurants serving Vietnamese dishes which are the most similar to the original taste can be found in Russia. Many Vietnamese people in Russia have succeeded in running restaurants in the host country. There is a selection of Vietnamese restaurants in Moscow which provide gourmets with a bounty of dishes ranging from fried tofu, crab soup and pickled vegetables to dishes served with fish sauce or even shrimp paste. The restaurants are popular stopping places for travel agents while arranging tours for Vietnamese vacationers.

It turns out to be that Vietnamese cuisine can be seen around the world. Sometimes, whether Vietnamese dishes in foreign countries are served with true Vietnamese savour doesn’t really matter, what is more important is that they could somehow mitigate the homesickness of Vietnamese people who are living far from the motherland.