Discover more from Pass the Fish Sauce
The Real OGs of Vietnamese Cooking
+ A Mega Sweepstakes + 5/18 Free EGV Zoom Class + NYC Viet Eats
While touring for Ever-Green Vietnamese in Washington, D.C., and New York City, I was described by a couple of people as an OG (“oh gee”, original gangster) of Vietnamese food. It happened on Instagram too. It was nice to be put into the spotlight with such an esteemed moniker, but am I really an extraordinary expert in my field? Do I really know that much? Have I earned OG status just because of longevity? I’ve surprisingly had a cookbook writing career for about twenty years.
But honestly, I’m the person who is never sure I know much of anything, or know enough. My culinary cup is always half empty as I’m constantly looking to fill it with new discovery. I’m also not one to rest on my laurels. It’s a combination of imposter syndrome and a desire to learn. Being called an OG made me a bit uneasy.
At the NYC Union Square Greenmarket last Saturday, I met Juan, a young chef from Brooklyn. He had swagger in his step, was interested in Asian cuisine and wanted to add to his vegetable knowledge, particularly because he saw plant-based cooking as an impactful trend. I walked him through Ever-Green Vietnamese, and when I got to vegan fish sauce recipe on page 29, he leaned back in amazement, then leaned in and said, “You are wild!” I was definitely old enough to be his aunt, if not his mom. Being “wild” made me happy. I still had game.
Last Tuesday, I did a very energetic (wild), live podcast with Dave Arnold, an OG of mixology, cooking science, and culinary invention. Leading up to it, a couple friends warned that Dave’s encyclopedic culinary brain ricocheted from one topic to another. I may never really get to talk much about my topic, one person said. To prep, I meditated and caffeinated. Turns out that Dave adores Asian Tofu (2012) and delved deeply into Ever-Green Vietnamese to ask probing questions about recipe writing and techniques. We talked fast, as you’ll hear.
I signed a lot of books in NYC and met incredible people, some of whom attended multiple events to see me because I’m rarely back East. Some traveled from New Jersey to New York, from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side! Life in New York is hard and I was honored people took time to say hello and enjoy food and community. The staff at the Banh Shophouse and Saigon Social worked incredibly hard to produce smooth events that went off with barely a bump. Chef Nhu Ton hand wrote her tasting menu and slept in the restaurant overnight because she was short staffed. Saigon Social chef Helen Nguyen was going back and forth between NYC and Washington, D.C. because she was doing events with the White House. They managed their staff with warmth and caring. There was no shouting. There was fun and joy.
Chef Nhu and Chef Helen collaborated with me to celebrate Ever-Green Vietnamese and my work. Experiencing their professionalism and poise made me realize that the real OGs of Vietnamese are women like them. Women have always served as the backbone of Vietnamese food — whether they cooked at home for their families or on the streets as vendors or in professional restaurants big and small. Chef Nhu employs several Vietnamese women cooks who didn’t speak much but they prepared Hue rice crepes (Ever-Green Vietnamese, page 81) for seventy people. That’s not an easy feat. Chef Helen’s restaurant, Saigon Social, burned last year and she reopened after 6 weeks.
My only regret is not eating the regular menu at Banh and Saigon Social. That means I’m going to have to return to NYC.
I also ate at an unusual restaurant called Mam — owned by Jerald Head and Nhung Dao Head. Mam recently earned the 26th position on the New York Times 2023 best 100 restaurants. They Heads serve northern Vietnamese fried tofu with pig offal, rice noodles and herbs. It’s delicious and packed. I’ve known Jerald since 2019 and he speaks Vietnamese. He’s told me that my cookbooks have informed his work. When I met his wife, who came to America not long ago and was agile in serving customers at their busy Chinatown restaurant, I thought — here’s an OG of Vietnamese food. She was dressed in a traditional ao ba ba top and flowy pants (she also smartly wore running shoes).
And, in Chinatown NYC, I got a sandwich at Banh Mi Co Ut (Youngest Auntie’s Banh Mi). It’s among the favorite banh mi shops in Manhattan. The woman in charge was definitely an OG of Viet food.
Given what I learned about these women chefs and restaurateurs, they too are the OGs of Viet food. They are shaping modern Viet food in one of the buzziest food cities on the planet.
3 Things to Consider
Let's keep the Ever-Green Vietnamese book launch party going! Here's a fun and fabulous opportunity that's hard to refuse -- a sweepstakes that combines the book with my favorite cookware, ingredients from Vietnam, and the herbaceous tote bag. Enter the sweepstakes between now and 5/16/23! (No purchase necessary. The full prize package couldn’t all fit into this photo!)
5/18 FREE EGV Zoom Class
Do you have a copy of the book or have you ordered it? If yes, join me next Thursday, 5/18 on Zoom for a FREE rice paper tell-all class and cooking demo. There’s still time to register so click here to get on the attendee list. This is part of the book’s early-bird thank you bonuses!
Herby Egg Pancake Recipe
Cookbook author and my friend, Kristin Donnelly, picked up on a sleeper recipe in Ever-Green Vietnamese — the herby egg pancakes. I make them for our road trips, lunches, and dinners. They’re not photographed in the book but it’s a keeper. Check it out at Kristin’s newsletter, Mission: Dinner.
And finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, who has long been our family’s OG of Vietnamese food. She’s 89 and a bad ass in the kitchen and life. She’s feisty and still drives. To this day, she maintains her funny kitchen quirks. She called me last night to make sure I got home ok from NYC. She’ll always be my mom.
I hope you spend a lovely Sunday celebrating the moms in your life!