Vietnamese Cuisine in New Orleans
Fans of Vietnamese cuisine once traveled to eateries in New Orleans East or the West Bank for a hearty bowl of pho. Although locales like Pho Tau Bay, Tan Dinh and Dong Phuong remain staunch favorites, diners can now stop by one of the new restaurants in the Uptown area, such as Magasin Vietnamese Café, Le Viet Café on St. Charles Avenue, or Tamarind by Dominique in the Hotel Modern. But Vietnamese food extends beyond the restaurant scene. Geaux Plates food truck serves the Bayou Banh Mi sandwich at the Street Fare Derby food truck festival. At the 2012 Hogs for the Cause event, team March of the Pigs became a crowd favorite with their “Viet Hot Dog.”
VIETNAMESE CUISINE IN NEW ORLEANS, debuting on WYES Sunday, October 14 at 7:00 p.m., presents the factors that contribute to the cuisine’s burgeoning popularity. A single Vietnamese dish contains a mix of textures and vibrant flavors. “It’s like fireworks on the palate,” says Chef John Besh. “You have hot, salty, sour, sweet – you’ve got spice. And then you throw in the textural differences, and it makes for something very interesting, but not heavy.”
Freshness is another characteristic that is closely associated with the cuisine. Spring rolls, goi cuon, contain soft vermicelli noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs, and a small serving of lean pork or shrimp, wrapped in moist rice paper. “Everything tastes like it was plucked from the garden and thrown into the pot – and didn’t spend much time in the pot – before it landed on your plate,” says Poppy Tooker, host of Louisiana Eats! on WWNO 89.9 FM and a regular on WYES’ “Steppin’ Out.”
A standard menu at a Vietnamese restaurant offers an abundance of options, but a bowl of pho remains the first choice for many diners. Pho typically contains poultry or beef, rice noodles, greens and aromatic herbs, simmering in broth. “My favorite Vietnamese dish, which is probably the most common, is pho,” says Chef Brian Landry, Executive Chef of Borgne. “When you find one with a great broth, and add the bean sprouts and jalapeño, it just can’t be beat.”
Another local Vietnamese food favorite is banh mi, which is often referred to as the Vietnamese po-boy. This scrumptious sandwich contains cuts of pork (prepared in a variety of ways), Vietnamese mayonnaise, cilantro sprigs, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber and jalapeño slices. Two light slices of baguette bread, coated with a crispy golden crust, cradle the ingredients. Grabbing banh mi is a clever way for diners to try Vietnamese cuisine for the first time. “It’s not like going into a restaurant, sitting down, and assembling a meal,” says McNulty. “You just get a sandwich wrapped in wax paper and eat it. That’s why banh mi is a good cultural ambassador for Vietnamese cooking. It’s very easy, harmless, and delicious. And people go nuts for it.”
The connection between the French and the Vietnamese extends back to the French colonial period in Vietnam, which roughly began in the mid-19th century and lasted through the mid-20th century.The fusion between Vietnamese cuisine and traditional New Orleans fare is on prime display at Tamarind by Dominique, the new restaurant headed by Chef Dominique Macquet and Chef de Cuisine, Quan Tran. Their menu reflects traditional Vietnamese fare, influenced by the French colonial period in Vietnam.
In addition to discussing Vietnamese cuisine and highlighting renowned restaurants, the documentary delves into the traditions of the Vietnamese culture in New Orleans. VIETNAMESE CUISINE IN NEW ORLEANS explores the weekly farmers market in Village de l’est, the community’s use of backyard farms and auqoponics, and the shrimping industry. Since faith is a strong component of the Vietnamese culture, the documentary offers in-depth information on their religious practices and family traditions, including their annual Lunar New Year celebration – Tet.
VIETNAMESE CUISINE IN NEW ORLEANS is Written & Produced by Suzanne Pfefferle. Filmed by Lenny Delbert. Narrated by Peggy Scott Laborde.
Those interviewed in VIETNAMESE CUISINE IN NEW ORLEANS are: