“A Love Letter to Food & Cultural Identity” by Tram Nguyen

The older I get, the more pride I get in my beautiful country and its beautiful cuisine. Born and raised in Vietnam, I must say it was a blessing growing up eating the most delicious foods in the world (arguably). Both of my parents were working full-time, and our meals were mostly cooked by our nanny; however, eating dinner together was always a must in our family after a long day of school and work. Though, I never spent much time in the kitchen observing, I was always the kid who loved to eat everything. I loved breakfasts on-the-go on the back of my mother’s moped, lunches with friends, street snacks after school, and family dinners. Eating has always been a bonding experience with everyone who has come into my life.

By the age of 14, I moved to the United States by myself to pursue higher education. I was exposed to a wide variety of different cuisines and trying new foods never failed to bring me joy. It wasn’t until 8 years later that I finally moved into my first adult apartment with my own kitchen that I do not have to share with roommates. I started cooking a lot more and my lovely boyfriend is the guinea pig for all of my creations. 

I understand that as beginner cooks, it is quite difficult to love cooking since the barrier of entry is a bit high. Good cooking requires love, passion, science, and intellectual curiosity. 

After getting passed the initial stage of obtaining basic skills, I was amazed at how much cooking has taught me beyond making nourishing and delicious food. Cooking has become a form of creative and therapeutic art to me. As I chase after flavors that I have missed dearly from my childhood, I learn about history, cultures, geography, chemistry, agriculture, environmental issues, and most importantly, humanity. 

The first two Vietnamese dishes that I have mastered were phở and bánh xèo. 

As a Vietnamese expatriate, I savored phở as a very special food, a gateway to my cultural roots, and a piece of home. I grew up eating phở from street vendors and have dearly missed phở being so easily accessible after living in America for 9 years. As cooking has become such a fundamental part of my life, I figured it was about time that I cook phở as a homage to my country’s most prized culinary identity.

Food & Cultural Identity (https://www.instagram.com/p/CBbp5MKl7II/)

 

Bánh xèo (Vietnamese sizzling pancakes) remind me of my most treasured memories of having lunch with mom and grandma on hot humid days. We never cooked them ourselves because you can just buy them off a street vendor for less than $1 each. Not being able to get them so easily living the in US has pushed me to take matters into my own hands. Recreating these beautiful golden, sun-shiny crepes has brought me an immense amount of joy.

Food & Cultural Identity (https://www.instagram.com/p/CDh2_BFljkc/)

 

Beyond Vietnamese food, I also have love affairs with a wide variety of worldwide cuisines ranging from Southeast Asian, East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, to Latin American. The more I learn to cook, the more common ground I find among each culture, like how Italian pasta and ravioli were the decedents of Chinese noodles and dumplings. Maybe not many of us put much thought to the spice jars in our cabinet, but if the modern age has a definitive beginning, it was sparked by the spice trade. Spices didn’t just make merchants rich across the globe — it established vast empires, revealed entire continents to Europeans and tipped the balance of world power. 

Food & Cultural Identity (https://www.instagram.com/p/CAT-c_KFV98/)

Since the dawn of mankind, food has always been the cornerstone of any society. Food unites us all. Learning about food is learning to love one another, and that is what the world needs more of right now.

About the Author: Tram Nguyen

Tram is an international student from Vietnam who recently just became a University of Miami Double ‘Cane after graduating from her Master of Science in Finance. As a side hobby, Tram runs a Miami-based food blog @eatfoodsleeprepeat that explores the vibrant culinary scene in the city and shares her passion for home-cooking. She’s a huge advocate for preserving, sharing, and evolving culture through food.

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