“Countries have borders but flavours will cross cultures”
I was born in Bạc Liêu near the Southern tip of Vietnam, where our family lived for many generations. Bac Lieu was a small provincial town where the French built manors with louvre shutters and streets with wide boulevards. In these boulevards food-vendors hustled from morning to night selling everything from morning coffee to late night snacks. Just steps away from our home, there were endless rice paddies where foraged herbs can be bought directly from the farmers working these fields.
We landed in Winnipeg in 1979. At the time there were only two Chinese general grocers. We couldn't find all the products we were accustomed to. Two years later we opened the first South-East Asian grocery in Winnipeg. From that moment on, food became even more of a focus of our family.
At the store, I was the go-to person for English speaking customers. Adventurous locals would want to know our specialty products. The store is still being operated by my family to this day.
Like most young immigrants to Canada, I did not appreciate my own culture outside our home. Vietnamese food was not known outside family circles until much later. However, I learned from a young age that countries have borders but flavours will cross cultures. Now for me, cooking is a way to create moments to gather with friends and family. The food sets the tone and I always try to bring in new flavours, new dishes, new ingredients, making each family gathering a unique experience.
A typical Viet meal has at least 50% vegetables, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates. We eat at least half of the vegetables raw. Leafy lettuce is often used for wrapping. My favourite dishes are the ones to share like self-assembling salad rolls and noodle bowls.
We were a family of foodies before the term “foodies” was coined. Not surprising as our new life in Canada, for many years, evolved around a grocery store.
For me cooking is an essential life skill and I make sure to pass it on to the next generation. Whether it is my 4yo godchild learning to separate egg yolks for our Sunday waffles or my nieces asking questions about our family recipes.