Vietnamese Americans are the fourth-largest Asian American ethnic group after Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Indian Americans, and have developed distinctive characteristics in the United States.
South Vietnamese immigration to the United States began after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Early immigrants were refugee boat people, fleeing persecution or seeking economic opportunities. More than half of Vietnamese Americans reside in the states of California and Texas. Other states with concentrations of Vietnamese Americans were Washington, Florida (four percent each) and Virginia (three percent). According.to the 2012 American Community Survey (ACS), 76 percent of foreign-born Vietnamese are naturalized U.S. citizens.
The April 30, 1975 fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War, prompted the first large-scale wave of immigration; many with close ties to America or the South Vietnam government feared communist reprisals. Most of the first-wave immigrants were well-educated, financially comfortable, and proficient in English. Although Vietnamese immigration has continued at a fairly steady pace since the 1980s, the pathway to immigration for Vietnamese today has shifted entirely. As opposed to the earlier history of Vietnamese migration that stemmed predominantly from refugees, an overwhelming majority of Vietnamese are now granted lawful permanent residence (LPR) on the basis of family-sponsored preferences or by way of relatives who are U.S. citizens, at 53% and 44% respectively.
Many Vietnamese Americans are small business owners. According to a 2002 Census Bureau survey of Vietnamese-owned firms, more than 50 percent of the businesses are personal services or repair and maintenance. The period from 1997 to 2002 saw substantial growth in the number of Vietnamese-owned business. Throughout the country, many Vietnamese (especially first or second-generation immigrants) have opened supermarkets, restaurants, bánh mì bakeries, beauty salons, barbershops, and auto-repair businesses. Restaurants owned by Vietnamese Americans tend to serve Vietnamese cuisine, Vietnamized Chinese cuisine or both and have popularized phở and chả giò in the U.S.
While adapting to a new country, Vietnamese Americans have tried to preserve their traditional culture by teaching their children the Vietnamese language, wearing traditional dress (áo dài) for special occasions and showcasing their cuisine in restaurants throughout the country. Family loyalty is the most important Vietnamese cultural characteristic, and more than two generations traditionally lived under one roof. The Vietnamese view family as including maternal and paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In adapting to American culture, most Vietnamese American families have adopted the nuclear pattern while trying to maintain close ties with their extended families.
Erica J. Peters, director of the Culinary Historians of Northern California and author of “Appetites and Aspirations in Vietnam: Food and Drink in the Long Nineteenth Century,” says, “The immigrant story is that you miss the foods from your home country when they’re not available and you talk to each other a lot about, ‘Well, how can we make do? How can we recreate some of the flavors of what we had there?’
So, Houston, Orange County, CA and New Orleans became huge hubs for Vietnamese families. The matriarchs were all great cooks and their children had high standards when it came to Vietnamese food. So when they went out to eat in a restaurant, they wanted to have that similar taste or better; otherwise, they wouldn’t eat there.
Common ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, bean sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruit, and vegetables. French cuisine has also had a major influence due to the French colonization of Vietnam. Vietnamese recipes use lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime, and Thai basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of dairy and oil, complementary textures, and reliance on herbs and vegetables. Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide
So what dishes did Vietnamese restaurant owners bring to the U.S. with them?
To mention just a few classics:
Pho is a simple staple consisting of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef.
Banh xeo is a crispy crepe bulging with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus the garnish of fresh herbs that are characteristic of most authentic Vietnamese dishes.
Cao lau is a pork noodle dish from Hoi An that is a bit like the various cultures that visited the trading port at its prime. The thicker noodles are similar to Japanese udon, the crispy won-ton crackers and pork are a Chinese touch, while the broth and herbs are clearly Vietnamese.
Nem ran/cha gio
Vietnam’s bite-sized crunchy spring rolls might not enjoy the same popularity as their healthier fresh equivalent, but they deserve a special mention. The crispy shell with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce.
Most Vietnamese dishes are actually really easy to make at home.
Nem ran/cha gio are crunchy spring rolls with a soft veggie and meat filling dunked in a tangy sauce.
Bun bo nam bo is a bowl of noodles without broth, tender slices of beef mingle, crunchy peanuts, bean sprouts that are flavored with fresh herbs, crisp dried shallots, a splash of fish sauce and fiery chili pepper.
Xoi is a bowl of savory sticky rice. Rice is less of an accompaniment to meals in Vietnam and more of a meal itself. The dish comes with any number of mix-ins (from slithers of chicken, or pork to fried or preserved eggs), and always with a scattering of dried shallots on top.
Banh mi Sandwich. The French may have brought with them the baguette, but Vietnam takes it to a different level by adding a combination of cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh cilantro, and chili sauce.
Bbánh flan – a coconut and galangal crème caramel flan
Make this Vietnamese Dinner at home.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls
1 cup shredded cooked pork
1/2 cup dried Asian mushrooms (rehydrate in water for 30 minutes or until softened then finely mince)
1/2 cup cellophane rice noodles rehydrated in water for 30 minutes or until softened then into 2-inch lengths)
1 green onion (trim off ends and slice thinly)
1/2 small white/yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
6 Spring Roll Rice Wrappers
Warm water to rehydrate the wrappers
Vegetable oil for frying
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham), recipe below
In a medium-size bowl, mix together the pork, mushrooms, cellophane noodles, green onions, white/yellow onion, sugar, black pepper, salt and oyster sauce. Set aside.
The dried rice paper wrapper needs to be softened before wrapping. To do this, fill a shallow bowl with warm tap water Take one rice paper wrapper and immerse it completely in the water. Make sure that the wrapper is completely wet. Wait about 30 seconds for the wrapper to soften. It will turn malleable and start to feel sticky and that’s ok.
Put the wet wrapper on a kitchen towel or large empty plate or cutting board. Place 2 tablespoons of filling about 1 inch from the edge of the wrapper, on the side closest to you. Press the filling together.
First, fold the edge of the wrapper closest to you so that it covers the filling. Make sure that this first fold completely covers the filling, and pull the edge of the fold slightly under the filling making a taut, small parcel.
Using both your hands, fold the right side of the wrapper toward the center, stopping where the filling is. Do the same with the other side–fold the left side of the wrapper toward the center, stopping where the filling is.
Continue folding the wrapper by grabbing the enclosed filling and turning it over until it reaches the end of the wrapper. Check all sides to make sure there are no loose ends on the wrapper. This ensures the filling won’t escape when frying.
If you’re not going to fry the spring rolls right away, line them all up on a plate and cover with plastic wrap so that they do not dry up. Make sure that the spring rolls do not touch each other, as they can be a bit sticky and may tear if you need to pull them apart. If not frying right away cover the rolls with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Alternatively, you may freeze the wrapped spring rolls to be cooked at another time.
To bake the rolls
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Make the spring rolls: Pierce each roll with a skewer in a few places to prevent bursting.
Place a rack in a baking dish and brush with vegetable oil. Mix 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil; lightly brush on rolls. Place the rolls on the rack; bake until golden on top, about 15 minutes. Turn the rolls; bake until golden and crisp, 8 to 10 more minutes.
Serve with Nuoc Cham dipping sauce.
Nuoc Cham Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Nuoc Cham is a must at every Vietnamese table, no matter what is served. You can use this condiment for dipping meat, seafood and vegetables, and for drizzling on rice. Although it will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, Nuoc Cham is best when freshly made.
3 Thai bird chiles, or 1 serrano chile
1 garlic clove, sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
5 tablespoons fish sauce, such as Red Boat
2 tablespoons finely shredded carrots for garnish
Cut the chiles into thin rings and cut each in half. Place all the ingredients except the carrots in a small serving bowl. Stir well and set aside for at least10 minutes before using. Sprinkle carrots on top before serving.
Yield 1 cup.
Lemongrass Beef And Shrimp Skewers
1 pound top sirloin, strip or ribeye steak
1 lb large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails intact
Skewers – metal or wooden soaked in warm water
1/3 cup minced fresh lemongrass, white part only
1/4 cup minced shallot
1 red chili pepper, diced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped scallions
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce
Rice Noodles with herbs, recipe below
Directions for the skewers
Slice the steak into small thin pieces approximately 3/4″ square and 1/4″ thick.
Combine all the ingredients for the Marinade. Add the marinade to the meat and mix well. Marinate for at least 1 hour. Insert the meat through the skewers.
Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and add to the Marinade with the beef cubes. Stir to combine well and marinate for 15 minutes. Thread shrimp onto the skewers.
Heat a stovetop grill. Grill the meat for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until desired tenderness. Grill the shrimp on both sides until they are charred and cooked through.
Place the skewers on a lettuce-lined serving platter. Place the noodle mixture in the center, the skewers on the one side of the plate and spring rolls on the other side.. Garnish the Skewers with bits of scallion and serve with the dipping sauce.
Rice Noodles With Fresh Herbs
3 oz dried rice noodles
3//4 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/3 cucumber, cut in matchstick strips
1/3 cup mint leaves, cut into thirds
1/3 cup Asian basil leaves, cut into thirds
Pour boiling water over the noodles to cover. and stir gently to loosen. Set aside for 30 minutes.. Drain and let noodles sit until dry and sticky about 30 minutes
Gently toss together the bean sprouts, cucumbers, mint, and basil leaves in a mixing bowl. Add the sticky noodles and toss. Add a little salt and pepper.
Place the noodles in the center of the lettuce-lined serving platter and serve with the skewers and spring rolls. Serve the dipping sauce on the side.