August 6, 2007
Written by C.N.
One of the consistent themes of this particular blog is how elements of traditional Asian culture are increasingly becoming integrated into mainstream American culture. As New American Media report, the latest example of this is the increasing popularity of Vietnamese food around the country:
[W]hen my family arrived in America in 1975, when fish sauce wasn’t on any mainstream supermarket shelves. Nowadays, the discussion among foodies is which brand of nuoc mam is best. Bold, spicy flavors from all over the globe are in and the cuisine of Vietnam is hot. In fact, people I meet often proclaim, “I LOVE Vietnamese food!” and go on to describe it as fresh, delicious, and healthy — different than Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.
Chowhound and eGullet, two popular online forums, are peppered with opinions on Vietnamese pho noodle soup, banh mi sandwiches, and goi cuon rice paper hand rolls. Sriracha chili sauce, developed by a Vietnamese-American, is not just ubiquitous at Vietnamese restaurants in the States, but it is also sold any many markets. I recently encountered it alongside Heinz ketchup and Grey Poupon mustard at a popular surfer’s café in Santa Cruz, Calif., my hometown. . . .
Tran sees a great resurgence in Viet food in America. “The older generation [of Vietnamese cooks] doesn’t want to be in the kitchen anymore. They’re tired,” she says. “Now there’s a new generation that is going to cooking school, going back to their roots and then creating modern dishes like spring rolls filled with raw tuna. We have a whole new cycle.”
In the last ten years, more Vietnamese-Americans have been opening crossover restaurants outside of Little Saigon enclaves. The Vietnamese culinary diaspora translates into hip joints in trendy neighborhoods like Silver Lake in Los Angeles. Hardcore Viet food fans debate how “real” the food is at such establishments, and there inevitably are flavor adjustments. Nevertheless, plenty of diners appreciate having greater access to Vietnamese flavors.
As the last quoted paragraph notes, inevitably, as the popularity of Vietnamese food continues to increase and as more non-Vietnamese becomes customers, the “old timers” are likely to debate the authenticity of new culinary creations that are designed to appeal to non-Vietnamese tastes.
In fact, this debate is not new at all — it happens whenever any particular aspect of an ethnic culture starts of become assimilated into the mainstream surrounding culture. This debate about “authenticity” has also been applied to Vietnamese Americans themselves.
That is, as the younger 1.5 and U.S.-born generation of Vietnamese Americans grows up and increasingly adopts more “mainstream American” attitudes, beliefs, norms, clothing, and language, they are frequently questioned by the older generation about whether they are “real” Vietnamese. As someone who has undergone that type of scrutiny myself, it can be a jarring and disconcerting feeling to know that your identity is being questioned by your own community.
But in the end, in keeping with the theme of my previous post on New Forms of Assimilation, more and more Vietnamese Americans — and other children of immigrants from all ethnicities — are becoming more comfortable in forging their own identity, one that incorporates elements from both their ancestral traditions and mainstream American culture. In this sense, these new forms of Vietnamese cuisine fit in quite well in that context.
In other words, you don’t have to be either Vietnamese or American — you can be both at the same time.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Making Vietnamese Food Mainstream" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/08/making-vietnamese-food-mainstream/> ().
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