Vietnamese restaurants, food styles and dining experiences have come a long way in recent years. Dining out at a Vietnamese restaurant is no longer about ordering pho; there is a fine dining side where cooking is an art. A warm welcoming interior design and good service are numberone priorities. With a large Vietnamese population in the Bay Area, there is a great variety of restaurants ranging from fast food style to fine dining, and plenty of cuisine choices from the very North down to the very South of Vietnam. Sometimes it can be difficult to choose between traditional cooks and younger chefs, who are more inclined to cook Vietnamese fusion foods.
I once asked my grandmother where she thought Vietnamese cuisine came from. After a moment, she started laughing, and with her hands waving in the air exclaimed, “Where else but from our ong ba (our ancestors)?” (Mai Pham, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, 2001). For many Vietnamese, especially for older generations like Susie Bui,owner of Nha Toi restaurant in San Jose, cuisines stretchback in timethrough ancestors, through their villages and memories. As a result of influences by many foreign cultures—Chinese, Japanese, French, American, EasternEuropean and Thai—over centuries in Vietnam, the cuisine had been enhanced and diversified. Furthermore, later generations have diversified traditional dishes as more chefs are attending culinary institutions based in the United States and other foreign countries. Their vision and taste becomes a cross-cultural invention, targeting youthful and non-Vietnamese diners.
In addition to cooking styles, restaurant settings have also changed significantly. Foods are prepared with more care and an attractive presentation is mandatory to attract customers. With the increasing popularity of drinking wines during dinner, more Vietnamese restaurants are serving wines to complement a meal. “Pairing the right wine with food is like finding the right words to compose a perfect sentence,” said chef Trung Nguyen at the Bleu Ginger in Milpitas.
With rapidly growing competition in the restaurant business, restaurateurs are more creative about marketing their restaurants. Restaurants have transformed into social and entertainment-oriented venues. Susie Bui’s restaurant hosts space for artists and musicians to promote their work. At least one Friday a month, Susie arranges an open mic—a great chance for musicians to get their voices heard. She also allows painters and photographers to exhibit artwork in her restaurant n appreciation for the artists’ hard work. Many of the pieces on display at Nha Toi are originally from Vietnam, which provides an educational opportunity for customers to learn about the culture.
It is time for restaurateurs and chefs to step-up the culinary game and take initiative to expand the public’s perspective on Vietnamese food and culture. Without having to sacrifice tradition and authenticity, Vietnamese cuisine should embrace the diversity of our ever-changing community.Nha Toi 460 E William St
San Jose, CA 95112
90 S Abel St
Milpitas, CA 95035