Monday, July 20, 2015

The PA Melting Pot: THE PA MELTING POT: How ethnic foods survived thr...

The PA Melting Pot: THE PA MELTING POT: How ethnic foods survived thr...: The Melting Pot: SPECIAL COLUMN:  Part 1 Vietnamese and   the mobility of the Vietnamese “floating markets” (Part 2 next column) Befor...                


THE PA MELTING POT: How ethnic foods survived through mobility - Vietnamese Floating Markets - Part 1

The Melting Pot: SPECIAL COLUMN:  Part 1 Vietnamese and   the mobility of the Vietnamese “floating markets” (Part 2 next column)

Before the “Three July Celebrations” column several column posts were made about ethnic foods and how their mobility transports such as:  pushcarts, curb carts, roadside railroad carts, kiosks, etc. have kept ethnic foods alive and well.

Let’s talk about the Vietnamese who immigrated to the United States in different waves. The beginning of Vietnamese immigration note:  On April 18, 1975, less than two weeks before the fall of Saigon, President Ford authorized the entry of several refugees 125,000 of whom were Vietnamese. This first large group of Vietnamese in America has become known as "the first wave” which consisted of mostly educated, white collar public servants, senior military officers, and upper and middle class Vietnamese and their families. “The second wave” came in the 1980s escaping very precariously in boats from the communist regime as "boat people".  In the 1990s and 2000s, “the third wave” came from the US's Humanitarian Operation Program, family members of Vietnamese-Americans, and Amerasian children of American servicemen who applied for entry into the United States.  Presently, there are over 1,800,000 Vietnamese/Vietnamese Americans living in the US.

Pennsylvania can claim 45,000 Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans.  Although western Pa. is not home to a great number of Vietnamese there are several in a Whitehall Vietnamese church of which many are second and third generation. The services in the church are given in Vietnamese and sometimes in English as the cultures mesh.  There are approximately 2,000 Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American families living in each of Allegheny and Fayette Counties. There are in the Pittsburgh-Uniontown area 12-14 known Vietnamese restaurants. 

Rice is eaten with a variety of spicy side dishes. Popular dishes (with ingredients and pronunciations in parentheses) include ca kho (braised fish or "ga khaw"), ca chien (fried fish or "gaheeyen"), thit ga kho sa (chicken braised with lemon grass or "tit ga khaw sa"), thit bo xao (stir-fried beef or "tit baw sow"), and suon xao chua ngot (sweet and sour spare ribs or "sow chewa ngawt"). Egg rolls, known as cha gio ("cha yaw"), are served with many Vietnamese meals and at Vietnamese festive occasions. A rice noodle soup, pho ("fuh"), is one of the most popular breakfast and lunch foods. Vietnamese restaurants have become common in the United States, and their delicious foods are one of the most widely appreciated contributions of Vietnamese Americans to American life.

The cuisine encompasses the foods and beverages of Vietnam, and features a combination of fundamental tastes (ngũ vị): common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes use lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint. long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird's eye chili, lime and basil leaves. Traditional cooking uses fresh ingredients, minimal use of dairy and oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables. With the balance between fresh herbs and meats and a selective use of spices to reach a fine taste, Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide. Part 2 will explore how the Vietnamese shop for food navigating small boats to “floating markets” in the Mekong Delta in contrast to driving vehicles to our farmer’s markets.

Christine Willard, a native of western Pennsylvania, researches and blogs about the
food unique to western Pennsylvania. She currently resides in North Carolina. Her
Blog can be found at