Culinary and Social Evolution of Vietnamese Culture through Immigration

Vietnamese food

Vietnamese people’s experiences in America and abroad can best be summed up as tumultuous. Not necessarily having a smooth introduction, Vietnamese people first started immigrating to the US during the mid 1950s-70s, during the Vietnam war. Arriving in America with no knowledge of English, no money, and from a war-torn home country, many had trouble adjusting at first. Even so, it would be fair to say that Vietnamese culture and its people have not completely settled in the US, although they are much better adjusted than before. 

The reasons behind this are plentiful; the most major ones being an already unfriendly environment for immigrants in the US, and the “recent” immigration of Vietnamese peoples compared to other groups of people in America who have already settled. Annie T. Nguyen, having personally experienced the difficulties of being a Vietnamese American, emphasizes in her article how Vietnamese Americans arrived in the US later than other Asian immigrants, and how this has negatively impacted their image. Vietnamese Americans are sometimes seen as lower than other Asians, and are statistically less educated. As Vietnamese people as a whole have not had as much time to settle in the US as others, they have been given a disadvantage when it comes to gaining acceptance in the US.  

However, something that has gained wide acceptance within recent years is Vietnamese food. Is food the way to one’s heart? A possibly corny question that holds some truth. Learning about a foreign culture and its people can easily start from trying a food from their culture, which opens a gate into everything else they have to offer. 

Pho is by far the most popular Vietnamese food, and it can be found all over the US, as well as the world. Its globalization started with the immigration of refugees during the Vietnam War, and it has continued to spread across the world since. It has become so popular in fact that it has been started to be “gentrified” or modified by others, with varying levels of success. There have even been online controversies about whether or not people have been unfairly remaking or changing pho. However, this shows it has been popular to spread to and interest those of other cultures, thus helping them learn about Vietnamese culture as well. 

There are other Vietnamese foods that have gained popularity within the United States as well as worldwide; Bánh mì (a sandwich of French influence with pâté, meat, pickled vegetables, etc. in a baguette ) , Bánh xèo (best described as a crunchy crepe/pancake filled with pork, shrimp, and beansprouts, usually yellow due to turmeric in the batter), and cà phê đá (Vietnamese coffee typically made with condensed milk) being some examples. These are all popular foods in Vietnam as well, and they give a good introduction into Vietnamese cultures for those learning about it. 

These foods, as well as Vietnamese immigrants, are different in America versus Vietnam. Eating pho or bánh xèo for example tastes different in the United States, due to the ingredients and resources available to make it. Food evolves when it migrates, just like people do. Thị Hiền Nguyễn, for example, argues that culture is not stagnant but in fact malleable.  There is an undeniable difference in Vietnamese culture in the United States versus Vietnamese culture in Vietnam. However, this does not mean something is wrong with Vietnamese American culture. It only shows that Vietnamese people have adapted to their environment, evolving their culture so it can continue to stay alive.

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