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Blog Article

Asian American Heritage Month 2022: Food, Culture and Traditions from Indochina

May 11, 2022

Lily Davis

Associate Director of Sales
Le Méridien Houston Downtown

My parents escaped Vietnam by fishing boat in 1978. They left everything behind – careers, family, friends, and every personal belonging – for the chance to be free and to start anew. Onboard with them floating through the Pacific Ocean was my oldest brother, who was a newborn and only ten days old. They eventually ran out of fuel and were rescued by coast guards off the coast of the Philippines. My brother was given the middle name, Liberato, which means “to be freed” in Tagalog. This story is not uncommon among Vietnamese immigrants.

 There were an estimated 800,000 “boat people.” For those that survived, their stories and heritage are all they were able to bring with them to the U.S., and all they were able to pass down to their children. While we don’t have photo albums, heirloom jewelry or wedding dresses, we’ve inherited the traditions, songs and recipes – all the ways we connect with and continue to celebrate our culture.

My favorite way to experience any culture is by dining. Houston is the most culturally diverse city in the country, and home to the second-largest Vietnamese American enclave in the states. To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, I encourage you try an Asian cuisine and support your local Asian-owned restaurants. Vietnamese dining is family-style, communal and features thousands of dishes for various regions, so I couldn’t just pick one recipe to share with you. Instead, I present to you my Top 8 Essential Vietnamese dishes (because the number 8 is lucky!) to try the next time you visit a Vietnamese restaurant:

  1. Bánh Xèo is a crispy golden crêpe filled with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, onions. It’s often served on a sizzling platter. You enjoy it wrapped in lettuce and mint, and dipped in a delicious fish sauce called nước chấm.
  2. Phở Bò is the most popular Vietnamese dish in America, consisting of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and a variety of meats in a deeply flavored bone broth that takes hours to steep, and involves too many spices to count.
  3. Bánh Mì sandwiches come in many varieties. The classic bánh mì comes with pork pâté or slices of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork luncheon meat), sliced cucumber, pickled carrots, and jalapeño in a toasty French baguette.
  4. Bún Bò Huế is the quintessential noodle dish from the Huế (central) region of Vietnam. It’s a richly fragrant spicy beef noodle with beef brisket, beef shank, and oxtail. Again, too many spices to count, but lemongrass is the predominant flavor.
  5. Chả Cá Thăng Long is the famous dish of Northern Vietnam comprising of fish fillets marinated in turmeric and fish sauce, served on a sizzling platter with heaps of dill, shallots and scallion. Some eat it over vermicelli noodles, but my family eats the fish and noodles wrapped in rice paper (bánh tráng) with a fermented anchovy dipping sauce.
  6. Bò Lúc Lắc a.k.a “Vietnamese Shaking Beef” is named for the sound of the wok knocking around as you toss and sear the beef. It is a French-inspired peppery, sweet and savory cubed steak served with red onion, watercress, tomato, and warm white rice.
  7. Gỏi Cuốn is a traditional Vietnamese summer salad roll made with sliced pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, vermicelli and lettuce, wrapped in bánh tráng and dipped in a peanut and hoisin-based dipping sauce called tương chấm.
  8. Chè Ba Màu translates literally to “three color dessert,” starting with a sweet yellow mung bean base, a layer of soft red or kidney beans and topped with green pandan jelly. Served in a glass full of shaved iced and coconut milk. It’s the perfect way to finish any Vietnamese meal!

Celena Nong

Massage Therapist – St. Somewhere Spa
Margaritaville Resort Orlando


For me, it means getting to bring awareness of my history and the diversity of all the cultures that embody the Asian American community.  My family is from Cambodia and I am a first generation American immigrant.  I was born in Massachusetts and moved to Florida when I was 4 years-old.  I grew up with the stories of what my grandparents and parents went through back in Cambodia during the Vietnam War and then with the Genocide of the late 70’s (the Cambodian Genocide was an explosion of mass violence that saw between 1.5 and 3 million people killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, a communist political group).  Their experiences and resilience have made me who I am today.  I look up to them and I want to make them as proud as they make me.  I carry forward the stories to my daughter to make sure that our story continues through our generations.


We have so much fun celebrating Cambodian New Year’s shortly before the start of Asian American Heritage Month (April 14 – 16).  As a Buddhist Family, we start off by going to Temple.  We pray to our ancestors and the universe, in hopes that we will get the same blessings in return.  We then prepare our celebration with lots of food, candles, and music!  Favorite foods include pork and rice, chicken red curry, beef stewed in palm sugar, and my favorite, Somlor Machu Youn (Sweet and Sour Soup).



  • About 4 cups water
  • 1 whole small fish, chopped into 5-6 pieces (including head and skin)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass only bottom third of stalk, tough outer layers removed, sliced thin
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 2-3 green onions, bottom half only, chopped into large pieces
  • 2-3 cilantro stems, chopped into large pieces
  • 5-6 tsps fish sauce
  • 1 tsp organic sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Juice of 2-3 small limes
  • 2-3 whole bird’s eye chiles
  • ¼ white onion, chopped into fine strips

Seasonings (add as much of each as you want):

  • Fried garlic
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Green onions
  • Fish sauce
  • Lime wedges


  1. Bring water to a boil and add all ingredients (except the chiles and onions), including the whole fish, and simmer about 10-15 minutes until fish is cooked through. If you’re not using a whole fish, sub fish or chicken broth for water and simply add the fish filets in step 4.
  2. Taste and add more fish sauce, sugar, salt and/or lime, to taste.
  3. Add whole chiles and simmer for about another 10 minutes.
  4. Add white onion in the last few minutes.
  5. Ladle soup into individual bowls and serve with a side of white jasmine rice.
  6. Add garnishes of green onions, fried garlic, cilantro leaves, lime wedges and fish sauce, to taste.