Vietnamese cuisine’s quiet impact on New Orleans culture
Not only have New Orleans’ Vietnamese influences led to fantastic pho joints and banh mi shops throughout the city and surrounding environs, but the family-owned bakeries in NOLA East and on the West Bank serve as a base for cuisine and restaurants of all stripes.
The Southeast Asian culture and cuisine that has crept into southeast Louisiana has also led to the combination of Vietnamese dishes with local ingredients -- not just banh mi sandwiches on menus at restaurants like Green Goddess, Latitude 29, and Boucherie, but a true fusion of the two cultures, both quite fond of pork, seafood, rice, and bold flavors. When Michael Gulotta opened Mopho in 2014, he quipped that he wanted to combine the flavors of the Mekong Delta with the Mississippi Delta. Pho with hogshead cheese, fried oyster banh mi, or a pork belly rice or noodle bowl topped with cracklins are a few examples of his interpretation of Vietnamese-Louisiana fusion.
Pop-up restaurant The Old Portage does a weekly Vietnamese crawfish boil during the season. They boil the crawfish with curry, dried chiles, star anise, nam pla, basil, dried shrimp, ginger, lemongrass, sweet Vietnamese sausage, beech mushrooms, and pineapple -- with Dong Phuong French bread for sopping up the spicy, fragrant good stuff. The Old Portage chefs Jordan and Amarys Herndon also use Dong Phuong bread when they have banh mi on the menu, as well as for bread pudding.
As one-time French colonies, both Vietnam and New Orleans bring traditions from Europe and Asia to one of the oldest cities in America. It may have taken 30 years for the flavors of this confectionery connection to find popularity outside of the cultural enclaves of Vietnamese communities, but it’s been an underlying influence all this time regardless.
Note: Some information came from the well-researched work of Celeste Norris, Judy Walker, and Danielle Dreilinger, all for the Times-Picayune/NOLA.com. Richard Campanella’s book Bienville’s Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans was also helpful in confirming dates and locations of immigration patterns.