The March 2016 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine has a very interesting article on Oklahoma City’s Vietnamese community, with an emphasis on the Vietnamese food served in Oklahoma City’s “Little Saigon.” The area around Classen Boulevard between N.W. 23rd Street and N.W. 34th is officially called the Asian District, but the Smithsonian article correctly points out how the Vietnamese refugee community was instrumental in founding it and turning it into the attraction it has become today.
One idea set forth in the article is that the Asian people have a food culture. A quote in the article by the owner of Super Cao Nguyen Market is illustrative of this point:
We’re all big foodies. We eat, sleep, dream food. When some customer comes to us with an idea for some product we should carry, the first thought that pops into our head is, “That sounds delicious.”
In other words, the people behind the good Asian restaurants and supermarkets work hard to make it that way, and this comes from a very strong attention to food that may even range to an obsession with it.
Another very interesting point in the article is how Vietnamese chefs are at the forefront of innovation in developing Asian fusion cuisine and constantly trying to re-invent what Vietnamese cuisine itself should mean, at least as it exists in America. I had already seen the fusion aspect of it in restaurants like Monsoon in Seattle, and now it is taking hold in Oklahoma City in restaurants such as Guernsey Park. Chef Vuong Nguyen of Guernsey Park has now moved on to open Bonjour, a restaurant that is not Vietnamese but which obviously has a Vietnamese influence along with the French fusion typically found in it.
I like the direction Vietnamese cuisine is taking, because rather than trying to Americanize the food they are keeping the authentic cuisine and adding fusion concepts to it. This is in contrast to Chinese food, which was so Americanized when most of us were growing up that I have a hard time every trying to describe to people what authentic Chinese cuisine is supposed to be. I think Chinese restaurants are now following the Vietnamese pattern though–you can get the authentic version, the Americanized version (there is a little bit of Americanization in some Vietnamese food also), or the fusion version (I have not seen much of this in Chinese food but I know it exists).
I have tried to develop some ideas from the article that I think are important to what I am doing on this blog. People may or may not want to get a copy of the Smithsonian magazine for the article, but I think it is a good read and worthwhile if you can find the March issue.
One subject mentioned in the article is that some chefs from Oklahoma City are thinking about moving to other cities, and maybe even doing a stint in Vietnam to learn some of the finer points of Vietnamese cuisine. If (and more probably when) this happens, some cities will likely see major upgrades in the variety and quality of the Vietnamese cuisine being served.