By Rebecca Toov
You are listening to U of M on your Historic Dial!
Season 2: Episode 2. Look What We Found! In a Vietnamese Kitchen
You are listening to U of M on your Historic Dial podcast. Welcome to Season 2: Episode 2.
Hi, this is Rebecca from University Archives. Today we return to looking back and listening to Look What We Found, a program of the Minnesota School of the Air that aired on University radio station KUOM from 1977-1978. Forty years ago, on October 27, 1977, KUOM took a field trip in sound to Bamboo Village, a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul.
The teacher’s manual for the program suggested that before the broadcast the class should start a conversation about Asian cuisine. “Are any of the children familiar with it?” the description questioned. “Does anyone know the differences between Chinese and Japanese food? Discuss the war in Vietnam. What do your students know about it? Talk about the history of Vietnam, from the French colonial period to the Communist victory.”
The Communist victory refers to the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in 1975. That event ended the Vietnam War and displaced millions of Southeast Asians. In response, the U.S. Congress passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act that authorized over 400 million dollars in federal assistance for the resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in the United States.
In Minnesota, Governor Wendell Anderson established the Indochinese Resettlement Office to coordinate refugee relocation to the state. A task force was also established to create collaborations among federal agencies, state resources, and local charities to provide aid to incoming refugees. An article in the Minneapolis Star published in November of 1977 estimated that Minnesota was then the new home to approximately 4,000 Southeast Asian refugees.
In this week’s episode of Look What We Found, titled “In A Vietnamese Kitchen,” the producers teach an important lesson about cultural understanding by starting a conversation about cuisine. While interviewing the owner of Bamboo Village, Patty asked, “What made you decide to open a restaurant?” She replied, “I like a place where we can exchange the culture between the Vietnamese and the American and have something more to show, you know? We have a chance to interact with the American, to meet them on a day-to-day basis.”
The After the Broadcast conversation suggestions in the teacher’s manual further reinforced her message. The manual stated, “Discuss how food from different cultures differs and why. Discuss the problems of refugees entering an unfamiliar culture. If there are any Vietnamese families in your community, invite them to visit your class.”
If you are interested in more information about the resettlement of Southeast Asians in Minnesota, I recommend the online exhibit Immigrant Stories: 40 Years of Southeast Asian Stories which features the stories of refugees that relocated to Minnesota after the Vietnam War. This exhibit was produced by the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. You can view the exhibit at immigrants.mndigital.org/exhibits.
Now, join Walter, Patty, and Bill for “In a Vietnamese Kitchen,” the October 27, 1977 broadcast of “Look What We Found” on radio station KUOM.
Various voices: It’s fabulous! [unintelligible] I don’t know.
[Group exclamation] Look What We Found!
Announcer: Come on you’ve been sitting there far too long. Join the Minnesota School of the Air as we take a field trip in sound to someplace you’ve probably never been, somewhere in and around the Twin Cities. And here to go with you are your hosts Walter, Patty, and Bill.
Walter: Hi Bill, Hi Patty
Bill & Patty: Hi Walter
Walter: Well, who’s got something for today? I know I don’t have anything.
Patty: I do. Last summer I took my friend Chris Gunderson to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul. It’s called the Bamboo Village.
Bill: Is it run by a Vietnamese?
Patty: Yes, her name is Tran Thuy Van. Vietnamese people use their family names first so we can call her Van. As we talked Van played with her baby who had been born just 2 weeks before.
Walter: How was the food Patty, good?
Patty: The food was great and spicy, but I’ll let Van tell you. Stewart, roll the tape.
Van: At night we have 50 different items from the menu you can choose from.
Most of the dish we have I keep them authentic Vietnamese. We have vegetable dish, pork, chicken, we have the… we call it sour soup that actually you eat with the rice, you know big bowl of soup that have vegetable in it, shrimp, and you eat with your rice.
Patty: Why is it called sour soup?
Van: They have, we have pineapple, fresh pineapple, sometimes and we have lemons. We have vinegar. It’s a little sweet and a little sour and spicy. And then, like another dish we have called hot spicy chicken. It’s very hot. And we use just plain chicken breast you know no bone and cooked it in with what we call citronella. Marinate it and cook it in that way. And then we have the Vietnamese omelet, that have also vegetable and meat.
Patty: Do you use any special kinds of foods that other types of cooking might not use?
Van: Well, we use honey here. We also use citronella to marinate some of our beef. Um, we use, uh, let me see, sesame oil to marinate the meat.
Patty: What does marinating the meet do to it?
Van: It will make it more flavor and it make the meat more a – what do you call it – kind of shrink it up a little bit you know, so it’s tastier. I think the difference in Vietnamese cooking is we cook more like the French, the steaming the boiling. Also, we don’t use as much starchy things. We were under the French for 80 years you know and uh so it’s influence by the French. We have a lot of meatless dishes because of the Buddhist influence you know. Um, in the fried rice we have sesame, sesame oil and we try to use it like there’s no meat in it. They use a lot of soybeans to replace the meat you know.
Patty: For protein?
Van: Yeah, yeah, so they use either soybean meat or soybean oil. You know those things to replace it.
Patty: There was also corn in it. Is corn a common food in Vietnam?
Van: Yeah corn is quite common. Corn and sweet potatoes, vegetable is very common and fruit is common in Vietnam. Not meat, you know, we don’t have much meat. Pork is common but not beef. Seldom you eat beef in Vietnam.
Chris: There was something about the food… I, it didn’t seem as moist and flowing as most other oriental foods that I’ve had. I was wondering why it was a little moredrier? I like the taste a lot more that way, but I was wondering why it was that way.
Van: Well it’s… it also depends on the cook too, you know.
Van: The Vietnamese food is not as greasy and not as much starch as the other… we use the broth more, you know, and cooked the vegetable in the broth not the oil so its not come out as fluffy or greasy as the other one. We use the wok here just like in other Chinese restaurant. In the wok cooking you… the surface to cook is smaller, you know, so the vegetable is supposed to be crispier and it’s very high flame so you cook just about a minute or 30 seconds. Um, we use a lot of steaming, you know, we have some fry cook but not as much. We use… we cook steam or boil the food quite a bit.
Patty: What made you decide to open a restaurant?
Van: Tell you the truth I don’t know. [Laughs] No, I was a medical technologist. And after the country fell I thought my family could come but then they didn’t make it, you know? And I had nothing. I didn’t want to really go on with the med tech. I have no particular interest in anything because I have no family, I have nobody. And then there are a lot of Vietnamese so I decided well, I like a place where we can exchange the culture between the Vietnamese and the American and have something more to show, you know? We have a chance to interact with the American, to meet them on a day-to-day basis too. And for the Americans, they have the chance to eat the Vietnamese food, hear some of the Vietnamese songs. We try to have some type of entertainments here, um, to see people in a daily living, not just in a war situation like, you know? And also have a place where the Vietnamese can gather and work together and… I have a couple Americans who help out but the rest are all Vietnamese. They came here during the evacuation.
Van: After the country fell then they came as refugees. So, it’s more of a dream that I like to be able to create something that haven’t been here before. It’s difficult. It’s not as glamorous and when you first thing you started out, you know, afterwards you find the bills and everything… the cook gets sick, you know? The dirty dishes… but it’s fun in many ways.
Patty: Tell me a little bit about your baby.
Van: Oh she is two weeks old. She’s hiccupping right now. Her name is Siri*… Siri* mean councilor. Siri Mae Theresa*, and she is… let’s see now… 7 pounds, 3 ounces when she was born and now she is 22 inches long and 8 pounds. Yes, and I hope she will be able to grow up and learn some Vietnamese and learn some American and she’ll be the cross between the two cultures. *[unverified spelling]
Walter: Patty, Van mentioned the French influence in the cooking. How about an American influence?
Patty: No, we weren’t really there long enough to make much of an impact on Vietnamese cooking. Besides American cooking seems to be based around beef and as Van mentioned, because of the Buddhist influence the Vietnamese don’t have much beef. But can tell you one thing… I’ll take Van’s Vietnamese cooking over American burgers any day.
Walter: How about you Bill?
Bill: That sounds good. Why don’t we go back there for lunch right now?
Walter: That’s a good idea!
Announcer: Producers for Look What We Found are Patty Goodwin, Bill Golfus, and Walter Brody. Join us next time for another field trip in sound brought to you by The Minnesota School of the Air.
The U of M Radio on Your Historic Dial podcast is produced by University Archives for your enjoyment. Subscribe or download on iTunes or GooglePlay so you don’t miss another moment of historic Minnesota radio.
Recordings of the program series Look What We Found were digitized in 2016 in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.
—Rebecca Toov is the collections archivist for the University of Minnesota Archives.