This is Lam. He is Vietnamese but was born and raised in the Netherlands. When many Vietnamese moved to other countries, such as America and France, after the Vietnam War, Lam's parents ended up in the Netherlands as teenagers. There they met at a later age. Lam is proud of his Vietnamese background, but this has not always been the case. He tells us his story.
Lam explains that the Vietnamese are resilient people. The country has been occupied for a long time, but the Vietnamese people have always found ways to make the best of a bad situation, also through food. They have adapted the dishes of occupiers to their own kitchen. A clear example of this is the banh mi. The Vietnamese have made their own version of the French baguette for this dish. In this way, the Vietnamese have managed to maintain their own identity despite the oppression.
"By adapting dishes the Vietnamese have managed to maintain their own identity despite the oppression."
Vietnamese cuisine is an important part of the culture. The saying “love goes through the stomach” is very applicable in Vietnam. Food and love are strongly linked in Vietnamese culture, explains Lam. This is reflected, for example, in the first question his mother always asks when she sees Lam: “con ăn cơm chưa” (Have you eaten yet)? By this she does not just mean literally whether he has eaten yet. There is a much deeper layer underneath, says Lam. She also indirectly asks how he is doing and whether he is taking good care of himself. You will see and or hear this in many Vietnamese households, “food is a real love language,” says Lam. In addition, Vietnamese cuisine often uses side dishes that are lovingly shared with each other. During this meal you have to keep eating, Lam explains with a laugh. “You are not allowed not to eat and certainly to leave the house on an empty stomach. This may seem pushy to others, but this is actually a sign that someone cares about you”.
At home, Lam was also brought up with Vietnamese norms and values. These were different from the ones he learned outside the home and this often left him feeling misunderstood in his younger years. The Vietnamese food was also strange for the Dutch. When he brought his lunch from home to school, smelling of fish sauce, garlic and pepper, he was sometimes frowned upon. In addition, Lam explains that there is often shame among Asians. Asian culture is often misunderstood or ridiculed in non-Asian cultures. The song Hanky Panky Shanghai in the Netherlands is a good example of this.
The saying 'love goes through the stomach' is very applicable in Vietnam.
But in recent years, Lam has found himself fully embracing Vietnamese culture. He is now passionate about it and likes to talk about his background. He likes the Dutch directness as well as the Vietnamese food and family values. Since then, food also has a double meaning for him. Therefore, lately he often watches his mother in the kitchen. “Cooking with her now gives a different feeling,” explains Lam. He also likes to cook himself and shared with us one of his favorite dishes: Pho Ga!