Suzanne Nuyen |
Saturday, May 20, 2023
I love to eat, but feeding others is my love language.
When I graduated from college and moved to Washington, D.C., in 2017, I left all of my friends behind. Plying new acquaintances with lavish, home-cooked meals was my best attempt at making new friends and curing my loneliness. I don't want to brag, but my food is pretty good. Soon enough, everyone was asking me for the recipes, which is how Bun Bo Bae, my Vietnamese cooking blog, came to be in 2019.
In hindsight, I've probably been destined to start a food blog. I spent most of my childhood in the kitchen with my mom. As a toddler, I'd sit and watch her cook. My sous chef duties started with just passing her the ingredients. Soon, I was measuring, steaming and stir-frying my way toward kitchen mastery. I left for college before I could learn my mom's best dishes.
In 2015 I went abroad to study in France. I was living alone — truly alone — for the first time in my life. There were no roommates, dorms or dining halls. I was on my own and I was desperately homesick. So, I started calling my mom and asking for the recipes for my favorite dishes.
It turns out, my mom doesn't have any recipes. She couldn't give me a single measurement for any dish — that wasn't the way she learned how to cook. She grew up in the kitchen with her mom too, and my grandma passed on her knowledge orally. Now it was my turn. My mom taught me how to cook intuitively and "measure with my heart." Instead of following rigid measurements, I learned to cook by tasting and feeling my food.
Bun Bo Bae was initially a space for me to put what I learned into writing. I didn't want all of the secret knowledge behind dishes like my mom's bún bò huế (a spicy beef and pork noodle soup that inspired the blog's name) or my dad's thịt băm sốt cà chua (a versatile, pork-based tomato sauce) to disappear one day if the oral tradition ended. I wanted to write down every piece of advice I was given in detail, to make sure people could keep creating these dishes as authentically as possible.
These days, I experiment more. I'm not as strict with myself about preserving and re-creating Vietnamese dishes exactly as I remember eating them. I use seasonal ingredients and substitute items when I can't find them. Some recipes, like my bò lúc lắc, or shaking beef, feel entirely my own. As my food blog and follower count grew, so did my confidence in the kitchen.
Bun Bo Bae also grew my confidence at work. I knew I was a great cook, but I had no idea how to make a website, photograph my meals or even how to arrange them to look appetizing. I taught myself social media and web building, and the skills helped me land my job at NPR, where one of my recipes was served in Sound Bites, the cafeteria. I even hosted a cooking class for my colleagues to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month.
My blog has given me a space to write about what I love on days when the news feels too depressing. It's connected me to countless new internet friends. Most importantly, writing for Bun Bo Bae has taught me that celebrating my Vietnamese American culture doesn't have to be about perfectly re-creating my parents' traditions. It's about mixing what I've been taught with my own experiences, and cooking up something entirely new.
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