New Orleans can thank a generation of Vietnamese immigrants for making staples of their traditional cooking common cravings in this town – the pho, spring rolls, bun and banh mi.
Today, something different is taking shape before our eyes, and on our plates. The kids of those immigrants, the American-born second generation, are opening their own restaurants and creating a Viet-New Orleans hybrid.
Drawing on traditional flavors, but often breaking from traditional forms, they’re making new niches for Vietnamese food that align with the rhythm of New Orleans food.
Let’s start at the po-boy shop. In Metairie, next to a gas station run by his parents, Peter Nguyen has created Banh Mi Boys.
He serves straight-up New Orleans po-boys, Vietnamese banh mi and sandwiches that borrow elements of both. Consider the bo kho banh mi, a roast beef that resembles the juicy, debris standard of New Orleans po-boy shops but adds star anise, ginger, soy, all seeping into the crusty bread and crackling with fresh herbs and fiery peppers.
Now let’s get some crawfish. At TD Seafood and Pho House in Harvey you find a Vietnamese noodle shop merged with a boiled seafood joint, with crawfish, shrimp and blue crabs, with all the usual corn, potatoes and sausage, gleaming with that garlic butter sauce for a style widely known now as Viet-Cajun.
Or simply go to Eat Well Food Store at the busy corner of Broad and Canal streets in Mid-City. Between quarts of beer and lottery tickets, Eat Well serves a yakamein that tastes like it’s from Southeast Asia, shrimp and oyster po-boys that follow the corner store standard and plus-sized banh mi, perhaps filled with soft shell crabs in a distinctive, garlicky batter.
Meanwhile, back at Banh Mi Boys, the latest creation is a version of bread pudding, made with yesterday’s banh mi loaves and, for Mardi Gras, covered in purple, green and gold sugar.
You can call it fusion food or mash-ups. But to me, it tastes right at home in modern New Orleans.
Banh Mi Boys
5001 Airline Dr., Metairie, 504-510-5360
Eat Well Food Store
2700 Canal St., New Orleans, 504-821-7730
TD Seafood & Pho House
1028 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, 504-302-1717