Virginia is Pho Lovers

Nom on the Vietpuns

Growing up in Baltimore in the 90s (gasp) in a Vietnamese family, our culture vis-à-vis food never felt mainstream. I recall envying my peers' lunches of Dunkaroos and Ham sandwiches, while my "smelly" meal of Bún Thịt Nướng cast me as the outsider, not worthy of a lunchtime trade. These days, when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I grin with amusement imaging those peers now precariously standing above a bowl of Bún bò Huế, or plate of Bánh mì, trying to square their meal perfectly for an audiences of complicit hearts.

Despite my classmate's shaming, I adored Vietnamese food. Access to quality ingredients and lack of Vietnamese restaurants in Baltimore then, made home-cooked meals from my Vietmom a rare and auspicious occurrence. In order to prepare those meals, though, we had to travel far to exotic lands to acquire them. It's probably where my love of Virginia began.

Northern Virginia is (and was then) known for their Vietnamese grocery stores, restaurants, and Bánh mì stalls. The diaspora of Vietnamese refugees consolidated in Virginia and radiated from there for the East Coast. Crossing the border to Virginia was probably the first road trip across state lines I ever took as a kid. The grocers had the palm sugar, noodles, tamarind pulp, coconut milk necessary to concoct the flavors of my Mom's far away homeland. But I didn't need to see Saigon, the smell of ginger, coriander, and the site of hanging pig's heads and ducks was enough to take me there.

On the hour drive back, I'd wipe my sticky fingers on our Dodge Caravan door, taking in slowly the taste of the bright red, candy sweet meat from within the sticky buns my Mom gifted me and my brothers. Sated, staring out at the trees lining 495, it's then that I fell in love with Virginia, the prospect of Virginia, and the haunt of returning.

That's why I made this shirt honoring my connection to Virginia through the lens of Vietnamese food. I'll always remember those trips as not the gateway to something new, but a reminder of our origins.

I raise a bowl to you Virginia!