Have you been on the hunt for Vietnamese cuisine? If so, you’re in luck. Vietnamese restaurants have started sprouting up all over the United States.
The rise of Vietnamese restaurants in America is especially pronounced in Orange County, about 45 miles south of Los Angeles. A part of Orange Country has even come to be known as “Little Saigon” for their proliferation of Vietnamese eateries. But what’s behind this rise? In this article, we’ll explore exactly that question: the why behind the rise of Vietnamese cuisine in America’s heartland. Get ready for some great stories about chefs and restaurateurs who decided to take a chance on something new—and ended up introducing Americans to a whole new world of flavor.
The Dawn of Little Saigon in Orange County
The dawn of Little Saigon in Orange County began in 1978 with the arrival of the first refugees from Vietnam. Danh Quach, touted as the Father of Little Saigon, was amongst these refugees and just two years later opened up Thuan Loi—the first Vietnamese Business in Orange County. Shortly after, Frank Jao arrived on the scene armed with the idea to create a sprawling Vietnamese business center reminiscent of what he left back home.
Jao used his resources to purchase multiple buildings in Westminster, California and eventually brought both Little Saigon and Phuoc Loc Tho shopping center to life. Thanks to his efforts, Little Saigon soon became one of North America’s largest Vietnamese-American communities and continues to thrive today. In fact, during the first eight months after opening, over 200 Vietnamese businesses were created in the area!
This rise of Vietnamese cuisine in America can be traced back to the Vietnam War when 50,400 refugees were brought to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 1975. From there many moved inland and sought refuge throughout California—in particular Orange County where Danh Quach and Frank Jao did their part in making sure that this newfound community had an anchor to rely on.
Popular Dishes and Street Foods of Little Saigon
It's no surprise that Little Saigon has become popular for its Vietnamese cuisine—after all, it is home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese Americans in the U.S. One of the most popular dishes in Little Saigon is Banh Xeo, a street snack made of rice flour, turmeric, and pork or shrimp and served with a variety of fresh herbs and lettuce for wrapping. Bo 7 Mon is another popular dish on the streets and in restaurants, a seven-course beef dinner featuring variations of beef sirloin soup, beef wrapped in grape leaves and beef salad. Lastly, Oxtail Pho is also widely available as a hearty option that combines beef broth with onion, ginger and star anise to create an irresistibly fragrant dish.
Overall, Little Saigon offers visitors a plethora of delectable dishes to try that range from light snacks like Banh Xeo to hearty meals like Oxtail Pho — there's something for everyone!
Traditional Family Dinners vs Restaurant Meals
One of the upsides to the world of Vietnamese restaurants in Houston and Orange County is that it gives families an option for coming together to eat a flavorful meal with fewer health risks than going out to eat.
Research shows that only 30% of American families take time to eat dinner together regularly, but when they do, eating at home means meals that are healthier than restaurant meals. Home-cooked meals contain lower amounts of sodium, saturated fat, total fat, and overall calories than restaurant meals. That's why many families are choosing traditional family dinners over restaurant meals during the pandemic—the average family meal has increased from 70 minutes to 85 minutes in 2020.
That's why we believe that Vietnamese restaurants in Houston and Orange County can be a win-win situation—families get a delicious dinner they can enjoy while still being healthy and taking care of themselves.
The Impact of Immigration on Vietnamese Cuisine in America
As Vietnamese immigrants set sail for America, with them came a unique cuisine that mixed Chinese techniques, French flavors, and spices from India to create the distinct flavors of Vietnamese. You might be wondering just how strongly Vietnamese immigration has influenced the rise of Vietnamese cuisine in the United States.
The answer is: a lot!
Since 1975, the number of Vietnamese immigrants living in the United States has grown from 125,000 people to over a million people. With this growth came an increase in access to traditional ingredients and recipes from back home, as well as new methods for cooking and types of dishes that have become popular among foodies in their local communities. Over the past two decades, the growth rate of Vietnamese immigration into the United States has slowed down—but it hasn't stopped entirely. As more and more immigrants come to America, they bring with them their unique culture, flavors and recipes—all helping to contribute to what we now know as "Vietnamese cuisine".
Traditional Beverages and Snack Food in Houston and Little Saigon
When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, there's so much more than just traditional soup. In fact, Houston and Little Saigon have plenty of traditional beverages and snack food too. For example, you'll find Fresh Milk Brown Sugar at Viet Street, which is a popular spot in Houston. They also have Spicy Chicken Ramen - a perfect snack to enjoy on the go.
If you're in Orange County, then you should definitely head over to Pho Binh for some traditional Vietnamese soup. It's one of the most popular spots in Little Saigon and they have an amazing selection of soups, noodles and other dishes to choose from.
So no matter which city you're in - Houston or Orange County - Vietnamese cuisine has something special for everyone!
As more and more of America is exposed to the delicious flavors of Vietnamese cuisine, from banh mi to pho, it's no surprise that the cuisine is gaining traction across the country. Little Saigon's popularity only continue to rise. Whether you live in Houston or Orange County, there's no doubt that Vietnamese restaurants have become an integral part of their food scene and will continue to delight both locals and tourists alike with their flavorful dishes.
From Houston to Orange County, Vietnamese cuisine has certainly come a long way. The flavors of a bowl of pho, a banh mi sandwich, or a traditional vietnamese iced coffee have become a favorite among foodie and is proving to be an enduring fixture in the American diner scene. It's time to explore and experience the bold flavors of Little Saigon.