In the Kitchen with Chateau Saigon’s Phuong Nguyen

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Phuong Nguyen, manager and chef for Chateau Saigon Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta, to learn about his food and culture. Phuong’s friendliness and sincerity was evident from the beginning of our conversation, and I was fortunate to learn firsthand about the food, sights, and culture in Vietnam. Phuong also opened up to share his favorite memories of Vietnam, his thoughts on coming to America, and the story of how he came to Chateau Saigon.

Here is what we discusses:

Q: What are your favorite memories of Vietnam?

A: My favorite memories are from when I visited the North of Vietnam with my friends. We would spend time relaxing and hiking in the mountains. I’m from the south, and there are a lot of differences between the north and south. The north has more nature, mountains. The rice fields are different in the north and the south because of the geography. In the south, rice fields are planted on the mountains, which is interesting to see in contrast to the flat fields in the south. The food is also different, like pho – it’s sweeter in the south.

Q: What Vietnamese dish do you like best?

A: Pho (a Vietnamese soup dish made with noodles, herbs, and meats). I could eat pho every day and not get tired of it.

pho_chinQ: What is your favorite place in Vietnam?

A: My favorite place is in the mountains, in DaLat city. DaLat is about an 8 hour bus ride from Saigon because of the geography in the mountains. It’s very different from Saigon; there are three main differences. First, there are no traffic lights in all of DaLat. Second, there are no rickshaws, which are everywhere in Saigon. It would be impossible to use rickshaws in DaLat because of the mountains, so people use motorcycles to get around. Lastly, there is no air conditioning in DaLat. The weather is much cooler there than it is in Saigon, and there is no need for it. When I go to DaLat, I spend time riding bikes around the big lake, relaxing, and going on tours of the palaces. There are three palaces in DaLat that used to belong to the French. There are also two villas, and people now believe the villas are haunted.

dalat_viewQ: How did you come to work at Chateau Saigon?

A: I was able to make a connection to the restaurant through my aunt. She was the one who sponsored me to come to America, and she actually sponsored my whole family. The process for me to get here took a long time – 12 years. It began when I was still young; my parents did not say anything about moving to America until it actually happened. I wasn’t sure I wanted to come at first. My sister and I had a shop in Vietnam, and even though we probably would not have made as much money there as we would here, we would have made a pretty good living.

There was also the issue of needing to learn English. In Vietnam, I studied for four and a half years to get my degree in civil engineering, and I am taking English classes now for a program at Kennesaw State University. My whole family, my parents and sister, are now here in America, except my wife. I knew my wife from school and had been dating her for years when I moved to the United States, and we got married during my last trip to Vietnam. Now we’re working on the process for her to come to America.

Q: What is your favorite part about working at Chateau Saigon?

A: I really like being able to talk with other people. It gives me a chance to practice my English, and I enjoy meeting people.

Q: What are some things about Vietnam that most people probably don’t know?

A: Vietnam has a lot of great street food. People use motorcycles for their main transportation there, and they can stop and get something to eat from a street vendor when they get hungry. Street food includes meatballs and fresh fruit, and some places serve rice, eggs, and noodles. The food in Vietnam is also fresher than it is here in the United States, especially seafood. In Vietnam, some restaurants have tanks where they raise fish or octopus to cook. Another thing is that we actually have pizza in Vietnam. The sauce used on the pizza is sriracha. You can get pizza with octopus or calamari as toppings. Vietnam loves seafood and spices.

top-10-Street-FoodTaste Chef Phuong Nguyen’s authentic recipes at Go Eat Give Destination Vietnam on June 23rd, 2015 7pm at Chateau Saigon restaurant. Tickets at www.destinationvietnam.eventbrite.com

~ By Sarah Margaret, a student at Emory University pursuing a major in History with a concentration in Law, Economy, and Human Rights. Margaret loves to travel, and she is currently learning Italian to prepare for studying abroad in Florence in the fall. Her hobbies include hiking, photography, and learning to cook.

Death Highway and War: A Tour through the Eyes of the Vietnamese

Arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, I can immediately see the difference from the north. It’s calmer, more relaxed, the people are friendlier and the streets cleaner. Hue is a huge city with a lot of history, specifically regarding the Vietnam War. I am a little wary on how they would receive Americans, as one should be in every country that has been hit with about seven million tons of American bombs in a ten year period. I sign up for a personalized tour of the city on the back of a motorbike for $10, and thats how I meet Bill.

renting a motorcycle in Vietnam

Bill picks me up on the biggest motorcycle I’ve ever seen sporting an American flag and a huge smile. The local tour company, Easy Riders, had connected us. Easy Riders employs Vietnam veterans to take tourists around the south and tell them their story. At 21, Bill became a translator and advisor for the US marines from 1966-1973. He worked for the Americans, he is very clear about that. When I ask if he was also a part of the southern Vietnamese army, he yells, “No, American only!” His boss was American, his fellow marines were Americans, but he is Vietnamese. He didn’t say so, but I have a feeling his real name is something quite different, but Americans couldn’t pronounce it so they started calling him Bill. He’s quite proud of his past, and considers himself an American citizen. However, I can sense some underlying bitterness towards America as well. When the war ended, the south had surrendered, the American marines packed up their stuff and took off in helicopters, leaving a complete mess of the surrounding region, and leaving Bill. As he watched his fellow marines fly to freedom, he was imprisoned for several months. After being released, he wrote to the US embassy in Saigon for five years, asking for a visa to move to the States, and never heard back.

sites to visit in Hue, Vietnam He takes me to all the major sites in Hue, which aren’t very impressive. Not Hue’s fault, the Americans had heavily bombed the city, and its famous imperial citadel where the Viet Cong hid out. Bill shows me a local farming village where an older woman demonstrates how rice is made. I also visit an artist studio; like in other communist countries, art is a way to disguise political opinions. I end the day sipping beer with Bill and his friends. I am glad to ride on the back of his motorcycle, because in this crazy Vietnamese traffic, you wouldn’t want to drive.

But the next day I rent a motorcycle of my own and follow Bill and another girl to the DMZ, which is about a three hour ride outside of Hue, on Highway One or what tourists call the “death highway”. I quickly discover why, as semi trucks pass each other taking up both lanes of a bridge while bikers squeeze to the side. When a truck passed me coming so close it brushed my elbow, I decide that this is a terrible idea. The DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone, was the dividing line between the north and south during the war, at the “17th parallel”. No combat was to take place here, (although the Americans dropped three thousand bombs on it). Military leaders could meet and have negotiations here, families could reconnect in this area safely.

Vietnames war ventral Bill id card

As we walk around the 17th parallel bridge, Bill explains that even today it is still dangerous to speak positively about the south; twenty dissidents were imprisoned recently, and as he explains this he looks over his shoulder. Around the DMZ are the Vinh Moc Tunnels, a complex that stretches about 2,000 meters long and 30 meters

deep, with seven entrances and three different levels, all underground. Five hundred Vietnamese soldiers lived in these tunnels with their families, children were born here and an entire village thrived underground. The tunnels were a fascinating aspect of the war to explore, and as an American, I found it really important to see first hand the impact of our wars.

~ By Teresa Murphy of Tess Travels. Murphy visited the Thaipsum Festival, a Hindu ritual that takes place every year in the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Tam’s cafe for the hearing impaired



Another inspirational story of voluntrourism comes from an American chef in Vietnam. Chef Robert Danhi, a former instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and author of the cookbook Southeast Asian Flavors, leads culinary tours to Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia. After a few visits, Robert contemplated doing more for the country that has nourished his mind, body and soul, and find a way to give back to the people of the country.  Continue reading “Tam’s cafe for the hearing impaired”