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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Taste 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.eventbri
~ 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.