I’ve relocated 16 times. So as soon as I cleared up in san Jose, I assumed I can finally gain some genuine Vietnamese food.

But whereby to go?

A friend brought me to the cool Century mall food court in eastern San Jose to catch up end bánh xèo. It had actually been years since I’d torn v this sizzling crepe the coconut cream and also rice flour batter. Shrimp, slivers the pork, mint, and bean sprouts spilled out the lacy edges of a gold crisp semicircle.

It tasted like home.


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Credit Christine Nguyen
I came back to the mall recently to figure out if there were other human being who felt the same way I did.

I met Emily Nguyễn, that was eating with friend at among the laminate tables. She in her 40s and also came to mountain Jose together a teenager.

“When you move to a new country, everything seems strange at the beginning. And also at the time we didn’t have a many of asian food or to buy malls,” she says. “That’s one of the main reasons why they developed this mall because that us; to proceed that tradition and also pass it down to our children.”

Emily easily navigates in between her aboriginal and adopted cultures. But Hu’o’ng just emigrated a year ago. She claims eating at the grand Century Mall provides her feel less lost:

“I’m homesick because that Vietnam. Due to the fact that here at the mall, we Vietnamese are many. Many countrymen. The hometown dishes we miss out on are here,” she says.

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I fulfill a group of well-dressed twentysomethings visiting from new York. Your orange trays room piled through plates of new herbs and also greens, bowls the dipping sauce, bánh xèo, and also a bowl of beef phở.

Phillip stated he want to display his friend the range of Vietnamese cuisine, and also introduce them to dishes they might not have tried.

There are much more choices in san Jose than brand-new York, the added.

I have the right to hear distinctive regional Vietnamese accents, and also other languages. A team of buddhist nuns through shaved heads and also brown robes inspect out the merchandise in ~ a cell phone and also phone-accessory shop.

Then, v beatific smiles, castle walk throughout the mall’s pink terrazzo tiles come order sugarcane drinks.

At the finish of the hall, the Eurasia pleasure snack shop carries everything from Belgian cookies to dozens of different kinds the beef jerky. There’s also dried seafood, stacks of sausages sheathe in banana leaves, and jars that candied and also pickled fruits.

Once friend look interested, the ladies at the save will urge that you shot a sample. Shoppers avoid for a enjoy the meal after buying part snacks, dragon fruit, or huge pomelos for an ancestor altar.


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The restaurants room pretty bare-bone operations, with the owner on-site and just a few employees. Like timeless Vietnamese street food, each seller specializes in one or a couple of dishes. That’s just how you recognize they’ll be great at what castle make.

Quý and also his wife Hu’o’ng make the expedition from Pittsburg come the shopping center in mountain Jose every few weeks. Ns surprised they journey all that means in traffic just to perform errands.

But Quý states it’s convenient, because after a long drive, he doesn’t need to move his vehicle again. He likes that he can eat glass noodles through roast duck one day, ginger chicken the next, and also if the feels like it, a bowl of porridge.

I’m guessing there’s probably much more to it. I think he and his wife uncover comfort being approximately familiar people, food, and sounds, and to get a hit of someone else’s residence cooking.

He slurps appreciatively in ~ his key of hủ tiếu.

Yuki Dinh sits at one more table. She slender, glamorous, and also meticulously dressed—every part the cosmopolitan mountain Franciscan. She’s delicately plucking at a plate of blood sausage and organ meat when blowing gently on a spoon that rice porridge. It’s a dish called cháo lòng giò heo.

“It comes with — um — intestines,” she states casually. “It’s a little bit strange for Western people, however for us it’s like an extremely tasty.”

She’s talking about offal, choose spleen, stomach, liver, and tongue. I’ve never ever tried it.

I was excited to uncover bún thang, a north dish that you don’t commonly find in restaurants. That a light, fragile soup with an organic flavor. The sometimes called Medicine Soup.

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Here, the spicy, complicated dishes of main Vietnam, the clear seasonings of the north, and also the sweet, savory soot of the southern comfortably obstacle shoulders.

“Each an ar or even little area the each region they have their specialty dishes,” Phillip explains. “People can be acquainted with bún bò Huế, i beg your pardon is indigenous Huế, the old imperial capital. Ns forgetting if bánh khọt is native there, but it can be.”

He defines the dish as floury with shrimp on top. “Each one is prefer a tiny tiny muffin, and there’s a one-of-a-kind pan the they cook it in that has actually the mold,” the says. “You have the right to do favor six or ripe at a time.”

I asked Phillip to pick simply one food come recommend. He laughed at the difficult decision.


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His friend troy says, “I thrived up eat Vietnamese food, yet mostly phở, and also I’ve never experienced all of this. t’s an amazing experience.”

If you a true Vietnamese gourmand, you could not be impressed through the food here. The a shopping mall food court after all. It’s not as good as mom’s — how could that be possible?

I inquiry a woman from Canada if the food was far better here in ~ the shopping mall or earlier home in Vancouver. Back she no think the the bánh bèo, tiny discs that pancakes made come resemble a leaf, were particularly good, she chose that all at once the food in this shopping mall food court was much better than what she could get back home in Vancouver.

It’s not simply locals that come to the food court. World from all over the bay Area and also beyond go the end of their means to come here. Even Vietnamese who’ve spent most of their resides in the United says want to be part of a community — a neighborhood bonded by a love that food and communal eating.

Philip says the cool Century shopping mall reminds him of childhood memories and also trips come Vietnam.

“I remember as soon as they broke ground, and also it was such a fun location to be. Ns love sugarcane drinks. And also the spot right here is really good. Ns remember visiting Vietnam, and also you might get sugarcane drink on the side of the streets. They would certainly just give it come you in a Ziploc bag through a straw, and also they put a tiny kumquat in it,” the says.

Outside the food court, beside a fountain and the mall’s peach McMansion-esque entry, groups of guys cluster about café tables, through the strange glass of beer and packs the cigarettes. One man wears a maroon army Ranger beret, another an FBI hat. They every look prefer regulars. But no one want to talk to me except for Mr. Ngọc Trần.

“This table, every one of them space my friends. That’s why i take a seat right here: to talk. Maybe from 10 till 2 p.m., till 3 p.m. You know why? since of all of us are old and retired now. We have nothing come do. That a lot of fun come come here,” the said.

Every day, Mr. Trần sits right here in the zero of a statue that Trần Hưng Đạo, a 13th century armed forces hero who defended Vietnam from three Mongol invasions. I ask him if he’s below to pat cards through friends.


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No games, the insists.

“Just talk, take the tea, take coffee, simply sit and also talk together,” the says. “We have actually a many things to talk about — the past, around the existing time, the future the the children. A most things. I have been right here for virtually 25 years. Girlfriend look outside, a many of world come here. To enjoy, to kill time, and meet people, come talk.”

For Mr. Trần and also his other veterans, the grand Century shopping center is not about the food. For them, the mall method that the Vietnamese world are here to stay. Also if they lost the war, they positively shaped a nation — even an expatriate nation.

He bragged about the an initial Vietnamese general in the U.S. Army. Because that him, every Vietnamese that succeeds in American business, education, law, or medication is an instance of how our world have persisted.

Like many expats, these guys remember the fall of Saigon together “the job we lost our homeland.” for a lengthy time, they dreamy of acquisition it back. Over the years, those desires have changed — from taking Vietnam back, to going ago one last time.

But for now, they sit here, in ~ the grand Century Mall, education a drink or a snack, and soaking increase a small bit of home.