A family-run Vietnamese restaurant in Marseille – Culinary Backstreets
After the Vietnam War, many refugees bound for France landed in Paris. A minority spread across other French cities such as Toulouse, Lyon and Marseille, the latter being a city refuge (city of refuge) because of its lively port.
The small Marseille community was once concentrated near Joliette, before its real estate boom. But now they’re scattered across town, taking their kitchen with them. It doesn’t matter, because we know exactly where to go whenever we have a penchant for Vietnamese: we join the line of people waiting for a bowl of pho outside Nguyen-Hoang.
In the shadow of the giant Hôtel de Dieu and just next to the Old Port, this tiny restaurant is run by Hanh Hoang, a woman who seems to never stop smiling. The 60-year-old’s restaurant (Nguyen is her maiden name) was born out of her passion for cooking as well as her simple desire to please others.
With her teenage children no longer needing her full time, Hanh was eager to return to the workforce, having held a variety of jobs ranging from translating for doctors in Indonesia to being a seamstress in the textile company. belonging to the family of local politician Martine Vassal. , president of the Métropole d’Aix-Marseille and mayoral candidate for the 2020 elections. Although she had never worked in a restaurant business, it seemed natural to her to open one, as a cook for her family on a larger scale.
“We want people to feel comfortable here, as if they are at home with their mom and dad,” says Valerie, Hanh’s daughter, who helps with social media in the Netherlands. She continues, “In Vietnamese culture, food is extremely important – it is meant to be shared and it is a transmission of pleasure. The Hoangs continue this tradition, spending their weekends “peeling vegetables, going to the market, rolling spring rolls and rice cooking ”rather than non-food activities.
You can taste this culinary zest in every dish. Like blistered báhn xèo shrimp and classic pancake Bo Bun: rice noodles topped with carrots, crispy onions, chopped peanuts, spring rolls and grilled meat. Daily specials include one of our best bites of 2019, Brioche, fresh crab and tomato soup adapted to the seaside resort of Marseille. In cold weather, steaming bowls of pho are at practically all the tables, their rich bone broth is the “best remedy against the common cold”, ecstasies Jean, the son of Hanh.
“In Vietnamese culture, food is extremely important – it is meant to be shared and it is a transmission of pleasure.”
Jean – who inherited his mother’s big smile – works here full time, taking orders, serving, transporting and helping Mum cook in the afternoons once the day is closed. As is customary in Asian families, he had spent his teenage years helping her, but his twenties had planned a career outside of the restaurant. However, during an internship following his accounting studies, Jean found that he lacked the “human connection” to engage with loyal customers.
Moreover, Nguyen-Hoang had grown since it opened in September 2001. At first, customers were so few that Hanh worried about the bills every month. Word of mouth increased the appeal of the restaurant; business really started to flourish during Marseille’s reign as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. Rave reviews in Le Fooding, the trendy Michelin, and other guides as well as a mention in the New York Times made sure the tables were always full of tourists and locals.
Much like Instagram, which the siblings run together, sprinkling photos of their happy mom with tantalizing close-ups. Jean explains that more than food pornography, these snaps allow Chinese and Korean customers to order the dishes that most closely resemble their own cuisine – the modern version of an illustrated menu.
Despite Nguyen-Hoang’s growth, not much has changed. They still don’t take credit cards or reservations. Many of the guests are returning customers, some from day one. The decor is sparse, except for the golden Buddhist altar at the cash register and a framed front page of OM’s famous and infamous European Cup victory in 1993.
Owning a restaurant takes courage. Hanh has it in spades, having fled her homeland by boat with her young son, then living in Indonesian refugee camps before reuniting with her husband in France. Yet rather than being bitter by the heartbreaking journey, she is incredibly grateful to have survived a time when many lives were lost or lost touch with loved ones. This infuses her with an infectious joy that she in turn shares with her clients, whom she treats like family.
Like when we ordered the banh rán for dessert. We used to bite into fried, sesame seed coated mung bean balls like an apple, not realizing that there was a more traditional way of eating them. When Hanh delivered ours, she took our towel, folded it into a triangle, placed the ball inside, and smashed it into a hockey puck. And, then handed it to us with a smile. Just like a mother would.
This article was originally published on January 24, 2020.