About Nita

Vietnamese-American epicurean with a taste for home cooked meals & culinary stories living in the burbs of Paris.

My mom became a widow when she was only 28, an age when many of us are still trying to figure out how to navigate life. My parents had only just begun to plant the seeds to the life and future that they were hoping to cultivate for our young family. But before those seeds could even begin to take root and sprout, those hopes and dreams were violently crushed to a pulp within an instant. Our lives were derailed without forewarning, and my mom was abruptly propelled into single motherhood when my younger brother and I were 6 and 4 years old. We suddently became three and New Olreans no longer had anything left for us.

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Only in recent years have vegetarianism and its derivative regimens started to gain greater recognition here in France, a country whose culinary identity is inextricably bound to dishes that prominently feature meats and offal of all varieties. When I initially arrived here, most of the French people I met could not fathom the idea of omitting meat or dairy from their diet, and they considered meals served without animal protein as unsatiatingly incomplete. Friends visiting from the US who had dietary restrictions would have difficulty finding restaurants catering to their needs. But over the last few years, I‘ve noticed that meat-free as well as gluten-free dining options have become increasingly more common in Paris. I even met a French vegan in the master’s program that I just recently completed. I was astonished to learn that he had been vegan for the last few years, because I didn’t think that that eating lifestyle would ever be a thing in a country where cheese reigns supreme.

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Alsace is nestled between the Vosges mountain range and the Rhine river along France’s eastern border with Germany. I first traveled to this region a couple of years ago to visit the villages along the Alsatian Wine Route, which is the oldest one of its kind in France. The idyllic villages, sprawling landscape dotted with vineyards, warm-hearted friendliness and the tantalizingly unique cuisine will easily charm any neophyte to the region. Alsace’s firmly established cultural identity and traditions are relics of its long history tied to both France and Germany. During no other time of the year are these traditions more prominently on display than during the Christmas holiday season.

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Finding work in France has never been difficult. The challenge has always been finding a position that was well aligned with my interests and skill set. Needless to say, the job market here in France does not mirror that in the US. The labor market here lacks the diversity seen the US is and is woefully resistant to change. France’s inadequate investment in scientific research has consequently stunted the evolution and growth of many fields, including my own. So, I’ve always settled for positions within the realm of my field of work, but the work was never quite what I wanted to be doing.

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As soon as summer comes to an end, there is no shortage of events and art exhibits to keep us entertained during the fall. Most of the interesting events take place in Paris though, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the town I live in host a Food Truck Festival a few weeks ago. The event was the first and largest of its kind in France, and perhaps even in all of Europe (so says this article).

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I recently read in the latest edition of the newly revived French Master Chef magazine that Vietnamese cuisine includes at least 500 dishes. 500 dishes – that is astronomical! I feel like a neophyte of my own cuisine, even though I grew up in a Vietnamese household subsisting mostly on foods from my parents’ native country. I haven’t even come close to eating through the cuisine, and I’m constantly discovering dishes through my MIL’s kitchen, exploring restaurants and the internet, which gives me the chance to uncover the cuisines from around the world without having to set foot on an airplane.

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No matter how hungry I was, I always dreaded the lunch period during elementary and middle school. It was either unpalatable food stuff processed beyond recognition, whose quality was on par with a meal that I had in a Texas prison. Or, it was leftovers that my mom packed for us. Neither alternative was appealing to me at the time. As much as I loved my mom’s cooking, eating then unknown Vietnamese dishes while my classmates nibbled on their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches was excrutiatingly embarrassing.

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Given the speed at which we pass from one thing to the next, it’s no wonder that few things hold timeless value anymore. The digital age has transformed how we chronicle our lives and interact with one another. Our compulsion to document just about everything, including our most mundane routine activities and banal thoughts, has become second nature. Reaching for our mobile devices to digitally capture everything, however, diminishes the significance of any given moment, because we’ve become so fixated on the images and videos themselves, rather than savoring the instant.

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This post is a short one because I didn’t have much free time to write this week. I finally buckled down and spent a considerable amount of time working on my master’s thesis. My ideas are finally starting to crystallize and I made quite a bit of headway. I didn’t, however, want to abandon this series after only one week into it. Though this one is brief, I have another post in the works about a classic Vietnamese dish. So stay tuned next week!

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I should be working on my master’s thesis, but I decided instead to create a weekly blog series. Too much of the same routine can lead to stagnation, so I wanted to throw something different into the mix (as well as concoct new ways to procrastinate). I haven’t quite figured out exactly what this series will entail, but I would like it to serve as a space for sharing interesting stories that I come across, most likely those with a food bent. In a recent post, I wrote about how my attention span has increasingly dwindled and how I would like to veer away from simple drive-by information consumption. By sharing interesting stories, I’m hoping to spark discussion and deeper reflection around these topics.

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