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The joy of NPR's Suzanne Nuyen's Vietnamese cooking blog

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Even the most devoted news hounds need a break away occasionally. So NPR is taking time to celebrate the things we are really into beyond the news. Here's Suzanne Nuyen, who finds joy in the kitchen and sharing what she's learned there.

SUZANNE NUYEN, BYLINE: I love to eat, but feeding others - that's my love language. When I graduated from college and moved to D.C. in 2017, I left all of my friends behind. Plying new acquaintances with lavish, home-cooked meals was my best attempt at making new ones. I don't want to brag, but my food is pretty good. Soon enough, everyone was asking me for the recipes. So in 2019, I launched Bun Bo Bae, my Vietnamese cooking blog.

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NUYEN: Bring out these grilled scallion oil mussels the next time you want to impress some guests.

I'm going to introduce you to a highly underrated Vietnamese noodle soup.

Let's make an unctuous Vietnamese pork belly dish together.

In hindsight, starting a food blog was probably my destiny. I spent most of my childhood in the kitchen with my mom, and as a toddler, I'd sit and watch her cook. My sous chef duty started with just passing her the ingredients. Soon I was measuring, steaming and stir frying my way toward mastery. But before I could learn all of my mom's kitchen secrets, I left for college. I studied abroad in Paris my sophomore year, and it was there that I felt truly alone for the first time in my life. There were no roommates, no dorms, no dining halls. I was on my own, and I was desperately homesick. So I started calling my mom and asking for the recipes for my favorite dishes. It turns out that she didn't have many recipes. She couldn't give me a single measurement for any dish. That just wasn't the way she learned how to cook. She learned from her mom, my grandma, who passed her knowledge on orally. So now it was my turn. Over long phone calls, my mom taught me how to cook intuitively by tasting, smelling, and feeling my food.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NUYEN: Season the pork with salt, pepper, fish sauce, good shallot and garlic, and mix everything well before setting it aside for at least 30 minutes.

Writing for Bun Bo Bae was initially a space for me to document everything I learned. I wasn't confident I would remember enough to teach my kids to cook these dishes one day. I wanted to preserve in writing dishes like my mom's bun bo hue, which is a spicy beef noodle soup that inspired the blog's name, or my dad's thit bam sot ca chua, a versatile, pork-based tomato sauce that I go to every time I'm feeling lazy. I especially wanted to make sure that these dishes could be created as authentically as possible.

These days, I experiment more. I'm not as strict with myself about preserving and recreating dishes exactly as I remember eating them. I use seasonal ingredients and substitute things when I can't find them. I've even uploaded recipes I've developed entirely on my own. My blog has given me a space to write about what I love on days when the news feels too depressing. It's connected me to countless new internet friends, and most importantly, it's taught me that celebrating my Vietnamese American heritage doesn't have to be about perfectly replicating traditions. It's about mixing what I've been taught with my own life experience and cooking up something entirely new.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NUYEN: The result is a fatty, rich and tender pork belly that's incredibly happy-dance-inducing. OK. See you next time.

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CHANG: That was NPR's Suzanne Nuyen. In addition to her blog Bun Bo Bae, she also writes the Up First newsletter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.