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Watch: Ba Mien in New Orleans Brings All of Vietnam's Regional Flavors Together

The restaurant withstood Katrina, and became a community hub for the city's Vietnamese population

Mai Nguyen’s restaurant, Ba Mien, has been around since 2001. When she first came to the U.S. after the Vietnam war, the country seemed foreign — but the po’boy, which evoked the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, provided some familiarity. Learning to cook from her mother, her family travelled all around Vietnam to further study the regional culinary differences — and she discovered another similarity between Vietnam and the U.S. “The North,” she says, “the food is not as spicy as the South.” Her menu now reflects her travels in north, central, and south Vietnam, appearing on the menu in pho, nem nuong khanh huo, and steamed rolls

Despite closing briefly due to Hurricane Katrina, with support from family and friends, the restaurant was renovated and re-opened in no time, and was one of the first restaurants in the neighborhood to do so. Her name, “chi Mai,” means “big sister Mai,” and it speaks to the bond she has with the Vietnamese community in New Orleans East. “It’s like a family.”

Watch the full video above. Chi Mai is a film by Sara Wood for the Southern Foodways Alliance, an ongoing documentary project that “documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.”

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