Vietnamese cuisine wins over American man's heart

By Phan Duong   June 13, 2024 | 08:20 pm PT
Richie Crider has never visited Vietnam but has developed a deep love for Vietnamese cuisine, integrating it into his daily meals and even starting a TikTok channel to promote it among Americans.

"Everything started with my neighbor Dung and his dishes that were even better than those served in restaurants," Crider explained.

Following his father’s death 12 years ago, Crider moved closer to his mother. His street was home to diverse ethnic backgrounds, including Dung, a 50-year-old Vietnamese computer repairman, and his wife Tina, who were the first to invite the Crider family over for dinner.

"They served us spring rolls and many other dishes," Crider recalled. "That was the first time I realized that Vietnam offers more than just pho."

American man Richie Crider enjoying a bowl of pho. Photo courtesy of Crider

American man Richie Crider enjoying a bowl of pho. Photo courtesy of Crider

The relationship between the American and his Vietnamese neighbors grew stronger during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Dung and Tina generously shared their meals. In Crider’s videos from this period, Dung is frequently seen crossing the grassy yard to knock on Crider’s door with a steaming bowl of bun or pho (types of Vietnamese noodle soup). Despite difficulties with the language, Dung attempted to explain the names, ingredients, and methods of the dishes.

"Once while I was watching TV, Dung took the remote and switched it to a YouTube tutorial on how to cook a specific dish," said Crider. "He then made the dish just like in the video."

During the pandemic, Crider’s basement became the hub for social gatherings between the two families. While the TV displayed videos, Dung cooked and explained the dishes in a combination of both languages, and the families enjoyed meals together despite their differing backgrounds.

"I also offered my food, but Dung is quite selective with his eating, so I just kept a variety of good beers and liquors in my basement, always ready for him," Crider shared.

Crider’s fascination with Vietnamese cuisine continued to grow over the years. He eagerly awaited each new recipe Dung’s family brought back from their trips to Vietnam. He was particularly taken by bun bo Hue (Hue-style beef noodle soup), which left him mesmerized by its complex flavors and tender ham hock pieces that carried a hint of lemongrass.

"That dish seemed as if it was invented straight from his kitchen," Crider commented "I’ve never found anywhere else that could prepare it so exquisitely."

Crider (R) and Dung. Photo courtesy of Crider

Crider (R) and Dung. Photo courtesy of Crider

Tina, Dung’s 50-year-old wife of Vietnamese descent who works in the postal service, observed that Crider’s wife initially did not care for Vietnamese food. Yet, seeing her husband’s passion for it, she soon grew curious and quickly became a fan, as did their children. Crider’s family began to engage more in the cooking process and ingredient selection.

"He [Crider] continually encouraged my husband to open a restaurant," Tina remarked.

In early 2023, Tina was moved to a post office in Houston, Texas, 22 hours away by car from their previous home. Crider and his wife were initially saddened upon learning the news. Despite the distance, after Dung and Tina moved, they still kept in touch, and Crider would call Tina for advice when he had questions about cooking.

Among the culinary skills Crider acquired, he found wrapping spring rolls particularly challenging due to the delicate layers of rice paper. However, with Tina’s guidance, he eventually mastered it.

In addition to his interactions with Dung and Tina, Crider also made connections with other Vietnamese individuals, visited Vietnamese restaurants, and participated in various community cultural events. To date, he has prepared and tasted nearly every traditional Vietnamese dish.

However, a car accident in Sep. 2023 made it difficult for him to stand or cook for long periods, so he turned to Vietnamese restaurants to satisfy his cravings. Nevertheless, Crider and his wife continue to draw inspiration from Vietnamese cuisine for every meal. They now enjoy their dishes at home with chili paste, fish sauce, shrimp paste instead of spicy sauce. Raw fresh vegetables are always found in their meals as well.

The couple has also started to experiment, adding smoked meats to some dishes and substituting traditional pasta with rice noodles with cheese.

Recently, Crider and his wife have enjoyed various Vietnamese fruits and desserts such as sweet soup, snacks, and smoothies.

"I am addicted and want to eat all Vietnamese dishes," he declared.

Crider’s newfound passion for Vietnamese cuisine has led to significant health benefits. He shared that he has lost weight and seen improvements in his blood pressure and cholesterol levels after switching to a Vietnamese diet.

His TikTok channel "Chu Giau" (Uncle Rich) now aims to spread awareness about Vietnamese immigrants’ attempts to spread their cuisine, culture, and kindness despite the challenges they face in the U.S.

"Now it is my mission to bring Vietnamese cuisine and culture to Americans, who are hesitant to embrace it due to their lack of understanding," he stated.

Crider and Dung’s family are planning a trip to Vietnam soon.

"I want to see Vietnam, the country that Dung and Tina have been telling me about for years and showing me through videos, firsthand," Crider expressed enthusiastically. "I am so excited and eager."

A video from Richie Crider's TikTok channel "Chu Giau" (Uncle Rich).

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