In the interview series “Inspiration,” Bright profiles young Vietnamese entrepreneurs, creatives and others who have chosen to pursue their passion and through that, share positivity and happiness to others. This is such a story.
From a girl who simply has a love for food…
Built from her love of Mexican cuisine and Vietnamese cuisine, Tam Le launched popup-dining concept Saigonita to offer a new perspective between two culinary backgrounds that seem to have no common ground.
An energetic and enthusiastic person, Tam describes herself as “Vietnamese by heritage. Texan by birth. World citizen at heart.” You can just feel that she simply loves what she is doing, no matter what it is.
During the day, you can find her dreaming up design strategies for big big international brands at agency Cowan. Here, she is able to satisfy her insatiable curiosity about what makes people tick and how that relates to the cultures they are part of.
But her real hunger (pun obviously intended) is for eating and cooking – in that exact order. Tam was born and raised in Texas where there were little opportunities to interact with the diversity of Vietnamese food. Mexican food on the other hand, was abundant. And so Tam felt fortunate to experience and understand the taste and method of creating Mexican dishes.
… to a culinary discovery …
With this in her back pocket, Tam soon recognized the similarities in the use of ingredients between these two culinary cultures. She shares a few examples: “We all use cilantro, and prefer lime over lemon. I also found that there is a similarity between fajitas and Vietnam’s “bò nhúng dấm.” Both have rice paper wrappers that cover the core of meat and vegetables and you will wrap them yourself to eat. Or how our bánh tráng nướng is basically the Vietnamese version of quesadillas. Because both dishes are baked and the shape is quite similar.
And so she thought, why don’t I try combining Mexican and Vietnamese food!” Of course, with a busy day job and lots of other things keeping her busy, it remained an idea, a dream, for at least two years. But then, after receiving persuasion and support of her friend Tiep Tran, things changed. Tam decided to make her idea come true. Her passion project was born.
… and the birth of Saigonita
Vietnamese people feel unfamiliar with Mexican cuisine perhaps due to the abundance of protein, starch and cheeses in each dish. Our meals seem to be more harmonious in ingredients as well as nutrients. Therefore, when enjoying European – American cuisine in general and Mexican food in particular, Vietnamese may feel like they’re a little heavy.
Understanding this problem, Tam Le and her team spent a lot of time and dedication reinventing the recipes. First, she’s now using fresh and diverse ingredients from Vietnam to make true Vietnamese – Mexican dishes. To further make the dishes more attractive and suitable for Vietnamese people, she also carefully adjusts the proportions, preparation method and even sauces.
You can start dinner with light appetizers such as Dip It Low. A snack, consisting of sesame rice paper and grilled coconut rice cakes. It’s served with Mexican Guacamole or a mixed vegetable salad. Another options is Chaquitos – spring rolls that are made in a unique Taquitos style.
But above all, it is impossible not to mention Tam Le’s signature “713” dish. Just lightly bite the Tacos pieces and you will feel the taste of Tortilla flavors. Right after, you start tasting the fresh shrimp, Cajun sauce, grated purple cabbage and fresh Guacamole. “What The Pig” and “Al Pasteur” are two other types of Tacos that you should not ignore when coming to Saigonita.
Where to find Saigonita
Currently, Saigonita is still in its early stages. To enjoy the complete menu of creations from Tam Le, appetizer to dessert, you can sign up for private group dinners every weekend. With only 12 people served on one night, you can imagine the waitlist being long, but it’s so worth the wait.
Tam’s intention is to open a restaurant where she can convey all the beauty of Mexican food from the perspective of Vietnamese cuisine. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
Check out Saigonita’s Facebook page.
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