"As I sat up late one night, editing, crying, laughing, and left speechless, I began to see pieces of myself in the different stories; the younger me who simultaneously rejected and clung to her Vietnamese identity; the kid who scared people when she opened up her lunchbox at school; the young girl whose family told her she wasn’t really Vietnamese, but whose friends told her she was the token Asian" —Ethnic Seattle writer Jessica Boyd reflecting on her experience of working on The Sticky Rice Project. 

Jessica Boyd
August 31, 2017

Hungry? Lilian Võ has you covered. Through her latest initiative, The Sticky Rice Project, Võ served the Vietnamese American community a fresh take on intergenerational bridge building, home, identity, remembering, and cooking—using food as the medium. The 2017 summer project culminated on August 19 with the release of a Vietnamese Recipe Storybook called The Sticky Rice Project and celebratory launch party at the Yesler Community Center. The book not only houses recipes from a series of cooking classes, but also the heritage and histories behind those culinary explorations, stories from participating chefs, and intimate individual and collective reflection about what it means to be young, Vietnamese, and American.

Sticky Rice

The cover of the nearly 50 pages long storybook that contains recipes, stories, and personal reflections on Vietnamese identity.

Supported by Xin Chào magazine and the Live It Fund from Macalester College, the project encompasses all of Võ’s passions: the Asian community, food, and design. Võ and her team of family, friends, and local Vietnamese community members brought together Vietnamese American youth, ranging in age from 14 to 21 years old (I call them the Sticky kids) and Vietnamese elders to reflect on their Vietnameseness by using food as the vehicle to remember and ‘stick’ together—like sticky rice. The Project held space for youth and elders to come together around food to share stories and communicate using all of their senses.

Before wrapping up his cooking class, Tâm left the class with some food for thought: “you have a voice and you must use it to protect our community.”

Sticky Rice

Lilian Võ and Tâm Q. Đinh, Xin Chào Editor, in the midst of making Vietnamese coffee at the Cà phê sữa đá workshop. Photo courtesy of Jonathan P.

Throughout the summer, The Sticky Rice Project held cooking classes with Vietnamese chefs in Seattle and writing workshops led by editors from Xin Chào magazine. These weren’t any old cooking classes though. Chefs such as Tâm Nguyễn, chef and owner of Tamarind Tree and Long Provincial, taught recipes which were close to their hearts. For Tâm’s class, he chose to cook bánh mì hấp, a simple staple consisting of steamed baguette topped with a fragrant blend of herbs, pickled vegetables, peanuts, ground meat and fish sauce. For Tâm, the dish is an echo of his childhood and has come to represent sharing, family connection, and health. In sharing this edible echo of the past, Tâm created space for the younger generation to better understand the cultural stepping stones which the elder Vietnamese generation used to shape their identity. Before wrapping up his cooking class, Tâm left the class with some food for thought: “you have a voice and you must use it to protect our community.”

The full recipe and instructions on how to eat this dish can be found in The Sticky Rice Project storybook. 

Another chef doing just that is Yenvy Pham, chef and owner of Phở Bắc, who is constantly cooking up both culinary and community change. Yenvy Pham explained why she wanted to be a part of The Sticky Rice Project.

“I have a passion for food and the power it has to bring people together and connect, especially when it comes to learning about our culture. Food has the ability to ignite a sense of pride and love for who we are and where we came from. Everyone needs to eat and I have this fascinating urge to feed people. It is truly satisfying to see people/young folks stuff their face with enjoyment,’ Pham said.

As someone who has been fed by Pham, I can attest to the power, pride and love that she puts into her food.

Alongside Christy Pham, I had the honor of leading The Sticky Rice Project’s writing workshops and editing reflection pieces written by the Sticky kids. As I sat up late one night, editing, crying, laughing, and left speechless, I began to see pieces of myself in the different stories; the younger me who simultaneously rejected and clung to her Vietnamese identity; the kid who scared people when she opened up her lunchbox at school; the young girl whose family told her she wasn’t really Vietnamese, but whose friends told her she was the token Asian. In the Vietnamese Recipe Storybook, Katie Nguyễn describes how she grappled with a similar struggle and “almost let the roots of her cultural garden rot and be lost.” She finished her reflection with the following words:

“I am now back to tending to my flourishing little garden and the growing tree that tells the stories of my parents. Growing up as a Vietnamese American can be difficult in terms of keeping one’s culture and traditions alive. Joining programs such as the The Sticky Rice Project, and being more involved with the Vietnamese community has really strengthened my roots and identity. I will continue eating my favorite Vietnam dishes no matter how “weird” they are. I will continue singing the songs that my grandma sang to me as a child. I will continue speaking the tongue of my parents and ancestors. I will continue growing this tree, for I am a Vietnamese person.”

Sticky Rice

Friends, family, and community members gathered at the Yesler Community Center to share food and celebrate the launch of The Sticky Rice Project’s Vietnamese Recipe Storybook.

If you want to read more stories like Katie’s, you can get a free copy of the Sticky Rice Project’s Vietnamese Recipe Storybook by emailing Lilian at lilian.pk.vo@gmail.com, or find and follow the project on Instagram @thestickyriceproject.

In Lilian’s words, “stay hungry and stay connected!”

Jessica Boyd’s personal blog: https://dailydesiderata.wordpress.com/