Vietnamese luncheon redefines perceptions

Experience the food of another country without ever leaving campus at the Cultural Cuisine Vietnamese Luncheon April 25 in the Phoenix Rooms.

Four Cultural Cuisine Luncheons are held each year to bring culinary and cultural awareness to UW-Green Bay students,  faculty and the surrounding community. Poppy Grant, assistant director of operations in the University Union, organizes the events, which have been held for 14 years.

The luncheons feature several different dishes from the chosen culture, a guest speaker and sometimes music and performances.

Hung Nguyen, who is Vietnamese and executive director of the Mauthe Center, was selected as the speaker for the upcoming luncheon.

“After selecting him, I had some really exciting reviews of him from community members,” Grant said. “I’m excited to meet him and hear what he has to say.”

Nguyen felt speaking at this event would be a good opportunity to help people learn about Vietnamese culture, which is often underrepresented or misunderstood.

“Most people look at us and automatically think we’re Hmong,” Nguyen said.

According to Nguyen, many people also associate Vietnamese people with the Vietnam War, and this is something Nguyen hopes to help change at the luncheon.

“The majority of Vietnamese were born after the war, and quite frankly, very few of them know what the heck that is,” Nguyen said. “The conversation needs to move past the war and which side is right and which side is wrong. It’s time to move beyond that and have a conversation that I hope will be richer in context and complexity.”

Nguyen said there are two things he will avoid during the luncheon. One of those is trying to represent all Vietnamese.

“The whole thing is about having a conversation instead of categorizing Vietnamese as this group or that group,” Nyugen said.

More importantly though, he hopes to avoid drawing any conclusions because he wants the discussion to be ongoing and to continue outside of the luncheon.

Nguyen is passionate about food and thinks it’s an excellent way to get people involved in such discussion.

“Whether it’s good conversation or tough conversation, food gives us the opportunity to start,” Nguyen said.

This event’s menu includes five dishes: Pho-bo Vietnamese beef noodle soup, grilled five spice chicken, fried rice, carrot salad and banana rice pudding.

All dishes are prepared by A’viands chefs, headed by Executive Chef Fazli Admi, who also plays a large role in developing the menus. Event speakers also help in planning the menu.

“I think it’s a good menu because it represents the three distinct regions of Vietnam, the North, Central and South,” Nguyen said. “We’ll use that to weave in the story of what it means to be Vietnamese.”

Grant agrees that food can be a unique way to explore a culture and converse with others, and encourages anyone to attend.

“This is about coming to expand your taste buds and try things you haven’t tried before,” Grant said. “A lot of students have pretty much only eaten foods that are served in their area, and they need to expand and grow in that.”

Grant receives help with the luncheons from various Union employees as well as Student Ambassadors, many of whom she said are surprised by how good these different foods can be. She also said that once people come to one luncheon, they want to come to more.

Besides eating a unique meal, attendees can also enter to win door prizes. Past prizes have included free tickets to the next Cultural Cuisine Luncheon, tickets to performances at the Weidner Center for Performing Arts, free golfing at Shorewood Golf Course, basketball tickets and other prizes.

The luncheon will be held noon to 1 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students, $13 for faculty and staff and $14 for community members. Tickets are on sale at the University Ticketing and Information Center until  April 22 and can be purchased with cash, check, credit card or Pass or Dining Points.

Nguyen looks forward to speaking with the UWGB campus and community to help people — and himself — to think more deeply about not just food, but culture.

“I hope people leave with a full belly and a spark to start asking questions and to start learning more about each other,” Nguyen said. “Not only just Vietnamese culture, but there are other things that I would love to learn about other people; there are other underrepresented groups that if we change how we ask the questions we can tease out a richer conversation.”