I have lived most of my life in Orange County, the place made into a one-dimensional caricature by shows such as The OC and The Real Housewives. The real Orange County is a giant fondue of different peoples, languages, and cultures. It is also home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. You can’t drive through the city of Westminster without seeing retail signs in Vietnamese on every corner and the ubiquitous Pho restaurant gracing every strip mall, all evidence of a thriving immigrant population in an area known as Little Saigon.
But the Vietnamese presence wasn’t always so visible. When I first became acquainted with Vietnamese food twenty years ago, Bolsa Avenue (a main thoroughfare in Westminster) only had a smattering of Vietnamese stores and the main grocery stores were the 99 Ranch Market and the now closed Mah Wah Supermarket, both of which catered to a mainly Chinese clientele, including my family. We used to shop there for our groceries because Bolsa Avenue was closer than Los Angeles, and Irvine was still dotted with orange trees. Back then, foods such as pho and banh mi were not yet part of the common vernacular.