From Nha Trang to Connecticut
Classic Cuisine of Vietnam
When Bach Ngo was born, Vietnam was still part of the French Empire, and her father was Minister of the Interior. How did she end up in suburban Connecticut and writing a classic cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine?
Bach might have been brought up in a pampered life if her father had not had asome unusual ideas. He had a number of modern progressive ideas and for example insisted that the family’s 15 servants eat, not in the kitchen, but at the dining table with the rest of the family.
Bach at age 10 began learning French cuisine at the local culinary school and also studied the regional cuisines of Vietnam at home, working with the servants. She collected their recipes and her own family’s heritage of aristocratic food preparation, assembling her own cookbook of treasured formulas, some of the family recipes going back over a century.
Later when she married and set up her own household in Saigon, Bach had her treasured notebook with the best recipes to guide her. Her husband, Nhon, was a pilot and flew transport missions for the United States Air Force, later serving in the air force of the Republic of Viet Nam.
When Saigon fell, Bach and her family left in one of the last available planes, piloted by her husband. They eventually ended up in San Diego and later, through the kindness of a church group, were relocated to Connecticut.
The family had left so abruptly that there was no time to bring money, clothing, jewelry or in fact anything. Bach only brought her treasured scrapbook of recipes.
In New England, her husband worked first as a gardener in a rose nursery and she worked as an accountant. Later, members of the church group heard that she was a good cook and invited her to cook a meal for them.
The meal was such a success that Bach eventually became a full-time caterer, specializing in both French and Vietnamese cuisine. Later still, Bach opened her own restaurant, Chez Bach, in Connecticut, where her husband managed the front room and she supervised the cooking.Some of Bach’s signature dishes include
- Fish Basket,
- Fried Chicken with Lemongrass,
- Spring Rolls,
- Soup with Cabbage Pork Rolls
- Shrimp on Crab Legs and
- Vietnamese Style Fried Bananas, and a nice formula for
- Nuoc Cham
Besides her restaurant and cookbook, for several decades Bach Ngo tirelessly worked to expand knowledge of the subtle and complex cuisine of Vietnam in a wider audience. For her masterful recipes and her educational outreach she is definitely one of the Master Chefs of the Pacific Rim.