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Vietnamese restaurant in Taipei brings about linguistic and cultural exchange

Tongjia Vietnamese Cuisine is tucked away in an alley off Tonghua Street

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(Camille Luong/Taiwan News photo)

(Camille Luong/Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On a hot summer day, customers file in and out of Tongjia Vietnamese Cuisine, a small restaurant in an alleyway off Tonghua Street. Nga, a 25-year-old overseas student from Vietnam, takes orders and works with a few other girls to fry egg rolls, stew pho broth, and assemble bun thit nuong bowls.

Nga is one of 541,000 new immigrants and 221,000 Vietnamese immigrants in Taiwan. The foreign restaurant industry attracts many migrant workers, and is the place to find both livelihood and a taste of home in a foreign country.

Taipei in particular is bustling with foreign restaurants, ensuring a diverse food culture in the capital city. Depending on the customer, Nga will either use Vietnamese or Mandarin, exchanging quick conversations before moving onto the next order.

“To an extent, we are trying to maintain our traditions and culture,” she explained. “But of course, when we are selling food in Taiwan, we have to simultaneously sell to Vietnamese people and Taiwanese people. Therefore, for each dish, we have to ensure some level of harmony."

This harmony can be seen when using Taiwanese ingredients for certain dishes, and Vietnamese ingredients for others. “But each of our dishes are still originally from Vietnam,” Nga continued. “So we still hope to maintain our traditions. In that way, we are servicing the Vietnamese community in Taiwan.”

Language has also become a way to bridge the gap between the Taiwanese and Vietnamese communities. After attending university in Vietnam, Nga realized she liked speaking to people in Mandarin, so she decided to come to Taiwan to further her studies. She also noted that working in a restaurant has allowed her to both improve her speaking skills and more comfortably interact with those around her.

As migrant populations in Taipei settle in, the bustling metropolis has turned into a hub for a diverse array of cuisines, bringing the city to life. For Taiwanese and migrants alike, foreign food adds to the cosmopolitan food culture of the city, as an avenue for language, cultural, and personal exchange.