On Our Radar: Diep Tran of Good Girl Dinette
I feel like they [interviewers] always ask something about my heritage. It’s always coded as my “community,” and they always talk about it as it being an ethnic community. And they don’t know that I opened up the Dinette, really, for dykes, you know?
When I was interviewed by Steven Stern for The New York Times, he asked a lot about my grandparents, and my growing up as basically a kitchen slave in various kitchens. He said, “With your restaurant, are you cooking for a different community? Or are your reasons for opening your restaurant different?” And I said, it’s actually not, because I really do believe that my grandparents and my aunts and uncles opened up their restaurant for the community, and it wasn’t just Vietnamese. It was very specific: It was for nguoi bac[Northerners], it was for Catholics of a certain ilk – it was very particular. The idea of community was more nuanced, versus just ethnicity.
I feel like with Vietnamese cuisine, it’s almost like talking about Italy, where there’s so many different regions that you can’t really say there’s one unified Italian food, because it’s so changeable. But people don’t really ask me about that. They ask more of a global question [about Vietnamese cuisine], or they’ll ask where you’re from or where you were born. And, well, just because I was born in the south of Vietnam doesn’t mean I’m a Southerner, at all. So, it’s hard for me, sometimes, when people ask about my heritage, because what are you really asking? I mean, I know exactly what they mean, but I don’t want to answer that question.
…that’s why I have that tagline, “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food,” which I don’t really like. I know! I know. I know. I have all personal lenders; I don’t have any big lenders. It was all these small conversations with people, and having to explain the menu. They’re really all intelligent people, but they said, “How do we explain this to other people?” I racked my brain and, off the top of my head, said, “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.”
I hate the East-meets-West thing, but this is just as bad! I’m just dressing it up in some makeup, but it’s just as bad. But they loved it, they got it. It was the working tagline, and it just kept. But I don’t like it. I don’t like something meeting something, because they’ve already met! They’ve co-existed already!
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