A family recipe is, of course, about more than the actual food. It is a chance to connect with the generations who came before us, to honour our bloodlines. Aside from being guaranteed crowd pleasers, a grandmother’s lentil stew or a father’s meatballs become symbols of culture, love, and heritage.
Brother-sister duo Vincent and Amelie Nguyen know a thing or two about paying homage to family dishes. The brains behind Main Street’s Anh + Chi Vietnamese restaurant grew up eating recipes created by their mother and grandmother, and took some of those homegrown formulas to their bustling new enterprise. The siblings come from a line of Vietnamese restaurant runners, starting with their maternal grandmother, who had a cafe in Saigon in the 1970s. “Grandma’s shop was a gathering place for young artists and musicians to eat, drink, and speak freely, especially during a time when freedom and expression were restricted,” says Vincent. It was in 1978 at that very cafe that Ly Nguyen, Vincent and Amelie’s mother, met their father, Hoang. The couple fled Vietnam after the war and settled in Vancouver, opening an East Van pop-up shop that became the Mount Pleasant staple of Pho Hoang. When their father died in 2010, Amelie and Vincent knew they wanted to keep his vision going, and so in April 2016 they opened Anh + Chi in the same space that Pho Hoang used to occupy.
“Vancouverites are well travelled and well versed in ethnic cuisines. Sometimes we want to visit modest Vietnamese shops (also known as a hole in the wall, which is cool, as our parents ran one for 33 years). But more recently, we think Vancouver is ready for a place that offers more, representing Vietnamese food and hospitality in another light,” Vincent explains. “What we ended up with is an alluring space, honest Vietnamese food, gracious service, and some damn good beer and cocktails.” Anh + Chi’s modern space elevates the Vietnamese food experience with its clean white walls, simple wooden furniture, and chic accents of gold and brass. But don’t be fooled by the hip decor: the restaurant serves up delicious, comforting, quality food that utilizes fresh ingredients sourced locally, paired with the Nguyen’s passionate touch. In fact, the siblings’ mother continues her own legacy in Vancouver as Anh + Chi’s chef; it is truly a family affair.
There are the classic staples, of course, such as lemongrass chicken, pho, and vermicelli bowls, but there are also some more contemporary rolls and salads, all inspired by Vietnamese culture and rooted in its traditions. The Bánh xèo, for example, is a crepe made of rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, served with either organic tofu and shitake mushrooms or prawns and pork. “Roll up your sleeves, grab some lettuce and fresh herbs, and pack some of the crepe into it,” instructs Vincent. “Like a lettuce wrap with so many textures, you dip it into chili fish sauce (or sweet soy for the vegetarians) and delight!” The restaurant has been serving 33 Acres since it opened, and Vincent says there is “nothing is better than sipping on a cold, hop-forward, crisp beer like the 33 Acres of Ocean, leaving your palate fresh for your next bite.”
Anh + Chi’s eclectic and inviting menu mix lends itself well to ordering a bunch of things and sharing them family-style. As if the Nguyens would have it any other way.