I grew up in San Jose, so from day one I was surrounded by banh mi, pho (and the superior Vietnamese soups), and com tam. Heritage aside, Vietnamese food was as big of a culinary influence growing up as burgers or pizza (I remember the first time I had hash browns, but the first time I had banh xeo? No idea.)
What'd I have in my sandwiches? Cha lua. How do have my eggs in the morning? Sunny side up with some baguette. What went into my fried rice? Lap xuong (okay, and hotdogs).
But the last time I visited home, I noticed something different. The crowds of Vietnamese (and Mexican) families I had grown accustomed to had started to disappear, replaced by a younger, hipper (by San Jose standards, anyways) clientele. My last trip to the best com tam place in San Jose was a sad tale of a 2-hour wait.
Vietnamese food had become hip.
I probably should have noticed earlier.
Like when Hipster Ipsum, the new cool way to create fill text debuted. Playing around with it, I noticed the random words held my beloved “banh mi,” shoving it right next to “polaroid,” “umami,” “Portland,” “selvedge,” and “Stumptown.”
“Maybe the developer just likes cheap sandwiches,” I thought to myself, handwaving away any concerns.
But things kept popping up. Every few weeks, a picture of a bowl of pho or some banh mi would hit the front page of Reddit. New Vietnamese restaurants with pastel walls and giant windows (like Sushilicious' when it was still open) started showing up around town, replacing dozens of unrelated, badly decorated “Pho So 1″s. It began to get harder and harder to find Vietnamese restaurants without English words in their names (I used to avoid those places like the plague but have since given up.)
Next thing I knew, people were buying $5 banh mi, and I was sitting next to full-on hippies at Pho 54.
Some people might wonder why even be mad. Am I being a crotchety old man? Feeling the squeeze of cultural gentrification? Between a second generation of Vietnamese opening restaurants and the simple fact that Vietnamese food is just so good, this was bound to happen eventually, but I'm not mad seeing my mother cuisine become the next Thai food.
No, I'm just kind of bummed out.
Everyone getting into Vietnamese food now is going to miss out on the little things that make it great — wiping down your own utensils, $2 sandwiches, those weird tiny jars of pickles. They'll get the big picture, sure, but none of the nuances. And when the day “Viet Spice” dots the county like Thai Spice does now, well, you might as well just order a pizza.