TOULOUSE — Home is where the heart is.
|At home, abroad: Owner of the Bambouseraie Nguyen Thai Hoc poses with his customers at his restaurant in the southern French city of Toulouse. — VNS Photo
After living in France for 30 years, Nguyen Thai Hoc still longs for his old days in Viet Nam so he and his wife have opened a restaurant to bring a piece of the homeland to their adopted country.
The typically Vietnamese restaurant is located near the city of Toulouse, about 700km south of Paris. He named it Bambouseraie (Bamboo), a tree that is close to the Vietnamese culture.
The name tells a lot about the restaurant. Images of bamboo take over the decor of the place, from the napkins embroidered with the image of a clump of bamboo, to the teacup handles that are made of bamboo. Paintings featuring images of the Vietnamese countryside are also hung on the walls. All of the decorations were brought from Viet Nam, including the bamboo tables and chairs.
"Our clients can feel as if they were enjoying traditional Vietnamese food in a Vietnamese restaurant. With the multiple images of bamboo, they will remember Viet Nam and Asia," says Hoc, while pointing to an embroidery painting entitled Tieng Hat Thanh Binh (Peaceful Song) which features boys on buffaloes under the shade of green clumps of bamboo.
"I hope that the restaurant's decor can help reinforce and promote the image of Viet Nam. I also hope that French people and other foreigners here can learn something about Viet Nam, not only through the food but also through the country's handicraft products," Hoc says.
He is also glad that this typically Vietnamese ambience can help overseas Vietnamese feel close to the country when they don't have the opportunity to travel back home as often as they'd like.
The restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese food including nem (spring rolls), pho (noodle soup), banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe), and has seduced quite a few French locals who have expressed great love for the food.
"We find the food very delicious and we often recommend the restaurant to friends. We really enjoy Vietnamese food," says Monica Ploguet, a regular diner at the restaurant.
"I like the decorations and the food is excellent and reasonably priced. This is what brings me back so often," says Pascale Pouget.
Children tend to enjoy the desserts such as jellied sweets and me xung (sesame candy).
"I am Vietnamese and I am proud of this," says Hoc, when asked why he decided to open his restaurant.
"I've always wanted to display and present all the things that are beautiful and original about Viet Nam, especially to friends who have never travelled there."
Born in central Quang Tri province, he left for France at the age of 14 but still hopes to contribute something to the country's development. He has worked for several years as a teacher at the Paul Sabatier University of Toulouse.
Hoc plans to open an import company to bring goods from Viet Nam to France because he believes there is a large market for Vietnamese good in the country. While actively taking part in the activities organised by the Vietnamese community in Toulouse, he has helped some Vietnamese students during their stay in France and employed some of them to work at his restaurant.
"I am only a grain of sand in a desert, but if I can do something for my country, I will try my best," says Hoc. — VNS