Germans Do Not Love Asian Food: Explained!

By Long Do Hoang

One of the most heated debates I ever had was with a dear friend of mine about whether or not her “Krispy Chicken in Sweet and Sour Sauce” could really be regarded as authentic Asian food. “The food is cooked by Asian people! If it’s not regarded as authentic Asian food, then what in the world would you describe it as?” she shot at me. I gave the matter a little thought and finally responded: “It is the skill of smart early Asian immigrants to mask German food as Asian food to make profit out of it!”

When my father immigrated to Germany during the 1980s there were absolutely no hip and fancy Asian grocery stores or even Asian restaurants to begin with. Thank god my father brought the most essential Vietnamese cooking ingredients from home – airport border control was not that strict in the 80s – a bottle of fish sauce, some dried fish, and wrapped up in a local Haiphong newspaper, some essential herbs and dried bamboo shoots. Equipped with all the ingredients he needed, my young father started to prepare his dinner. But coming from a third world country in the 80s where the average person practically had to start an actual fire to cook food, my father did not know of the existence of an extractor hood. So, on his first evening in Germany, he blessed his whole neighborhood with the authentic smell of what our beloved Vietnamese cuisine had to offer. Right before he could even taste his meal a neighbor of his started banging on the door, shouting he should open the door right away. When my father did, the German lady – getting right to the point as Germans will – declared that the smell that my father had produced in the kitchen was a strong violation against her well-being and that he must never cook with whatever witchcraft he was cooking, ever again.

Disheartened by the comments and complaint of the mean lady, my father thought he would never be able to eat Vietnamese food again until a good friend of his decided to open an “Asian” restaurant called “Golden Dragon”. So, excited at being able to eat familiar food again, my father visited his friend only to discover that his friend served completely unfamiliar food. The appetizer: “Mini spring rolls” filled with only vegetables and the size of one finger of a toddler. The main dishes were filled with western vegetables like red bell pepper and broccoli which look like a miniature form of actual trees. On top of that were two pieces of deep-fried chicken cutlets which were more similar to German Schnitzels than anything my father had ever eaten in Vietnam. And since the appetizer and the main dish were deep-fried, it came as no surprise that the dessert, too, turned out to be deep-fried as well! As dessert – a privilege people from Vietnam did not know about during that time – his friend served him three pieces of hot, gooey and of course breaded banana balls. As perplexed as my father was by the food, he could not help but realize that all the German customers that were surrounding him seem to thoroughly enjoy their food. And they did, because on the one hand the food was exotic enough – the biggest contributor of that was the foreign man who served the food – but more importantly, the food was not too exotic. They still knew all of the ingredients in the menu but were excited and ready to pay money to see their well-known local ingredients being prepared in a giant wok, a utensil that is used more for show than authenticity.

Now, you might wonder why my father’s friend did not just use authentic ingredients to serve authentic Vietnamese food and nowadays, he might do so. But then, back in the late 1980s, authentic Vietnamese flavors like fish sauce and herbs – the aromas that horrified the mean neighbor of my father – remained unpopular with most Germans. We are talking about a time where taking a bite of an Asian pear was considered experimental, if not dangerous. There was simply no demand for authentic Asian groceries and so Asian people who wanted to open a restaurant had to use groceries that were available in German supermarkets. But once these immigrants had the ingredients, they actually had to come up with a method to cook them. If you ever had the chance to travel to Vietnam, you might have realized that Vietnamese people oftentimes eat their vegetables and herbs raw or use them in soups. We do not usually use a giant wok to stir fry them. But as some of you might be unfamiliar with how to prepare South East Asian ingredients, my father’s friend was very unfamiliar with how to prepare Non-South East Asian ingredients. What he discovered was that everything could easily be stir fried. And with that, a new cuisine was born: westernized and not authentic, but tasty “Asian” cuisine. Also, he started to deep fry meat because buying meat in huge quantities was much cheaper and deep frying it prevented it from going bad quickly.

A lot, of course, has changed in the last 30 years. Germans have become more open to trying foreign food and Asian ingredients and groceries are much more accessible now than they used to be. And even Vietnamese cuisine, with its fish sauce, shrimp paste, and fresh herbs is gaining incredible popularity in Germany. But the “Golden Dragons”, “Asia Woks” and “Bamboo Gardens” are still going strong and define the idea of Asian cuisine for many Germans. The westernized Asian food scene has become one staple here and it is hard to imagine that authentic Asian food might one day replace it. Westernized Asian cuisine is a product of an important part of immigrant history of this country. It shows the troubles but also the creativity and hard work of Asian immigrants that went into inventing these dishes. They were responsible for our economic survival.

Also, as a Vietnamese person myself I have to admit that, although extremely unhealthy and not authentic, this cuisine is quite delicious! But it is not a valid representation of what South-East Asian food really looks and tastes like. It might also take a while to convince the broader German population to challenge their view on Asian food. Until then, my statement stays! Germans do not love Asian food but a westernized version of it.

The Moments that Made Me Realize How Diverse Our World Is

By Long Do Hoang

When I was a child, my perception of the world was so small until I understood what heritage meant. I was a born in a small town near Stuttgart in Germany, Göppingen. Growing up there, the majority of my friends were German, the language we spoke with each other was German and the games we played were all in German. I was aware that the language that I spoke with to my parents was different, but I did not know about the concept – the social construct – of “heritage”. To me and my friends, the way we looked or where our parents came from did not hold any significance. All that mattered to us was that everyone in our group knew about the latest episode of Power Rangers or Pokémon. But our ignorance came to a halt after me and my friends entered elementary school.

Once I entered elementary school, I learned that the world seemed to be a little bit bigger than what I had anticipated. What consisted of my street, family, community and kindergarten before expanded to a new school with hundreds of new faces. And these faces looked nothing like mine. And I was not the only child to realize that. It was then when other kids would come up to me and ask where I was from. At that time, I did not have an answer, or, at least no answer that was to their satisfaction. I would tell them the street I was living in only for them to move to their next question which was: “No, what country are you from?” Whenever I would try to explain to them that I was from a country named Germany they would get mad while telling me that it was not true. I would hear statements like “You cannot look like that when you are German” or “My daddy said you are from China” as if their parents were more competent to assess my valid identity. So, after accumulating a certain amount of confusion and frustration, my younger self decided to ask the wisest person he knew at that time: my mother. One day after my full first grade schedule, I went up to my mother and asked her: “Mommy, why do people keep saying that I am from China when I am German?” to which my wise mother replied: “Long, you are neither German nor Chinese. You are, like the rest of our family, Vietnamese.” That answer came as a great shock to me. I learned that day, that I was neither German nor Chinese but Vietnamese. I was from a country that was completely unknown to me and more importantly, to my German friends. How should I explain my identity to them if I myself knew nothing of the country I was from?

Once summer vacations arrived, my parents decided that it was time for me and my then 10-month-old brother to get to know the country they came from. So, at six years, I was seated in a plane and flew about 30h – there was no direct commercial flight to Vietnam back then – to our “homeland”. I remember quite vividly how excited I was. I was going to meet my grandparents for the first time! Maybe, I hoped, they would also be really into baking like the grandmas of my other friends. I was looking forward to a nice big suburban house with a garden full of flowers and trees and maybe even a German shepherd dog named Rex? But the reality was very different.

The first thing I recall was the intense heat that slapped me across my face once we left the plane. Back then, Vietnam was still economically struggling. The country had suffered a long period of war and the government was blacklisted by multiple countries that were allies of the United States. What that meant for my younger self was: No air conditioning, no real streets, no real cars, bad electricity and no flushing toilets or running water inside the house. Having lived in a country where people do not even question that a toilet should be able to flush, this came as a huge shock to me. My grandparents also, were no strangers to poverty. While the parents of my father had a big hole in the roof from a dropped bomb during the war, the parents of my mother shared one room with the siblings of my mother as well as the toilet – which was a hole surrounded by a fence – with the whole neighborhood. But here is the wonder of childhood. Even though I was shocked at first, my younger self realized two things: I realized that there was a place where everyone looked similar to me, a place where I did not have to explain my existence. And more importantly, that I had a huge family who exceeded my highest expectations. My family might not have had a house with flowers and a dog, but it had cousins who played with me, grandparents who loved me and uncles who would drive me anywhere by a motor scooter! I learned how to climb on palm trees to pick coconuts and how to sharpen sticks to catch some fish.

I learned that although my family was very different from the ones of my German families, there was nothing that I needed to be ashamed of. Seeing all my family members I realized that it was possible to have an identity that might be slightly different from the rest of the Blumenstraße in Göppingen. And now, after having lived in Germany, England and the United States I can confidently say that there are no similar identities. The world can sometimes seem small but take it from someone who had the privilege to see a tiny bit from it: This world of us is huge and the more we are ready to explore ourselves and our so-called “heritage”, the more special and interesting it will appear.