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Anna will be making air-fried lumpia at the Secret Menu booth on Sunday. Anna moved to Cincinnati from Virginia Beach. She currently lives with her husband, Jared, and her one-year old daughter, Brooklyn Adelinda. We met with her for a quick Q&A session.

What are you cooking? Tell us about why you chose these dishes to share. Is it something your family ate growing up? What do you love about it? Why do you think people will like it?

As the daughter of a Filipino mother, I grew up enjoying delicious tropical island cuisine for the majority of my meals. I loved Filipino food, and I couldn’t find any restaurants in Ohio.

My absolute favorite food was lumpia, a popular Filipino spring roll. When I was young, I wanted to show off this dish to my friends, but my mother was too concerned that kids would be turned off by the unfamiliar flavors, and she didn’t want us to be teased because of our culture.

Once I was old enough to host my own guests, and I began  swapping out slumber parties parties for dinner parties, I decided to test her theory. I would prepare traditional lumpia for every gathering that I attended. However, I would also create a back-up variation inspired by more familiar flavors, to that fit the occasion. It turns out that most people loved the traditional lumpia as well as the different varieties. I, myself have an appreciation for many different cultural flavors, so I’m constantly experimenting with adding this Filipino twist to different Global cuisine.  

They’ve been so popular with even the pickiest eaters,so I’m excited to share them and help Cincinnati at least dip their toes into Filipino culture.

What is your favorite thing to eat?

Lumpia, of course.  Also salmon. I really like salmon.

What are you looking forward to at Asian Food Fest?

I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction of Cincinnatians who are trying this for the first time. I’m also excited to being around all of the talented Asian creators of our community.

What is your favorite thing about Cincinnati?

I love that it has a big city culture and feel, with a small town heart and sense of community.

What else do you want people to know about your food?

It’s all made with Adelinda’s love.

She’ll be offering 2 flavors of lumpia on Sunday

The Manila: Traditional-style lumpia, which is a Filipino spring roll filled with beef, carrots and cabbage marinated in oyster sauce and traditional lumpia seasoning. Served with sweet chili sauce.

The Cincinnati: A lumpia roll inspired by the flavors of Cincinnati. Filled with diced hot dogs, Cincinnati chili, shredded cheddar and cream cheese. Served with mustard aioli for dipping sauce.

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Husband and wife duo, Bin and Ziye, will be making beef and pork don on Saturday at the Secret Menu booth. Bin was born in China, south of Shanghai. While growing up, he moved many times with his parents, and spent a few years in Japan before settling down in Cincinnati. His wife Ziye is from Sichuan, China, which is well-known for their fondness for spicy food. They currently live near Downtown Cincinnati. See what he has to say in the Q&A session below:

What are you cooking? Tell us about why you chose these dishes to share. Is it something your family ate growing up? What do you love about it? Why do you think people will like it?

We are making a popular dish in Japan called “Don”, which is a popular dish consisting of rice covered with meat and/or egg. The rice is also covered with a blend of simmering sauce, typically made of soy-sauce and mirin. I picked the dish because its something of a comfort food that everyone can enjoy.

What is your favorite thing to eat?

Fresh seafood – I spent many years on a beach

What are you looking forward to at Asian Food Fest?

This is my third year attending the event. We made wontons last two years, which were a huge hit, but it is time to try something new. I am confident that the don will be a very popular dish this year.

What is your favorite thing about Cincinnati?

I lived in Cincinnati for many years now, but have only lived in downtown for a year. I really enjoy the vibe of downtown – we are under-going through a renaissance of urban revival, which creating a lot of cool neighborhoods with good restaurants.

What else do you want people to know about your food?

My co-workers from General Electric will also help out with this event – we are donating all of the proceeds to charitable causes this year.

Come check out Bin and Ziye’s on Saturday at the Secret Menu.

Pork/Beef Don: Rice Bowl topped with pork or beef with poached egg, microgreens and nori flakes

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Blog Post by Sulin Ngo

If you ask people in Asia where to find the best food, many of them will answer: on the street. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the most innovative and tasty new trends start with street vendors around the world. Deepen Patel, owner and chef at Mumbai Street Side, aims to bring the colors, flavors and innovative style of his hometown’s street foods to Greater Cincinnati.

Patel and his wife Bhavini are from Mumbai, a western harbor city in India formerly known as Bombay. With an estimated number of 20 million residents speaking over 16 languages, including many ethnic dialects, Mumbai is one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the world. The city’s diversity is strongly reflected through its food culture, a fascinating mishmash of well-known Indian flavors with an unmistakable Mumbai twist.

Patel came to study at University of Cincinnati in 1999, where like many other college students, he began to miss the taste of home. One dish in particular was difficult to find in the Midwest – the chicken frankie, grilled chicken in a soft wrap, which is as popular on street corners in Mumbai as hotdogs vendors are in the U.S.

It wasn’t until he traveled to New York City that he was able to try it again, but the flavors were “all wrong,” according to Patel.

Authentic Mumbai flavors can be difficult to get right, unless you’ve eaten as many chicken frankies as Patel has. He decided to recreate it for Asian Food Fest last year so he could share the dish as it is intended to taste.

“Most Indian restaurants in the region serve Northern Indian-style cuisine, which you can find almost anywhere in India. However, the street food in Mumbai has its own unique character,” says Patel.
The evolving food scene in Mumbai continually inspires Patel’s mission to bring authentic tastes from India to Greater Cincinnati, his second home. This year, Mumbai Street Side returns to Asian Food Fest with crowd favorites and some new dishes to try. Food-lovers can look forward to:

Chicken Frankie

The Chicken Frankie – Chicken marinated in Patel’s own blend of authentic spices is grilled and served in a soft wrap, topped with fresh cilantro, a chili vinaigrette and shredded cheese. This was Patel’s go-to snack after school and the most popular street food in Mumbai – and you can’t find anything like it in the Midwest.

Vada-Pav (Potato Fritter Sliders) – These “desi-style” (or Indian-style) street burgers are like cheese-stuffed mashed potato balls, served with tamarind and coriander chutneys and a sprinkle of Mumbai’s famous spice mix.

Chicken Biryani

Chicken Biryani – For returning fans of Mumbai Street Side, Patel is bringing forward a new option at this year’s Asian Food Fest. This saffron rice and marinated chicken dish is dotted with caramelized onions and infused with classic Mumbai flavors.

Ganne-ka-Raas (Fresh Sugarcane Juice) – This cold drink is sweet and refreshing – but not overly sugary because it comes straight from the source: fresh sugarcane. Patel infuses the juice with key limes, mint, and his own blend of spices to give it just the right balance for a hot Asian Food Fest weekend.

Sugarcane Juice

“My family and I all hope these flavors will be loved and enjoyed in Cincinnati as much as they are on every street corner of Mumbai,” Patel says.
Mumbai Street Food caters across Greater Cincinnati and Patel hopes to open a brick and mortar location soon. You can learn more about new dishes and follow the business’s journey on its Facebook page

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Blog Post by Sulin Ngo

Don’t let the name fool you – S.E.A. Cuisine food truck serves more than just fish. S.E.A. stands for Southeast Asia, which includes countries Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Cambodia. You can recognize the truck by the giant map of the region painted on its side.

Map of Southeast Asia on S.E.A. Cuisine Food Truck

“The [unabbreviated] name of my food truck was too long,” joked chef-owner Cham Penn. “I put the map up because people thought I was a seafood truck!”

Penn’s menu is influenced by foods he grew up eating in Cambodia, as well as East Asian dishes he learned to make in his 20-plus years working in Greater Cincinnati’s restaurant industry.

This year at Asian Food Fest, Penn will be serving up fun and fresh flavors in a perfectly hand-held way: through a variety of Asian-style tacos! Here’s what you can look forward to:

The tacos will be prepared four ways:

• Cajun Shrimp Tacos, which have a little bit of Southeast Asian food’s signature heat
• Cambodian Whitefish Tacos
• Korean-style Koji Beef Tacos
• Japanese-style Teriyaki Chicken Tacos

Tacos from S.E.A. Cuisine

Penn makes the marinades completely from scratch, lending his own unique twist to each one. His tacos are piled high with house-made slaw and finished with his secret recipe yumyum sauce.

Additionally, festival-goers have something very special to look forward to – his mother’s coconut cream puffs.

“Southeast Asian desserts use a lot of fresh coconut, but it’s not always available here. When I was growing up, my mother used whatever she could find at the grocery store to give us a taste of home,” said Penn. For him, these coconut cream puffs represent the uniqueness of Asian-American food.

Foodies and newcomers to Asian food alike are guaranteed to find something new to enjoy at S.E.A. Cuisine.

“We use a lot of really hard-to-find ingredients,” says Penn. That is a big deal, considering how heavily Southeast Asian cuisine relies on fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Cham Penn, Owner of S.E.A. Cuisine

Take for example the green papaya that Cham uses in his salad, which is only available for a short time during the spring and summer. Most people are familiar with papaya as a sweet, tropical fruit. But, when unripened, papaya takes on more of the crunch and refreshing taste that we would associate with other green vegetables. Cambodians often pickle the fruit and serve it as a condiment or side to perfectly complement spicy dishes.

How spicy is the food at S.E.A. Cuisine? According to Penn – “Just enough kick to make things interesting.” Whatever that means, you’ll just have to find out!

The S.E.A. Cuisine food truck can be found at Asian Food Fest, but you can also experience the full menu during Summer Cinema at Washington Park, at Taste of Cincinnati and at the Gorman Sunflower Festival. And if you’ve got last-minute cravings, find out where S.E.A. Cuisine is parked through their Facebook page.

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Blog Post by Elly Yao

Smiling faces at Angkor Wat

Cambodian culture and food is generally not well known here in Cincinnati. The ancient wonder of Angkor Wat temple complex, where Tomb Raider was filmed, is usually one’s initial image of the country. What you may not know is that in the mid 1970’s, Cambodia was taken over by a radical military group called Khmer Rouge, which led to the Cambodian genocide from 1975-1979. Nearly a quarter of the population was killed, including social elites, women, children, elders and many more.

Vy Sok, owner of Mahope Cambodian cuisine, was one of the many Cambodians who escaped their homes. During the darkest time, Vy’s family fled to a refugee camp on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Vy was raised in the refugee camp until age four.  An American church organization, hoping to provide shelter for these victims, sponsored Vy, her parents and seven siblings to live in the U.S.

Life on water at Tonle Sap Lake

“When I first saw snow falling down from the cloudy grey sky, I thought the world was going to end,” Vy said with a laugh. “My mom had to drag me down from the bed where I was hiding for days.” Eventually, little Vy came out from her comfort zone and touched the cold white snow.

Though they first settled in the Camp Washington neighborhood after moving to Cincinnati, her family and many other Cambodian refugees have now formed a small community in West Chester. They also established a Cambodian temple where cultural holidays are celebrated and worship is still practiced.

Worshiping at Angkor

Although Vy is busy taking care of her children and elderly parents, she has long had the dream of opening her own Cambodian-style eatery. Things began to take shape last year, when she took a course with Cincinnati entrepreneurship program Mortar, whose mission is to enable under-served entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed. With their help, Vy hopes to put Cambodian cuisine on the map in Cincinnati. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and for me lots of things are falling into place at this moment.”

Vy recently started cooking at a stand at Urban Artifact in Northside, where she will have the chance to serve different dishes like Cambodian sandwich, noodle salad, and crepe. Fans of Vy’s food will be now able to visit Mahope every Saturday night at Urban Artifact starting on May 20th.

Cambodian Taco w/ Kroueng marinated chicken

2017 marks the first time Cambodian food will be featured at Asian Food Fest, and a second Cambodian vendor Eam Kruesah will also be joining the festival this year. As Cambodia is located between Vietnam and Thailand, one can taste the major influence on food from these neighboring countries. “Cambodian cuisine is less spicy than Thai food, and less salty than Vietnamese food,” Vy said. Because of her cultural background, she wants to bring both fusion and authentic Cambodian dishes to the local food scene, combining traditional flavors with a more playful touch.

Cambodian Taco w/ vegetarian beef

Kreoung paste is a lemongrass and herb based spice mix used in many Khmer style dishes. At Asian Food Fest, Vy’s Mahope will be presenting a Cambodian taco: kroeung sauce-marinated chicken, grilled then placed on a corn tortilla. Topped with refreshing green papaya salad, and dazzled with her signature tangy spicy sauce at the end. A vegetarian version featuring soy-based ground beef will also be available.

“Mahope means food in Cambodian,” Vy added. She chose the name because she finds hope in the word. “With the success of Mahope, I would like to give back to the community and the Cambodian people, to help them achieve their own hopes and dreams… by teaching and inspiring them no matter what’s your economic status or where you come from, you can achieve anything you put your heart and mind to.”

Visit Vy’s Mahope booth this Saturday and Sunday, May 13-14 in Washington Park, along with 30+ other Asian Food Fest vendors! Stay tuned for more news and posts from the AFF blog.

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Blog Post by Rushi Dhakad

The promise of creative Indian food served as motivation as I walked in a cold, hostile drizzle, taking several wrong turns before finally arriving at my destination on Prospect Hill. I was welcomed into the home of a young man, Navpreet Lekhi, who had invited his friends over to try his Secret Menu dishes before their premier at the upcoming Asian Food Fest.

Grilled Paneer Slider

The apartment had a spacious deck facing Cincinnati’s dreamy skyline. There was little time to enjoy the view as I was quickly brought into the kitchen to watch Nav prepare his grilled paneer sliders. He turned on his favorite music by Madlib, an American DJ who is skilled at mixing Indian beats. Born in the U.S. to Indian Punjabi immigrants, Nav has clearly been influenced by dual cultures. As blobs of homemade ghee (clarified butter) melted in the pan, Nav began narrating the story of his father.

In the 1980s, a young Indian man doing his masters studies in Boston went on a camping trip to Portland, Maine. He craved Indian food but found not a single Indian restaurant. Taking a giant leap of faith, the young man abandoned his studies, moved to Portland, and started his own restaurant. That’s bold for someone with a conservative Indian background and even more so for a young man with a wife and baby (little Nav).

As Nav grew, so did the restaurant. And Nav began to develop his own taste for Indian food. Today, he has fond memories of having palak paneer and garlic naan every time he went to his father’s restaurant. “For my 16th birthday, my mom made every possible Indian sweet – from GulabJamun to Rasgulla to Jalebi,” showing her love for her son through cooking.

The family moved to Cincinnati and the restaurant followed. Eventually, managing the business alone became highly arduous for Nav’s father and after a successful 25-year-run, he closed shop in 2009.

Nav went to Ohio State University to study Globalization Studies and coding. College provided an outlet to learn about himself as an American child raised in a Punjabi household. He also learned that there were many others just like him.

Now an IT engineer, Nav has been exploring his inherited love for food and the joy of serving others. I watched as he grilled thick slices of fresh, soft homemade paneer cheese on a medium flame with ginger-garlic and cumin fried in the ghee. He showed me the toppings for the sliders – curry-infused slaw and traditional Indian mint chutney. A brown crispy layer formed on both sides of the paneer and it was ready to slide into its soft, yet toasted bun.

Tandoori Chicken Wings

I was the first taster of the evening. It was my reward for the struggles endured while trying to reach Nav’s home. Upon first bite, the slider exploded with the tangy magic of slaw and mint chutney followed by the taste of rich, buttery paneer. This debutante stood strong among the reigning monarchs of Indian street food burgers like the Vada Paav and the Kutchhi Dabeli. I didn’t even care how I looked when he captured an Instagram video of my messy first bite.

His friends then filed in – a happy bunch, many of whom have known Nav since high school. They were greeted with chicken wings, marinated in the Indian tandoori style. With the help of Jordan Hamons, who is a chef herself, Nav baked the wings before deep frying-them until crispy. To add to the awesomeness, the wings were then rolled in a mix of spices and tangy lemon juice. The innovative tandoori wings were quickly devoured by his lucky friends.

Much like Nav and the Indian beats playing in the background, the Grilled Paneer Sliders and Tandoori Chicken Wings were a seamless fusion of American and Indian flavors. Thus far, only Nav’s closest friends and family have had the privilege of tasting these unique creations. When Nav heard about the opportunity to participate in Asian Food Fest’s Secret Menu booth this year, he jumped at the chance to test out his concept with a wider audience and establish a brand for his fusion food: ‘Preet’s’. The slider’s magic still lingering on my tongue, I departed Nav’s home, leaving him with all the best wishes for Asian Food Fest. I have no doubt he is going to rock this weekend.

Visit Chef Nav at the Secret Menu booth this Saturday, May 13th in Washington Park, along with 30+ Asian Food Fest vendors who will be cooking throughout Mother’s Day Weekend on Saturday and Sunday! Stay tuned for more news and posts from the AFF blog.

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Shrimp and Pork Rolls

Blog Post by Rushi Dhakad

In Kenwood, a restaurant serves an elaborate menu of authentic Thai dishes – and Lao cuisine too. At the helm is Valerie Germain. That’s right. An American woman is running Bamboo Kitchen with an all-female kitchen and she’s been doing so successfully for more than two years.

“We work together as a team. Everyone does everything,” Valerie says proudly. But there is no denying that she’s the leader, she is the face of Bamboo Kitchen, often even taking a smaller paycheck to keep the show going.

Valerie’s affair with Asian food started early this century when she began working in Asian restaurants, including an 11-year stint at a family-owned Thai-Lao restaurant called ‘Mekong’ (named for the river between these two countries). During that time, Valerie not only acquired expertise in the cuisine but also became a part of their family. Years later, she still enjoys getting together with that Lao family and also offers support for their new restaurant 3 Ladies Thai in Florence, Kentucky.

Lao Papaya Salad

When the owners of Mekong left Cincinnati, Valerie took the opportunity to open Bamboo Kitchen, keeping the same team together, including one of her Lao sisters Sophie. Valerie also kept the pieces together when a ‘silent partner’ had second thoughts and withdrew from the restaurant. She made sure the Bamboo Kitchen team made it through restructuring, which required money out of her own pocket. The team worked extra hours, and within a few months, recovered from the setback.

The name ‘Bamboo Kitchen’ reflects the theme of the restaurant’s interior as well as the common use of bamboo in Thai-Lao cuisine. Even though Valerie is American, she insists on serving authentic food to customers. As a result, Bamboo Kitchen uses 100% coconut milk in all their curries, buys only real Thai basil and uses fresh white noodles, which is not common in the business.

Valerie has big plans ahead for her restaurant. Her future ambitions include opening a Bamboo Kitchen food truck, offering her appetizers and home-made sauces in groceries, and participating in more events like Asian Food Festival.

Sticky Rice Dessert

Tasters at Asian Food Fest 2017 won’t be disappointed as Bamboo Kitchen showcases its mix of Lao and Thai foods. The Lao Papaya Salad is served in mild or spicy versions, and the Shrimp and Pork Rolls are sure to be a great main dish, made of whole shrimp stuffed with pork, which is wrapped and fried. Sticky Rice, a staple of Lao food, is not yet available in the restaurant but will make its debut at Asian Food Fest. Both banana and mung bean versions of the sticky rice dessert will be offered, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.

Roasted Coconut Juice

“Except for the roasted coconut water,” Valerie says laughing, “all dishes will be made from scratch.”

Visit Bamboo Kitchen and many more Asian food vendors at Asian Food Fest in Washington Park on May 13-14, 2017! Stay tuned for more news and posts from the AFF blog.

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Blog Post by Ha Dinh

Pho Lang Thang in Findlay Market

What does coffee mean to you? A morning rush? Afternoon enjoyment?

For the Vietnamese, coffee is a lifestyle and a part of their culture. Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world, after Brazil. Meeting Duy Nguyen, co-founder and co-owner of Vietnamese restaurant Pho Lang Thang in Findlay Market, provided great perspective on Viet coffee culture, which Duy says is a very inclusive, welcoming one.

Though he was born in America, one of Duy’s favorite experiences was in a very casual coffee shop across from a river in Saigon. People of all ages would sit around low tables and low chairs, enjoying long conversations and one coffee (or one cigarette) after another. For Duy, this represents the “Lang Thang” lifestyle his restaurant is named after.

“Older generations believe in following one direction, while younger generations have our own way,” said Duy. “We’re free spirits, we make it our own way. And that’s what ‘Lang Thang’ lifestyle is for me.”

Some Vietnamese drink coffee all day. They hang out with friends, have work meetings or even date nights in coffee shops. Because coffee is no longer a morning routine, many coffee shops in Vietnam now offer alcohol, dessert and live music – but coffee is still the main course. “After dinner, Americans may visit a bar, but over there, people go to coffee shops.”

Much like craft brewers in the States, “coffee geekdom” – according to Duy – has become a trend in Vietnam. Coffee artists are exploring and learning coffee techniques from all over the world, then inventing their own perfect craft coffee.

Vietnamese Phin Coffee

Many Vietnamese living in the United States haven’t been back to Vietnam recently and their concept of coffee remains rooted in the twentieth century, when classic coffee was served in a “phin” single drip filter, over ice. The French-inspired phin coffee was the only way that Vietnamese made coffee for 100 years, and locally it’s only available at Pho Lang Thang. Duy brought traditional phin coffee to the States, with Viet coffee imported from a roaster of his father’s, who moved back to Vietnam in the 90’s. Now you can enjoy black, strong coffee in a phin or an iced coffee with condensed milk at the 7-year-old restaurant in Findlay Market.

Some say traditional Vietnamese coffee is similar to Café Du Monde, since Vietnam was part of the French Indochina colony for 67 years, and both coffee types receive their earthy flavor by being mixed with chicory. But Duy enthusiastically believes that Vietnamese coffee and French coffee are different. He argues that the body of Vietnamese coffee is thicker and stronger. French coffee, on the other hand, is dark but not as full. The secret of the coffee’s richness lies in the addition of soybean which you’ll find in many traditional Vietnamese coffees.

Vietnamese coffee can be enjoyed with any food, so you can experience a strong iced coffee at Asian Food Fest paired with either Beef Pho or an Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake) from the menu of PLT’s sister restaurant Quan Hapa.

Asian Food Fest 2017 will feature these offerings from the Pho Lang Thang and Quan Hapa booth:

  • Vietnamese Iced Coffee – $4
  • Pho Bo – Nam (Beef Pho w/ Brisket, served with sliced onions, scallions, cilantro, bean sprouts, fresh herbs, jalapeños and lime) – $5
  • Hapa Okonomiyaki (Bacon, bonito flakes, Japanese mayo, tonkatsu, green onion and furikake) – $5
  • Roasted Cauliflower Okonomiyaki (Japanese mayo, tonkatsu, green onion, cauliflower, furikake) – $5

Visit Pho Lang Thang and many more Asian food vendors at Asian Food Fest in Washington Park on May 13-14, 2017! Stay tuned for more news and posts from the AFF blog.

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Asian Food Fest by Admin - 1y ago

Blog Post by Ha Dinh

Perhaps you know that Le’s Pho history dates back to 1989 in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Norwood, Ohio. Ms. Lệ served Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine her restaurant, Dragon Le, for 7 years in Norwood’s Surrey Square. Dragon Le was not only a restaurant but also an Asian grocery shop.

“My mom cooked phở, bún bò Huế (spicy beef noodle) but customers preferred Chinese food more,” according to Ms. Lệ’s daughter, Ms. Huyền. “Back in the time, Vietnamese cuisine wasn’t very popular.”

In 1996, the family restaurant moved to Main Street in downtown Cincinnati and evolved into Main Street Walk. Ms. Lệ also opened a flower shop inside the restaurant which served  Chinese food and phở. Vietnamese cuisine still didn’t garner much Cincinnati attention. Main Street Walk became Le’s café, in 2003, near Cincinnati’s downtown Public Library. This time, chef Lệ cooked bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) and Chinese food.

Finally, in 2011, Le’s Pho and Sandwiches opened, serving Asian appetizers, phở, bún, bánh mì, rice, and Vietnamese coffee. Around this time, Vietnamese cuisine started to gain more popularity, especially after Pho Lang Thang opened in Findlay Market. American, Chinese, Korean, Indian and many other nationalities began welcoming Viet food, and it was not uncommon to see many in the Cincinnati region choose phở for brunch, lunch or dinner.

When Ms. Lệ was in Vietnam, before marriage, she took care of her younger siblings and cooked for the whole family. After coming to the US, she always wanted to share her recipes of Viet cuisine but couldn’t. Now that Le’s Pho and Sandwiches has grown to become a popular Vietnamese restaurant, Ms. Huyen says her mother is “happy now that she finally reached her goal.”

When you visit Le’s Pho, you will likely be greeted by Huyen at the counter or as she serves food from the kitchen. Despite her Bachelor degree in Biology, and acceptance to the University of Virginia law school, her passion grew in the restaurant industry. Huyen is helping to manage the family restaurant, allowing her parents to enjoy the legacy they’ve built.

What makes Le’s Pho stand out is not only fast service and a great family love, but also its Saturday secret menu showcasing Ms. Lệ’s great Vietnamese recipes. It’s called the “secret menu” because it is only made available to those who ask.

Asian Food Fest 2017 will feature “A Walk of Le” with these dishes:

  • Pork egg rolls (chả giò thịt her) – 2 for $3
  • Crab Rangoon – 5 for $3
  • Chicken on a Stick with Ms. Lệ’s special sauce (thịt gà xiên nướng) – $4/each
  • Iced Café Boba (cà phê trân châu) – $3/each

Le’s Pho’s Asian Food Fest menu includes both Vietnamese and Chinese food, with a touch of creativity for the boba coffee, and of course, is served to you with great love from Le’s family.

Visit Le’s Pho and many more Asian food vendors at Asian Food Fest in Washington Park on May 13-14, 2017! Stay tuned for more news and posts from the AFF blog.

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Growing up in Honduras, Ana Cheong was a child of two cultures, raised to love and appreciate the worlds of both her Chinese immigrant parents and her Spanish-speaking friends. As a young adult, Ana constantly sought to immerse herself in new experiences across the globe, traveling to new countries for both work and play. She eventually found herself in Cincinnati working in a corporate job, but a significant change at her company gave her the opportunity she needed to leave her job and pursue a new and more fulfilling career. Ana decided to devote her time to doing something she loved, sharing new cultures with others in the most natural way she knew how – through cooking.

Ana in the kitchen with her family

I met with Ana recently to learn about the story behind her new entrepreneurial venture, ai cocina (pronounced “eye koh-see-nah”). An experienced world traveler and a self-described foodie, Ana believes the best way to discover a new culture is through food. “Whenever I came back from a trip, I always tried to find the ingredients necessary to replicate the new meals I had tried. It took some searching to find them all, but soon, my pantry was packed with exotic ingredients,” she said with a laugh. And she thought, instead of having to buy these in bulk, what if I could get just the right amount for one dish? This was the original idea behind ai cocina, a local small business offering ethnic cooking kits that provide difficult-to-find ingredients for authentic recipes from all over the world. Ana’s cooking kits contain easy-to-follow instructions while also teaching home chefs about the culture and history behind each unique dish and locale.

The name of her business itself is a portmanteau of Chinese and Spanish, speaking to Ana’s unique background – ai means “love” in Mandarin while cocina translates to “kitchen” or “cook” in Spanish. Essentially, she hopes to inspire others to learn about new cultures through the love of cooking. Other companies like Plated and Blue Apron have similar concepts, teaching simple recipes and providing packaged ingredients to their customers, but what sets Ana apart is the authenticity she brings to the dinner table. Each of ai cocina’s recipes is based on her travels and real culinary experiences, and she avoids cutting corners by always finding the most authentic ingredients for her kits.

Temakizushi

One challenge she has encountered in the early stages of starting her business has been some people’s fear of the unknown. “My biggest pet peeve is when people look at a dish and tell me they don’t like it. I ask if they have ever tried it, and they almost always say no… How do you really know if you like it unless you try?” she asked with visible frustration, raising her hands in the air for emphasis. Whenever she travels to local farmers markets like Findlay Market and Northside Farmers Market to sell her kits, she usually brings along a homemade sample of one of the recipes to ease people’s fears. “I tell them ‘just try it, you’ll like it’ and offer them a taste.” Almost always, this gesture is greeted by a customer’s face lighting up with pleasure from just one bite, instant vindication of Ana’s mission.

Since launching her business just earlier this year, she has been convincing customers one bite at a time to try new things, using food as a bridge to foreign cultures and what they have to offer. “People have said things to me like ‘those noodles look like worms’ – and they are often the hardest to convince. I just encourage people to be open-minded when it comes to food… open to trying something new,” she insisted, with an optimistic smile. For Ana, it’s all about discovery of new cultures, through new dishes. “Each of my kits symbolizes my own travels to these lands and what I’ve learned and brought back with me, connecting the food with my personal stories.”

ai cocina’s ethnic cooking kits come with the perfect amount of hard-to-find ingredients.

So far, she has created several different cooking kits with a few more waiting in the wings, still in the testing stages. At this year’s Asian Food Fest, she’s bringing the following recipes:

  • Kway Teow Pad Thai – Thai stir fried rice noodles with tofu and tender shrimp in a sweet, sour, savory, and spicy tamarind sauce, topped with crunchy bean sprouts and roasted peanuts
  • Pozole Verde – tender chicken and hominy simmered with green tomatillo sauce into a hearty Mexican soup, topped with diced onions, avocado, radish, cilantro, and crunchy tostadas
  • Japchae – chewy sweet Korean potato noodles combined with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms, thin strips of beef, and colorful vegetables, seasoned with an aromatic sweet and savory sesame sauce and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds
  • Temakizushi – a type of sushi rolled by hand into a cone shape with Japanese roasted seaweed (nori) on the outside, filled with sushi rice, fish, and vegetables

Her ethnic cooking kits highlight culture and cuisines of Thailand, Mexico, Korea, and Japan, and each is hand-made with helpful instructions, cooking tips, exotic ingredients, and a few fun facts about each recipe and the country it originates from. The ingredients in her kits can be kept for long periods of time, and with the addition of a few fresh ingredients, you can choose when you want to make them, whether that be for dinner tomorrow, or a few weeks from now. Priced at $12 each, they are meant as a standalone meal for 2, bringing the immersive cultural experience of a home-cooked ethnic meal to anyone’s dinner table.

When you attend Asian Food Fest on May 14-15, 2016 and get the urge to try your hand at making something new and authentically delicious from the comfort of your own kitchen, check out the ai cocina booth and pick up a cooking kit. If you’re feeling hesitant or unsure at all about going on a culinary adventure, I’m sure Ana will be quick to tell you: Just try it, you’ll like it!

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