A Taste Of Home: Vietnamese Food Truck To Become Summer-Long Fixture In Butte

By ANNIE PENTILLA The Montana Standard, Butte

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Giao Hoang's food truck which serves a host of Vietnamese delicacies has been a big hit in Butte. As columnist Annie Pentilla reports, a local non-profit hopes to help keep the wheels spinning for Giao and other local entrepreneurs.

The Montana Standard, Butte

Montana Tech student Giao Hoang, who launched a Vietnamese food truck last December, says she's going to continue serving her family recipes to the residents of the Mining City.

Hoang has been partnering with the Silver Bow Developmental Disability Council Inc., a local organization that advocates for people with developmental disabilities, to operate the organization's food truck, which it's calling "Dish-Ability."

The organization wants to use the truck as a business incubator for prospective entrepreneurs and as a way to provide job-skills training to the council's clients. In return, budding business owners hire the council's clients to help with food prep and serving and donate a portion of their sales to the organization.

Hoang is the first person to take over the truck.

Her debut was during the Butte Christmas Stroll, during which she sold around 150 bowls of a traditional Vietnamese soup to a line of people who gathered around the block.

At the time, Hoang didn't know how long or if she would continue using the truck. But today she says she has launched her experiment into a bonafide business, which she's calling The Hungry Squirrel.

So far, Hoang (whose nickname was the Vietnamese word for squirrel when she was growing up) has served piping hot bowls of soup, Vietnamese curry, and steamed meat- and veggie-filled buns during the Chinese New Year parade, St. Patrick's Day parade and in front of several drinking establishments.

This summer she plans to bring the truck to Butte's summer festivals and the Uptown farmer's market every other Saturday and will donate 6 percent of sales to the disability council.

The truck's next stop will be 5 to 8 p.m., March 31, in front of Headframe Spirits, 21 S. Montana St.

Hoang, who grew up in Minneapolis, moved to Butte in 2011. She has worked for the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library and the county and has taught ceramics at the Silver Bow Montessori School.

Hoang's family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1990s, when she was just 6 years old. Her father was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

Hoang says she remembers little of her childhood in Vietnam, but has vague memories of being on the beach with her father, where she spent her weekends eating fruit and crab meat. She also remembers being excited about going to the market with her mother.

"I just loved fruit and if you've lived in a tropical country it's the best thing ever," said Hoang.

In addition to her bachelor's in studio art from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Minnesota, Hoang will soon have a degree in metallurgical and materials engineering at Montana Tech.

The Montana Standard asked if cooking was a kind of materials science to which Hoang replied, "not really." "I think cooking has always been a stress-reliever for me," said Hoang. "Coming to Montana, in an area where I wasn't able to eat my mom's cooking unless she came to visit, it made me realize how much I missed that. Growing up, I was always trying to assimilate so much that I didn't appreciate it, so being removed from that made me eager to cook more often and to ask my mother for recipes."

Like many kids, Hoang wanted to fit in with her classmates -- and part of fitting in meant bringing a lunch to school that looked like everyone else's, replete with Capri Suns and triangle sandwiches.

"You don't want to be seen as unique or different, so it was always weird that my mom was making this really authentic food when the normal thing was to eat a hamburger," said Hoang.

Today Vietnamese food has had a kind of heyday across the United States.

Pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup made with meat, rice noodles and herbs, has become a popular dish in metropolitan areas and is one of the dishes Hoang has been serving at The Hungry Squirrel. She said her recipe contains a variety of herbs and spices and the broth can take as many as eight hours to make.

Some of Hoang's childhood friends now live in large cities, where they have ample access to cuisines from around the world.

"They always want to go out and eat with me," said Hoang, adding that Vietnamese food today brings memories of home -- something that she described as a "luxury."

In addition to the familiar beef pho, the Hungry Squirrel will also feature chicken pho, Vietnamese curry, steamed buns (called bánh bao), a cold, vermicelli noodle salad with grilled meat and veggies, Vietnamese sandwiches (bánh mì) and other items on a rotating menu.

Most people are familiar with Indian curry, Hoang said, but Vietnamese curry is lighter, sweeter and creamier and isn't as spicy.

As for the sandwiches, they'll be made with a fresh baguette, which Hoang says speaks to the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine, a relic from a time when France occupied Vietnam.

"Pho is really heavily influenced by the French as well because people used to take scraps from steaks and make them into the broth," said Hoang.

As for her business philosophy, Hoang said she operates based on a concept of sharing.

"As a potter, as somebody who enjoys food, as somebody who loves conversations, it's just one of my favorite things to do to connect with people," she said.

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