Vietnamese food takes small town in Northern Ireland by storm

It feels like Vietnamese food has made it to every corner of the world and that people from Alaska to Auckland chow down on phở and bánh mì regularly.

Vietnamese food takes small town in Northern Ireland by storm
A Viet by Vee pork noodle bowl ready to be eaten. Photo courtesy of Viet by Vee

But sometimes, the reach of this most versatile and diverse cuisine can still surprise.

Portadown in County Armagh of Northern Ireland is most famous, or infamous, for a long-running dispute over a parade that at one point threatened the country's fragile peace process and isn't exactly a hub for international cuisine.

I grew up in and around Portadown where the closest thing to authentic Asian food is the British versions of Chinese and Indian food, so you can imagine my surprise to learn that a Vietnamese takeaway service had not only set up in Portadown but was thriving in the land of sausage suppers and pasties.

Fresh flavours

Viet by Vee was launched by sisters Vicky (aka Vee) and Rebecka Lau in April at the height of COVID-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland, perhaps an ideal time to set up a takeaway food service.

Run out of Vicky's house, Viet by Vee offers a small selection of Vietnamese dishes like spring rolls, fresh rice paper rolls and noodle or rice bowls, for pick-up on a Friday and Saturday.

The new food option has quickly become a big hit in the small town of about 22,000 people, with the businesses' Facebook page topping 3,000 followers and their food regularly selling out.

While Viet by Vee is a new venture, the two sisters have plenty of experience in F&B through working in their family's Chinese restaurants.

"We have a Chinese background. Dad's from Hong Kong. Mum's Vietnamese. So basically growing up, we only knew Chinese food," Rebecka told Việt Nam News.

Vietnamese food takes small town in Northern Ireland by storm
The rice paper rolls are slowly but surely growing in popularity. Photo courtesy of Viet by Vee

The sisters did eat Vietnamese food at home cooked by their mother, who originates from Binh Thuan Province, and while their friends loved it when they came over for dinner, the idea to start making and selling their own Vietnamese food didn't come until many years later.

Rebecka lived in Australia up until recently and she said this exposed her to more Vietnamese food and inspired the idea for Viet by Vee, with Vicky as the chef and Rebecka on logistics.

Their time working in Chinese eateries gave them an understanding of how to run a successful takeaway business and also an insight into what food would work in Portadown, and what wouldn't.

"Their (local people) taste buds are used to more like potatoes, chips, gravy and curry.

"So we tried to make the sauces have to kind of taste not too overpowering," Rebecka said.

 

While the sisters admit to Westernising their food to a degree, Vicky said there was clearly a growing trend in Portadown for people to be more adventurous and open when it comes to food.

"As much as we want to introduce more authentic stuff, we don't want to scare them (customers) away yet.

"We're just slowly introducing things that they're familiar with. And then you know, venture out with more authentic ideas, more authentic food," Rebecka added.

While the most popular dishes at the moment are spring rolls and bun noodle or rice bowls, served with pork, beef or tofu, the sisters hope to add phở to the menu, possibly in the winter when the weather is more conducive to soups in Northern Ireland.

Vietnamese food takes small town in Northern Ireland by storm
The beef noodle bowls are packed with flavour and veg. Photo courtesy of Viet by Vee

Sky's the limit

True to form for any family business and indeed many Vietnamese eateries, there are a lot of balls in the air for Viet by Vee, with Vicky juggling raising two young kids while doing the cooking.

"It's a family business where everyone is supporting each other at the minute. But it's also fun. She (Vicky) enjoys it, she enjoys cooking, and she enjoys everyone enjoying the food," said Rebecka.

The sisters have also been encouraged by the positive local feedback, something that inspires them to bring a little bit more of Vietnam to Portadown.

"It's kind of good to know that there is room for Vietnamese food.

"It gives us that you know, drive to want to share, we want to share more recipes," said Rebecka.

With aspirations to open a brick and mortar outlet at some point in the future, don't bet against Viet by Vee turning the residents of Portadown into full-blown fish sauce and coriander addicts before too long. VNS

Peter Cowan

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