LOS ANGELES — As part of the annual Lunar New Year event called The Bánh Chưng Collective, Phi Phuong Le Quoc showed people how to make bánh chưng — a rich rice cake that dates back to the 17th century and is one of Vietnam’s oldest recipes.

What You Need To Know

  • Chef Diep Tran created The Bánh Chưng Collective nine years ago

  • The annual gathering carves an inclusive space for the LGBTQIA community and beyond

  • The event this year drew 500 attendees on Zoom

  • Chef Tran asked her friend, Phi Phuong Le Quoc, to help guide 20 students through the collective

Inside the rice cake are layers of seasoned pork, shallots, and mung beans. Each cake is wrapped in banana leaves before it is boiled.

Le Quoc’s friend, Chef Diep Tran, designed the event to carve out an inclusive space for people from the LGBTQIA community who might not be able to go home for the holidays because they cannot or they are not welcomed.

“I think that’s really special about this community. It’s the family that we choose to participate in, and we’re still who we are even if we can’t be with our family,” said Le Quoc.

Chef Tran, who is a R&D chef at Red Boat Fish Sauce, held the collective virtually this year due to the pandemic, and everyone she asked to help her teach said yes despite being nervous about the event. Five-hundred people signed up for the collective this year. 

“If you mess up a bánh chưng, are you Vietnamese enough? So let all that go. I think for Vietnamese Americans, or Vietnamese in diaspora, there’s something in a sense of not being enough,” said Chef Tran. “If you grew up with bánh chưng, whatever form that took, there’s something about making it that connects you to a lineage, even if that personal history has been broken in some way. You are still connected to that.”

“I felt so included. There was no barrier to who I was or what my orientation was. No matter who I was, I was invited,” said Le Quoc after she was done with her class.

It didn’t matter how Le Quoc’s bánh chưng looked in the end. What mattered to her and the people who joined her class was the time they were able to spend with their chosen family this Lunar New Year.

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