Earlier this month I was asked if we could make our Hmong #sausage into a vegan sausage.
This question was innocent enough and I believe there was no ill will or malicious intent with this question. But it did get me thinking…a lot of times we (as Hmong people) are asked by (mostly) white diners…
”Can you make it less spicy?” or “Can you take this or that out of this dish?”.
We’ve been also bombarded with comments on reviews saying:
“This place doesn’t have enough vegan or vegetarian options…we won’t come back”.
There’s the concept in the service industry that “the customer is always right”…I don’t believe that the customer is always right.
As a customer of a dining establishment–especially establishments that are run by BIPOC owners, ask yourself why these dishes are made in the way that it is made before you ask them to change it…dig into the story behind the dish.
This is one of the many mixed messages we publicly receive as Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color who own restaurants:
“Be who you are…don’t change for anyone”.
Which sounds great…but when you ask us to make changes on these dishes that have deep deep meaning to us…what you’re really saying is:
“Please, can you change who you authentically are, for my pleasure and the comfort of my taste pallet because I’m uncomfortable meeting you where you are when it comes to your food”?
Why I won’t change my father’s Hmong sausage recipe?
Because it’s the way he taught me how to make it.
It might be a simple answer, but you have to understand my dad didn’t teach me how to throw a baseball or ride a bike because he didn’t know how.
Actually, that made me feel that my “All-American” childhood was different. At times I would also feel shame because I wasn’t like the other kids. Part of that shame grew to resentment towards my father and being Hmong.
Because it's the way he taught me to make it.
He taught me how to cook…before I knew how to shoot a basketball… I knew how to break down a primal cut on a pig. As a kid growing up, I was more comfortable holding a boning knife than holding a baseball.
Making Hmong sausage the way that we make it now…it’s my father’s legacy and that is why I won’t change it for anyone.
My father didn’t have any land or property to his name when he arrived here all he had was his determination, grit, and never giving up on us and making sure he taught us everything he knew.
Coming to this country and bringing his family here is all he has!
Every dish has a story and if you follow it long enough and close enough you’ll get to the people behind the dish!
For me and him, we connected over the wood fire and butchering on those Saturday mornings when I was supposed to be watching cartoons and eating cereal like a normal American 10-year old kid.
As an adult, I see every opportunity to make the dish the way my father showed me how to make it as redemption of my actions and thoughts as a kid. I get to redeem all those times I was embarrassed for being Hmong or all those times for telling my teachers that my parents couldn’t make it to school events because I didn’t want them to know that they couldn’t speak English.
This is my way of saying “I’m sorry mom…I’m sorry dad…I hope you can see that I’ve always loved you guys but I didn’t know how to show it. I know how now…and I’m not ashamed anymore!”.
This Hmong sausage is special to me and it’s deeper than any food trend or marketing ploy!
There’s a reason for the coarse grind.
There’s a reason for the amount of pork belly to pork shoulder and there a reason for the aromatics that we put in it.
These are the reasons you can taste soul in every bite of the sausage.