Jens Berhausen has learned to cook Vietnamese food and speak the language to help his two children stay connected with their motherland.
“It’s my joy to cook Vietnamese dishes for my children,” the 48-year-old man said. Pho is Berhausen’s favorite dish, and he learned how to cook it eight years ago.
Berhausen is a mechanical engineer in the city of Mainz, Germany. He married a Vietnamese woman 23 years ago but divorced after nearly 15 years together. He currently lives with his two children.
Jens Berhausen makes Vietnamese bun cha for his kids. Photo by Jens Berhausen
Berhausen said he had been to Vietnam three times and was really impressed with the culinary culture of his ex-wife’s home country. He had spent time enjoying Vietnamese dishes in different regions, from pho in Hanoi, crab noodles in Hai Phong, fish noodles in Nha Trang, and to banh mi in Saigon.
“Each region has its own culinary specialty. I am fascinated by the taste and the preparation of each Vietnamese dish,” Berhausen said.
Berhausen spent a lot of time at Vietnamese restaurants trying to learn how to cook pho. He also watched dozens of videos online and tried different recipes.
“It took me 10 tries to cook pho like I’ve eaten in Vietnam,” he said.
Berhausen described his recipe of beef pho as usually a mixture of beef bone broth and ingredients like red onion, ginger, coriander, anise, cinnamon, and pepper. His dipping sauce is not complete without chili, lemon and fish sauce, in addition to pickled garlic. To cook flavorful pho, Berhausen focuses on broth. He simmers his beef bones for about 3-4 hours, and it takes him about six hours to complete an authentic pot of beef pho.
After pho, Berhausen continued to learn how to make banh cuon (steamed rice rolls), spring rolls, beef vermicelli, grilled pork vermicelli, banh mi… To date, Berhausen said he can now cook more than 50 Vietnamese meals and he’s still following some chefs on Instagram to keep learning new dishes.
According to Berhausen, Vietnamese food has so many flavors it’s sometimes difficult for him to find the right ingredients to cook certain dishes in Germany.
“It’s hard to find proper shrimp paste in Germany,” Berhausen said. “Each Vietnamese dish is unique in terms of ingredients and preparation, and each requires focus and dedication.”
He said some dishes take him 5-6 hours to complete.
A Vietnamese-style meal that Berhausen cooks at home. Photo by Jens Berhausen
Another thing Berhausen noticed is how unique Vietnamese noodle dishes are. Bun bo (beef noodles) has an aroma of shrimp paste, fish vermicelli has the tangy flavor of tomato, while pho has a delicate flavor of bone broth and vegetables.
The first time Berhausen smelled fish sauce, he found it a bit harsh but gradually got used to it. To him, this the indispensable component of all his Vietnamese dishes.
In his free time, he often visits Vietnamese shops to try new foods and maybe even learn how to cook new ones he likes.
“This helps me cook popular dishes served at restaurants as well as more rustic homestyle Vietnamese dishes as daily meals,” he said.
Despite his busy work, Berhausen tries to cook Vietnamese food twice a week for his children and considers it a way for them to keep an understanding and spiritual bond with their homeland and culture.
Berhausen’s daughter is 20 years old and his son is 14. He said that both of them know Vietnamese and have visited their mother’s hometown. They also really like Vietnamese food.
Berhausen and his favorite Vietnamese food banh mi, which he made from scratch. Photo by Jens Berhausen
On every Vietnamese holiday, especially the Lunar New Year Festival (Tet), Berhausen tries to prepare Vietnamese dishes with his children at home.
“I would go find special ingredients to prepare special Tet dishes. I want my children to feel like they are in Vietnam,” he said.
Last week, Berhausen went to the Asian market in Mainz and bought ingredients to make bun cha (vermicelli, fish sauce and grilled pork) for dinner. He said the children were surprised and really liked it, which motivated him to continue learning how to cook more new dishes.
Berhausen said he now wants to learn how to cook more Vietnamese specialties from the Central and Southern regions. He also wants to teach his children to cook some simple Vietnamese dishes when they become interested.
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