By: Adrianna Ladd & Meghan McKeen
These blogs were written by students in Professor Nikki Weaver’s English course. For subjects, students were given a list of local foodpreneurs and encouraged to interview and research them for their article.
Ngoc Huynh, owner of Mamma Hai, never envisioned herself in the restaurant business. Growing up in Nebraska, Huynh was surrounded by the industry, as her parents owned a billiards hall and café that featured Vietnamese cuisine including pho, bánh mì, and bánh bao. Vietnamese cuisine was difficult to find in Nebraska, so people flocked to the billiards hall. Huynh shared that the money her parents made was not because people came to play billiards–it was because of the food.
Huynh left Nebraska to study journalism at Syracuse University and, following graduation, worked as a reporter for the Post Standard for almost 20 years. Upon her arrival to Syracuse, she quickly realized the lack of Vietnamese cuisine options. This led Huynh to reflect on the dishes her mom made for her while growing up and develop a deeper appreciation for them–this reflection and appreciation was the beginning of a surprising career change for Huynh.
Salt City Market manager, Adam Sudmann, previously hosted My Lucky Tummy popup events where vendors were invited to showcase diverse cuisines. Sudmann encouraged Huynh to cook for one of these events. Huynh was initially hesitant, as she never considered herself a really good cook: “My sister and my mom and my dad, they always say I’m like a crazy cook mostly just because I take family recipes and then I put my spin on it.” She ultimately agreed to participate in an event in 2017 and prepared Cháo Lòng Gioi, a dish that features blood sausage with laksa, Thai basil, lemongrass, fish sauce, and jasmine rice.
“My sister and my mom and my dad, they always say I’m like a crazy cook mostly just because I take family recipes and then I put my spin on it.”
Huynh reflected on this experience and the pleasure she found in sharing her food with others: “I think food gives an opportunity for people to bond in ways that you know, it’s just very natural. You don’t even have to talk, you don’t even have to say anything, you can just share a meal, and you can connect.” While Huynh enjoyed sharing her food with others, she never imagined this as a full-time job.
“I think food gives an opportunity for people to bond in ways that you know, it’s just very natural. You don’t even have to talk, you don’t even have to say anything, you can just share a meal, and you can connect.”
When the Salt City Market had the competition to select its vendors, Huynh decided to enter: “I was like, oh, I’ll try out. I’m not gonna get in, you know, because there’s so many talented people in this town and so many people who cook really well.” Needless to say, the outcome of this competition surpassed Huynh’s expectations. After Huynh was selected to be a vendor at Salt City Market, she left her day job and jumped into the restaurant business full-time.
To try some of Huynh’s delicious Vietnamese cuisine, you can visit the Mamma Hai stand at Salt City Market. The focus of Mamma Hai’s menu is bánh mì, which is the Vietnamese word for “sandwich”. Huynh serves three different types of bánh mì as well as mixed miến noodles–a gluten free and vegan option. More information about Mamma Hai can be found at the social media pages below.
Facebook: Mamma Hai