‘A Dance Of Textures’: Thuy Pham On Creating Vegan Pork Belly

Thuy Pham spoke to Robbie Lockie on the PBN podcast


(updated )

4 Minutes Read

Thuy Pham, the creator of vegan pork belly Thuy Pham is renowned for her vegan cooking - Media Credit: Summer Luu

Thuy Pham is the founder of Mama Đút in Portland, Oregon, and is known around the world for her vegan pork belly.

Appearing on the PBN Podcast, Pham tells PBN cofounder Robbie Lockie all about finding veganism and how she keeps her Vietnamese culture alive through cooking.

Vegan pork belly propels Pham to prominence

vegan pork belly from Thuy Pham
Supplied Pham’s vegan pork belly became famous around the world

Pham’s food business started 48 hours after an Instagram live stream of her making vegan pork belly.

Inspired by Vietnamese roasted pork (and her fear of missing out at family gatherings), Pham created a vegan version of the traditional dish. Her daughter encouraged her to share a video of her cooking the vegan pork belly on Instagram.

The dish is “a melodic dance of textures,” she tells Lockie in the podcast. First, a layer of crispiness; then, a layer of fat, a chewy meat layer. “It’s a really fun food in your mouth to eat,” Pham says.

The video blew up and within two days Pham was researching how to start a business. The name was already set: Mama Mama Đút (“Mama, feed me”), one of Pham’s daughter’s catchphrases.

Portland street food

With orders of the pork belly soaring, Pham was soon expanding her operation. She opened Mama Đút restaurant in Portland. She then appeared on the Netflix series, Street Food: USA.

Portland has been Pham’s home since she was two years old. It was also recently named the most vegan-friendly city in the US.

“We are the two extremes,” says Pham. “There is a lot of meat consumption happening in Portland. But then there’s this other side of Portland where there’s so many vegan restaurants, dedicated vegan restaurants.”

Family at the heart of Pham’s story

It was her sister who first encouraged Pham to try veganism. In 2019, after learning the effects of animal agriculture on the planet, Pham went vegan. 

“I said I’m going to just take it one day at a time and see what I can do and do better each day,” says Pham. “And I’ve been vegan ever since then!”

As well as her daughter and sister, Pham explains how her culinary journey was inspired by her mom. The oldest of three children, Pham left Vietnam in a fishing boat with her mom as a baby.

“I’m really blessed to have been able to grow up with a family who worked really hard to hold onto our cultural cuisine,” she says.

The cultural roots of vegan cuisine

Growing up in the US, she speaks emotionally about how cooking Vietnamese food keeps the culture alive for her.

Pham explains that, as a child, she felt pressured to fit into the dominant culture. She often felt ashamed of the food her family cooked and would sometimes throw away lunches her mom had prepared out of shame.

Later, she realized how unhealthy this obsession with “feeling American” had become. “It was driving me crazy because it wasn’t who I am,” she says.

Vietnam inspires Pham’s cooking

Now, her passion for cooking keeps her connected with her roots. “As a Vietnamese person who isn’t connected to Vietnam physically, this is the only way to connect myself physically to Vietnam.”

Veganism has helped enhance this connection. “One of my biggest fears in becoming vegan was that I was going to lose the ability to enjoy the cultural foods that I grew up with. But I was so wrong!” she says.

“The moment I became vegan, it really opened up this new opportunity for me to rediscover my own roots as a Vietnamese person.”

Pham speaks about how choosing a compassionate lifestyle has allowed her to receive more compassion from the world. “For me, the feeling of success is knowing that I have put back a positive contribution into the world.”

An exciting next step?

After recording the podcast, Pham has since revealed that Mama Đút would close its doors in Portland.

“Please stick around,” she wrote on Instagram, “because with every closed door, many more will open.”

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