The owner of the far south Austin food truck Hanh’s Homemade, Hanh Duong, pays tribute to her late mother by serving and sharing food from their homeland of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. At her bright green food trailer in the Thicket Food Truck Park at 7800 South First Street, she’s been cooking dishes — or as she describes it, “cooks from the heart” — with her own Austin bent since November 2021
From the 1980s through 2010, Hanh’s mother, who was called Mrs. Nam, ran her own restaurant, Tu Duc, in the Cần Thơ province of Vietnam. The Mekong region spans a large swatch of the Southeast Asian area from the south of Cambodia through the southwest of Vietnam. It’s nicknamed the Rice Bowl because the land’s fertile soil is perfect for its numerous rice fields, and for growing fruits and vegetables. There’s also a lot of seafood, especially shrimp and river fish, from the Hau and Tien tributary rivers of the Mekong River.
Hanh grew up watching and helping her mother create recipes and cook for the restaurant. Tu Duc served 70 items, from pho and banh mi to one of the meals she was most famous for, a seven-course beef dinner. “No one has ever cooked beef porridge like hers,” says Hanh. After the children and grandchildren finished school, Mrs. Nam closed the restaurant, but still made and sold homemade pickles and other prepared food for people in her village. She cooked every day until she from a stroke at 81 in 2018.
Hanh moved to Austin in 2019 with her son to be with her husband, and their older daughter joined them two years later. It was a hard time for Hanh: she was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent time in treatment and recovery. When she was declared cancer free, she attended Austin Community College, studying English and getting her Texas Food Handlers certification. She knew she wanted to open her own restaurant, much like her mother, memorizing her recipes for that day. “I hope I will be successful with my endeavor to bring help to many people like how my mom did,” she says.
Until then, Hanh created and sold whimsical fairy gardens and sold organic fruit, vegetables, and peppers she grew in her own garden. But then the Winter Storm Uri killed off most of her plants in 2021, so she stopped. That’s when she turned her eyes toward the truck. In 2021, the couple commissioned a San Antonio company to build out the food truck, and when it was done, she opened it in November 2021.
Hanh’s southern Vietnamese food is similar to Cambodian fare since the Mekong Delta spans both countries, where both share similar ingredients and cuisine styles. She makes a point of using traditional ingredients like those grown in her homeland, and she is committed to using as many organic things as she can. It’s her way of creating what she sees as her versions of her mom’s recipes.
The truck’s menu includes dishes such as banh mi, fried rice, and pho. Then there are more specific dishes and ingredients. The Vietnamese pancake is massive and somewhat similar to a gigantic omelet. The eggy outer layer is fortified with rice flour and then stuffed with julienned carrots and jicama, whole mung beans, chopped scallions, and morsels of pork, shrimp, and chicken. It’s accompanied by two dipping sauces, one slightly spicy and a slightly sweet fish sauce with grated carrots and jicama, plus a stack of large lettuce leaves meant to be used as wraps.
The vegetarian ball skewers are made with steamed peanuts, sesame seeds, wheat, soy, mustard, celery, eggs, and milk. She molds the ingredients into bite-sized discs that are skewered and then steamed.
Another prevalent ingredient is mung beans, small green beans with a dense texture. Hanh uses the legumes in savory dishes (pancakes, spring rolls), and sweets. Her mung bean cake is made fresh every other day, sweetened with rock sugar. The latter ingredient is less sweet than refined sugar and is made from unrefined, crystalized sugar cane. She uses it in most of her drinks and desserts, such as that mung bean cake.
As for Hanh’s drinks, there’s the butterfly pea flower tea, made with all organic dried butterfly pea flowers, fresh lemongrass leaves, and other ingredients, that’s then lightly sweetened with rock sugar and fresh lemon juice. The traditional Vietnamese coffee. Hanh prepares her Vietnamese coffee with Vinamilk condensed milk.
Hanh frequently shares videos, recipes, and her inspiration for her dishes on her Facebook page. Hanh’s videos are intimate since she often talks about her childhood in Vietnam or discusses how her mother inspired a dish or how her family used certain ingredients medicinally. Hanh sometimes wears her mother’s áo bà ba, a traditional Vietnamese silk outfit, at the truck during special events like her grand opening or when she’s missing home.
Hanh is the only employee of the truck, which means she spends many long hours shopping at Costco, Sprouts, and MT Supermarket; growing organic ingredients in her garden; prepping, and cooking on her own. And still, she greets each customer with a smile and is always happy to chat, especially about food, her mother who inspired it all, and her Mekong Delta homeland.