Pho is about as classic as a pork tenderloin sandwich in Des Moines' culinary scene.
Why it matters: The Lunar New Year starts today, so it felt like a great time to explore the history of our Vietnamese restaurants.
How it started: Between 1975 and 1979, former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray started a program to resettle Southeast Asian refugees following the Vietnam War, per Iowa PBS.
- Iowa had one of the largest settlement populations at that time after thousands of refugees moved here, according to the AP.
Why it mattered: Opening a restaurant was a means for survival, especially for families who knew little to no English, according to Nu Huynh, executive director of the Iowa Asian Alliance.
- "It was a, 'Hey, we need income, we need something stable, and what are we good at? What can we do? We're good at cooking food,'" Huynh explained.
- Simultaneously, DSM's Southeast Asian population has grown. In 2018, 87,708 Iowans identified as Asian. 15% were Vietnamese, and the majority lived in Polk County, according to the Iowa Data Center.
The state of play: Second and third generations are continuing to open new restaurants and put their own trendy spin on food, Huynh said.
- At least 14 Vietnamese restaurants cook up food in Des Moines, with new places like Pho Real offering late-night eats and a bubble tea bar.
This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.
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