Greensboro’s Rosewood Neighborhood home to Montagnard culture, cuisine (N&R 9.19.12)

In the last ten years, the Southeast Asian population of Greensboro has doubled and during this time the 19-block Rosewood Neighborhood has transitioned from a traditional mill community to 25% Montagnard residents. The modest Rosewood Neighborhood is tucked away just miles from Downtown Greensboro. Montagnards, indigenous to the highlands of Vietnam, began resettling in North Carolina in the 1980s and Greensboro has become their largest community
outside of Southeast Asia. Since their resettlement, the Southeast Asian community has been an integral part of crafting Greensboro’s culinary culture. The Rosewood neighborhood tells their history through the street names – Denim and Textile – yet their gardens tell their future.

I have found that Greensboro’s most culinary-tuned people define our community’s cuisine not by technique or table cloth but by authenticity. Without a doubt, our robust and unique ethic fair is what our finest chefs talk about in their kitchens and treat their teams to at lunchtime. Understanding this interest, the Goat Lady Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has created a partnership with the Montagnard families in the Rosewood Neighborhood. The CSA launched a “Foodie Culture Tour” this summer with the neighborhood’s Women’s Learning Group – a circle of refugee women that have come together to address community problems.

Through a grant from the Community Foundation’s Building Stronger Neighborhoods program, the Women’s Learning Group formed this year to better their community through the simplest of needs – space, water and dirt. With modest needs, they leveraged great impact. Facing cultural isolation and language barriers, the women have been meeting in their living rooms twice a week with an ESOL coach to develop language skills and work on projects that better the neighborhood.

Andrew Young, like many ESOL teachers, is more than a mentor. Young is an anthropologist with a sincere interest in helping the women reach a holistic health and happiness in Greensboro. With his guidance, their grant paid for projects such as truckloads of fertile soil to for their gardens and rain barrels to lower the cost of expensive water bills associated with home gardening. These projects have strategically provided the women and their families new resources while integrating opportunities to practice their new English skills.

I was lucky enough to participate in the first Foodie Culture Tour this summer. Led by the Women’s Group, we toured three home gardens, learned traditional Montagnard gardening techniques and concluded with a very special participatory spring roll cooking class. The gardens are overwhelmingly plenty with traditional and untraditional fruits and vegetables and the group admired their abundance of bitter melons, cassava and unexpected okra plants.

With herbs and cucumbers from their gardens, we learned to prepare authentic spring rolls and were treated to a special bright orange sticky rice. Through verbal and nonverbal communications they articulated that “anything goes,” highlighting the endless possibilities to their cuisine. I also learned from the women that Vietnamese and Montagnard cuisines aren’t two in the same. They say, “Half is the same but half is different.” Traditional Montagnard dishes include wild plants, mushrooms and other foods found in jungles and forests.

Embracing our ethnic communities is perhaps the most promising component of Greensboro’s culinary identity. It’s rare that my local food-loving friends ask a recommendation for the most exclusive restaurants. We are searching for the most authentic and that’s what Greensboro can offer. The Rosewood Women’s Learning Group has a table at the Greensboro Farmer’s Curb Market on Saturday mornings. Based on new confidence from their Foodie Culture Tours, they are excited to bring more of their culture to our fingertips. I hope you’ll stop by to meet them.


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