Trang Le’s passion for cooking popular Vietnamese dishes feeds her desire to taste a new life in regional Australia.
For Trang, a move from the humid, tropical climate of Vietnam to Orange in central-west New South Wales has been the biggest transition she has ever made.
“In Orange it’s very cold in the winter but very hot in summer,” Trang remarked.
Four years ago, the 25-year-old packed her bags and took the big leap to live in a country she had never even visited.
It was also her first trip away from the comfort and security of the people closest to her.
“In Vietnam we live closer with our family and friends; if you want to see them, [you can] straight away, but here it’s so far [away] and very different," she said.
Trang grew up in a village near Hue, a busy riverside city of around 340,000 people in central Vietnam.
Having left school at the age of 12, she started her working life selling pancakes to tourists at the nearby beach.
Her efforts allowed her to contribute to her three younger siblings’ school fees.
“My family is very poor,” she said.
With the money she saved up, Trang started her own business selling breakfasts to schoolchildren.
A couple of years later, she gave that business to her mother to operate and went back to selling pancakes, this time with her own portable shop.
Romance on the horizon
Moving on to work at a hostel, Trang met her future husband Chris, who was backpacking through Vietnam.
Love sparked after Trang stretched the hostel’s bar rules for him.
“He went to Hoi An on motorbike [and] when he came back, he was five minutes late for Happy Hour,” Trang said.
“But then I saw he had the sunburn in the face and then I give him a bottle of beer for free.
“I think after that he started to love me, I think,” she said, laughing.
An 18-month courtship followed with the couple keeping in touch over the internet while Chris continued his travels.
Chris eventually met Trang’s parents and over time, convinced her to move to Australia. A lively engagement party in Vietnam followed.
When her visa was approved, Trang’s family and friends were sad to see her leave for her first overseas trip.
“It was a little bit hard for them because I never go away from my parents in 20 years,” she said.
A tree change
After a short stay in Sydney, Trang’s first taste of regional Australia was to the central-west New South Wales town of Trundle where Chris’ father lived.
At first, the isolation away from her loved ones was challenging.
“In Australia it was a little bit worrying for me the first couple of weeks with no family,” Trang said.
“Lucky I had Chris’ family who were nice to me.”
Trang soon adapted to life in the farming community of 650 people and took on her new experience of country life with enthusiasm.
“I had never seen a lamb before, I never tried sausage with mash potatoes," she said.
“My father-in-law taught me how to cook them; I think I passed really well.”
Then there were some social norms of an Australian rural town that she was not accustomed to.
“In Vietnam we’re not drinking much, we’re not smoking, especially women,” Trang said.
“I just say, ‘oh my god, that’s different’.”
Sharing flavours from home
In 2012 Trang and Chris moved to nearby Orange when Chris picked up a job with a mining supplies company.
By the second day in town, Trang found a job waiting at a café but also kept her personal ambitions simmering.
“In my dream I will have a Vietnamese restaurant in Orange,” she said.
Following the couple’s wedding and the birth of their son, Trang started holding a regular stall at the monthly farmers' markets, calling her shop ‘Trang Hue’ in honour of her former home city.
She started by offering Vietnamese beef jerky (Thit bo kho), then expanded the menu to other traditional favourites including Vietnamese spring rolls (Cha Gio), barbecue pork noodles (Bun Thit Nuong), pork bread rolls (Banh Mi) and beef noodle soup (Pho).
Now more acclimatised to the region's cold weather, Trang is motivated to attend every market day to avoid disappointing her regular customers who travel from near and far to enjoy her cooking.
“Even if it rains I still go there," she said.