It may be dubbed as the church that food built. Construction of the first Vietnamese church in Acadiana is underway in Abbeville and its funding is, in part, is due to the sales of delicious food handmade and sold by a group of Vietnamese women.
Since 2017, Trang Dao and five others have made authentic Vietnamese food to sell at the Delcambre Seafood & Farmers Market with one goal in mind: raise money to help build a church – St. Andrew Dung-Lac – next to the existing Vietnamese (VN) Hall.
Originally from Vietnam, Trang moved to Abbeville in 1999 after marrying her husband Hau Doan, an entrepreneur in real estate with several rental properties in New Iberia.
The couple has been active in the VN Hall, with Hau as its chairman and Trang serving as the organizer of the women who prepare food for sale. Every Saturday, the women meet at the Hall to roll nearly 1,000 pork and shrimp egg rolls to sell after the Sunday mass service and at the monthly Delcambre markets, along with other customer favorites. They also prepare 15 pounds of their fried rice – a meal in itself – and popcorn shrimp, that usually flies off the counter. The equally popular spring rolls, with rice noodles, lettuce, cilantro, pork, and Gulf shrimp from local fishermen, are as fresh as they come, rolled at the market because the delicate rice paper wrapping is dipped in water to soften. The latest item from the VN Church is a bite-size shrimp egg roll, coated with a tempura batter and dangerously just small enough to pop in your mouth. “This smaller egg roll is not traditional for Vietnamese food, but we wanted something different for the market,” says Trang, who by now knows what sells.
She recalls their first market with a knowing smile. It was the first time the women sold their food to the public. “We came with about 12 dozen egg rolls and some samples and sold out very early. We realized then what a tremendous support the market could be for us. And it was an opportunity for us to interact with the larger community, and share our great culture.” Now the VN Hall women average about $2,000 in sales at each market which, after expenses, goes to the church’s building campaign.
Freshness and authenticity are what Trang says make their food a sellout. “All of the foods are staples you would see at any Vietnamese get together. We learned these recipes from our parents, who learned from their parents. They’ve been passed down from generation to generation.”
Construction of the church should begin soon, and when it is complete it will hold 350 people. “This is something we’ve been waiting for a long time,” says Hau. “While the service will be spoken in Vietnamese, anyone under the Lafayette Diocese will be welcomed to attend.”
For Trang and other Vietnamese parishioners, a church of their own is paramount. (A couple of months ago, the congregation received approval to move their service from Mary Magdalen Catholic Church to the VN Hall, at a time more convenient for attendees.) “It is important to have a mass in our language for our children to learn – along with other traditions,” she emphasizes. “We’re reenforcing our faith through our language for the generations to come. The church will give us a sense of belonging in the community.”
Similarly, Trang says there is a sense of community at the Delcambre Seafood & Farmers Market. “This market makes sense for us. It brings so many people, that we’ve come to know, who want to learn different cultures. Their enthusiasm for our food makes us want to come back time and time again.”