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Twaydabae is the viral chef and content creator winning our hearts and reclaiming the narrative
Sep 01, 2021
She's one chef making Vietnamese cuisine more accessible
Tway Nguyen, better known as twaydabae, needs no introduction. It’s highly likely you’ve come across the viral video of her cooking fried rice – the one with over 5 million views of her cracking two eggs at the same time. For whatever unfortunate event you haven’t, then you might have come across one of her super-personable, highly-tasteful and original cooking TikTok videos. Although she is well-known in the TikTok-verse, she also holds a wide presence on Youtube – it’s actually where she started creating content in 2018. For the past few years, she’s been blessing us with mukbang, vlogs and all-things-food-related content. (Calling all foodies!)
Since her viral video, the content creation world has been a fast-growing space for Tway. This comes at no surprise. She’s personable, easy-going, hilarious, and down-to-earth...we haven’t even gotten to her cooking. On top of her can’t-get-enough content and must-try recipes, she utilizes her platform to fiercely speak her truth.
“Don’t be afraid of the bold flavors in your culture. Don’t water it down. Be true to you,” replied Tway when asked about the message behind her work.
Similar to other trailblazing Asian American chefs, Tway is overwriting the narrative surrounding Asian cuisines – one that has often been simplified and told by people who aren’t part of the culture. Her cooking is the essence of East-meets-West embarking on the identity-claiming narrative of culturally Asian but distinctively growing up in America. So, how does this translate into food? It permits a unique space where she’s able to cook with a personal style exclusively tied to her experience, training and upbringing.
For Tway, cooking has been a personal journey. She spent her childhood in the southern Vietnamese beach town Vũng Tàu, which is known for its fishing industry and legendary street food banh khot. At 8, she moved to Oxnard, California with her family.
“It all happened so quickly. Right when I came over to America, I probably had a week of doing nothing and then I just remember going to school right away,” Tway said. “I think I was too young to process – ignorance was bliss at the time. I would say it was difficult in the sense of making friends, adapting to the new environment and learning the language.”
Following the immigrant-narrative of the “American Dream,” she was set on a career path to become a nurse – an occupation supported by her mom for its stability. There was only one problem, she’s extremely afraid of blood – like legs become weak afraid. Her fascination was in cooking. Culinary school was the next step in pursuing her dreams.
“Culinary school was the one thing where I was like: ‘I need to put my foot down and try to live my life the way I want to live my life. The way that I feel is right,” Tway said.
Growing up she had little to zero cooking experience, her mom didn’t teach her how to cook. She was also a picky eater. Her passion for cooking was activated in high school when she watched Anthony Bourdain visit Vietnam in an episode of No Reservation. (Who said television isn’t good for you?)
“How did this man have more love for the food and the people than me? Because up until that point, I didn’t really feel like I was connected to anything or anyone from there. But it was special, it sparked something in me to look at it closer with a better lens. Why is this man getting so much credit for Vietnamese food and people? Why can he understand but I can’t?” Tway said. “It was something that helped me bridge my connection to my culture.”
Food became deeper than mixing ingredients together and plating – it evolved into a vessel, a point of genuine connection from one person and culture to another. It became a space for her to share her story. It transfigured how she uses her platform to educate others and make Vietnamese food more accessible to the everyday person. It’s great more people know and enjoy phở or bánh mì, but there’s more of what Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. And it doesn’t hurt to know the history.
From the late 1800's to 1954, the French occupied Vietnam impacting multiple facets of Vietnamese culture and lifestyle – most notably cuisine. Enter the baguette. During the departure of the French, Vietnamese people decolonized colonial identities, which allowed them to return to their native profile. In the process, baguettes were shortened to better fit the lifestyle in Vietnam and over-priced, overseas produce were replaced with local and homegrown ingredients.
Tway’s personal cooking style – one rooted in Vietnamese culture applied with American cooking techniques – reveals her own freedom and responsibility to represent her heritage. It’s her passion-driven cooking that rewrites the narrative of what a cross-culture dish feels like.
Rather than participating in the traditional post-culinary school path, she chose to cook by her own book.
“I never really found the courage to fully commit to posting cooking videos until the pandemic because I feel like everyone was just like “f*ck it.” Like nobody knows what they’re doing, nobody knows what’s going to happen. So I thought why not post a cooking video.” Tway said.”I did it and I’m glad I did.”
The rest is history. She has garnered an audience of over half a million on TikTok, gained over 360K followers on Instagram and 125K on Youtube. On top of that, she served a playful and fresh seven course Vietnamese testing menu at her very first pop-up.
From her cooking to creative content, her presence has a charming, Tway effect – one that keeps your heart full from the genuine connections and your taste buds begging for more. We know this is only the beginning.
"My top feeling is gratefulness. I’m just so grateful that everything is happening – even in the littlest things. When somebody DM’s me on how much my videos help them connect to their culture or when I meet people, like at the pop-up, it’s just crazy. I’m grateful for all of it.”