You were nine years old when you came to Munich. Do you still remember your first impressions?
I remember my first Fanta.
Which things took some getting used to when you first arrived?
I thought rice pudding was horrible. And it’s much quieter here than in bustling Vietnam.
What do you love about Munich in particular?
It’s small and unhurried. Munich is my home – “dahoam ist dahoam.”
How much of you is Bavarian and how much is Vietnamese?
I think I’m typically German in that I don’t mince my words – sarcasm, the Bavarian sense of humour. I’m typically Asian in that I get to eat Vietnamese food every day. I’m like a banana – yellow on the outside and white on the inside, 10 per cent yellow and 90 per cent white.
You serve your Banh Mei sandwiches filled with either beef, tofu (veggie) or roast pork (Bavarian). What gave you the idea to combine Vietnamese and Bavarian cuisine?
I think the banana concept applies here as well. 🙂
Your career began in the fashion industry. When and why did you change direction professionally?
Working in Scandinavian fashion, I really liked the clean lines and finesse of the products – I’m discovering that this interest extends into all aspects of my life. When I was given the chance to take over my mother’s shop, I wanted to realise this concept within Vietnamese cuisine as well: traditional dishes that I knew from childhood but with my own twist.
The traditional family recipes originally come from your mother. How are they different from what is served as Vietnamese cuisine elsewhere in Munich and Germany?
Mama’s cooking tastes the best!
How did you both come up with the brilliant play on words for the restaurant name?
I grew up with Bavarian and Vietnamese culture. Alongside that there was a large helping of humour. “Mai Ling”, ja mei [Bavarian for “whatever”], Ja Mai – so it was born.
What’s your favourite thing to cook at home after closing time?
My favourite thing to do after closing is to let my boyfriend cook for me.
At Ja Mai you don’t use any additives or flavour enhancers. What is important to you when it comes to food?
For me, good food means freshness, sustainability and if possible, regional ingredients. As well as doing sport, at home I eat an appropriate diet that keeps me happy and healthy.