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Little Saigon’s Paris Bakery, 45 years later

Everything they say about the Vietnamese baguette is true

Town’s dominant baguette makers, Vietnamese-style, at 3500 per day.
Town’s dominant baguette makers, Vietnamese-style, at 3500 per day.
Place

Paris Bakery

4616 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Covid has hit people different ways. For Khanh and her mother Hong, it spiked something they had been waiting to do for a lifetime. “We were going to take my two daughters back to see Vietnam for the very first time,” says Khanh.

Khanh came over from Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon when she was 18. Her whole family started off up in the biggest Vietnamese colony, in Westminster in Orange County. “But the competition was too intense up there,” she says. So they came down to the heart of San Diego’s Little Saigon, around Fairmount and El Cajon, and took over this Paris Bakery.

All coloring is natural, like orange tint from this Gac fruit.

The name betrays a sentimental feeling the Vietnamese have about the French. The colonizers came uninvited to Vietnam in the 1800s, and were often despotic rulers. But they did leave a legacy that sometimes married the two very ancient cultures.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Now, it’s Vietnamese coming to America, and exerting their influence on us. So much so, the San Diego City Council has put a plaque of appreciation, not far from the Paris Bakery. “The City Council of San Diego established the Little Saigon District June 4, 2013. Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, an influx of Vietnamese refugees left their home country to build a new life here. Their presence has contributed greatly to the growth and success of El Cajon Boulevard.”

The surprising thing is how intact, and still-Vietnamese, 45 years later, the community and its culture are. This early morning is typical: Paris Bakery opens at 5 am.

Green coloring’s natural, too.

I’m here to buy a baguette for breakfast, because I hear they make their French breads Vietnamese-style. Friends of mine have sworn that Hong’s and Khanh’s family have beat the French at their own game. That they bake baguettes that are crisp-crusted, but lighter, more airy, than typical French baguettes.

“When the French came, they taught us their style of baking. But we made our own differences,” says Khanh. “Butter was expensive in Vietnam, so we used oil.”

And, she says, they use a bread flour which results in a lighter and stretchier dough. They fling it around more too.

They must be doing something right. “Each day my brother bakes around 3500 baguette loaves,” Khanh says. “And we bake lots of bolillos for po’ boys, Louisiana-style. And customers say the flavors are not soaked up by the bread, like more dense, buttery baguettes.”

You can’t help loving the fact that this bakery, which is in a fairly scuzzy strip mall, looks and smells exactly how long-lost French boulangeries looked and smelled, before France went slick on us.

In this family, work is everything. Khanh and her mom are here every morning at five o’clock. This is nothing new for Hong. “I used to work at the Ben Thanh (“Harbor Citadel”) Market in Saigon, in the famous fabric section by the South Gate,” she says. She had to give that up when she came here, but is happy that her family is intact and all working in one business together.

I notice that the store is decorated in red fireworks. Ah. Tet, I’m guessing. Tet is the festival of the first morning of the first day.” This year it starts February 12th. The Vietnamese have a strong romantic side. Except when Tet came in 1968, it turned into one of the biggest and most ghastly uprisings of the Vietnam War.

But that was then. When I leave, nibbling on my still-warm baguette, I know that everything they say about the Vietnamese baguette is true.

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Town’s dominant baguette makers, Vietnamese-style, at 3500 per day.
Town’s dominant baguette makers, Vietnamese-style, at 3500 per day.
Place

Paris Bakery

4616 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Covid has hit people different ways. For Khanh and her mother Hong, it spiked something they had been waiting to do for a lifetime. “We were going to take my two daughters back to see Vietnam for the very first time,” says Khanh.

Khanh came over from Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon when she was 18. Her whole family started off up in the biggest Vietnamese colony, in Westminster in Orange County. “But the competition was too intense up there,” she says. So they came down to the heart of San Diego’s Little Saigon, around Fairmount and El Cajon, and took over this Paris Bakery.

All coloring is natural, like orange tint from this Gac fruit.

The name betrays a sentimental feeling the Vietnamese have about the French. The colonizers came uninvited to Vietnam in the 1800s, and were often despotic rulers. But they did leave a legacy that sometimes married the two very ancient cultures.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Now, it’s Vietnamese coming to America, and exerting their influence on us. So much so, the San Diego City Council has put a plaque of appreciation, not far from the Paris Bakery. “The City Council of San Diego established the Little Saigon District June 4, 2013. Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, an influx of Vietnamese refugees left their home country to build a new life here. Their presence has contributed greatly to the growth and success of El Cajon Boulevard.”

The surprising thing is how intact, and still-Vietnamese, 45 years later, the community and its culture are. This early morning is typical: Paris Bakery opens at 5 am.

Green coloring’s natural, too.

I’m here to buy a baguette for breakfast, because I hear they make their French breads Vietnamese-style. Friends of mine have sworn that Hong’s and Khanh’s family have beat the French at their own game. That they bake baguettes that are crisp-crusted, but lighter, more airy, than typical French baguettes.

“When the French came, they taught us their style of baking. But we made our own differences,” says Khanh. “Butter was expensive in Vietnam, so we used oil.”

And, she says, they use a bread flour which results in a lighter and stretchier dough. They fling it around more too.

They must be doing something right. “Each day my brother bakes around 3500 baguette loaves,” Khanh says. “And we bake lots of bolillos for po’ boys, Louisiana-style. And customers say the flavors are not soaked up by the bread, like more dense, buttery baguettes.”

You can’t help loving the fact that this bakery, which is in a fairly scuzzy strip mall, looks and smells exactly how long-lost French boulangeries looked and smelled, before France went slick on us.

In this family, work is everything. Khanh and her mom are here every morning at five o’clock. This is nothing new for Hong. “I used to work at the Ben Thanh (“Harbor Citadel”) Market in Saigon, in the famous fabric section by the South Gate,” she says. She had to give that up when she came here, but is happy that her family is intact and all working in one business together.

I notice that the store is decorated in red fireworks. Ah. Tet, I’m guessing. Tet is the festival of the first morning of the first day.” This year it starts February 12th. The Vietnamese have a strong romantic side. Except when Tet came in 1968, it turned into one of the biggest and most ghastly uprisings of the Vietnam War.

But that was then. When I leave, nibbling on my still-warm baguette, I know that everything they say about the Vietnamese baguette is true.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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