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    Monday, May 27, 2024

    Groton woman shares gifts of Vietnamese food

    Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen, right, hands her postal carrier Greg Lozano one her Vietnamese cha gio that she had just made Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at her home in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — Groton resident Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen, dressed in a green, red and white plaid shirt and apron, stood in the kitchen of her condominium on a December morning as she turned over egg rolls sizzling in an electric frying pan to make sure they were evenly cooked.

    “It takes a long time to fry,” she explained. “It’s not easy.”

    Every other Saturday, Nguyen prepares fresh Vietnamese egg rolls — Cha Gio — to give to people such as her neighbors and friends, her pastor, mailman, family or Groton Senior Center staff.

    Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who came to the United States about 45 years ago when she was about 20 years old, learned to make the dish in Vietnam when she was younger. She said it makes her happy to see people enjoying her food, and it makes her feel connected to her home country.

    To make the egg rolls, she mixes together ingredients, such as garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, an egg and ground turkey, and then spends an hour rolling them into egg roll wrappers. She then fries them and, once browned on both sides, takes them out, puts them to drain in a strainer and bowl, and then lets them cool on a plate. She also makes a vegetarian version.

    After she is done cooking comes the next step: sharing the food with others.

    On this particular day, she made calls to let people know the egg rolls were ready and, when she saw her mailman outside, she brought a wrapped egg roll to him.

    “They’re delicious,” said postal worker Greg Lozano.

    Nguyen fled Vietnam by herself when the North took over South in 1975. A family in Woonsocket, R.I., sponsored her and she lived in Rhode Island for five years before moving to New London.

    She earned her GED diploma from New London Adult Education in 1991, when she graduated as valedictorian.

    "There were many hardships but I never gave up my goal," she told the audience during her graduation, according to an article in The Day.

    Nguyen, who has two children, graduated with two degrees from Three Rivers Community College. She pursued a career in library sciences and worked in various places in southeastern Connecticut, but in 2007 she had a stroke and could no longer drive or work.

    “My life is like a novel — tough,” she said. “I learn to survive.”

    Nguyen said it's important to keep moving. She goes to a stroke support group every month at the Groton Public Library. She also uses the computer at the library, and goes to the senior center often. She likes to exercise by dancing and listening to Vietnamese music or doing tai chi.

    She continues to cook.

    Holiday traditions

    Nguyen recalls Christmas Eve in Vietnam, when people decorate the whole village with lights and sing and dance, she said. They go to Mass and then come home and have a big feast.

    People have a very big celebration for Vietnamese New Year, Tết, on Feb. 1, which involves cooking a lot and giving children red envelopes with money inside.

    In the United States, Nguyen continued the tradition by giving her children, when they were younger, red envelopes with money for good luck and making them all kinds of food.

    Nguyen used to have the whole family from Woonsocket, R.I., over for Christmas. They brought her kids gifts, and she made them a lot of food, such as fried rice, egg rolls, Pho, and Vietnamese salad.

    She now makes the egg rolls every other week for people, such as friends, neighbors and family members and grandchildren, and she said it gives her a good feeling and makes her feel joyful.

    "I know that people love to eat my food, so I make it for them," she said.

    Neighbor Zofia Baumann said she and Nguyen have made Vietnamese salad together, with ingredients that include cabbage, carrots, fish sauce, vinegar, basil, ginger, garlic and peanuts, and sometimes mint and sometimes shrimp or shredded chicken. They also made Pho together and invited another neighbor over to enjoy the noodle soup.

    Baumann, who grew up in Poland, has made some Polish food for Nguyen.

    Baumann, who enjoys making and having food with neighbors from a variety of cultures, said Nguyen always wants to share, and sharing food is something that can really bring people together.

    “For me, it enriches my life," Baumann said, "and sharing food is just one way of expressing that care for one and another and creating that connection.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

    Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen fries her Vietnamese cha gio Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, at her home in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen walks to give one of the Vietnamese cha gio that she just made Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, to one of her neighbors in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen of Groton, right, talks with Groton Senior Center director Mary Jo Riley, while Riley eats one of the Vietnamese cha gio Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, that Nguyen made to share with a few people at the center. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen of Groton and the Vietnamese cha gio Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, that she made to share with a few people at the Groton Senior Center. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Vietnamese cha gio Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, made by Tuyet Van Thi Nguyen of Groton to share with a few people at the Groton Senior Center. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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