Miến Gà Vietnamese Chicken Glass noodle soup and a Family Story

mien ga

This is a special guest post told by my dad, Tung.  He’s been hanging out with us for the past month helping around the garden and loves to tell stories and repeats them almost endlessly.  We asked if he had any stories  to share on the blog and if there was any food memories and this is what he told us:

Every April, I can’t help but reminisce about the indelible memories I call “Black April,”  April 30, 1975. It signified the end of the prolonged Vietnam war ending years of sacrifice and bloodshed of both Vietnamese and Americans.   When the war ended, my life and the life my family knew changed forever.  Because I was a high school teach and a former soldier in the South Vietnamese Army, I was placed in re-education camps at Tay Ninh, Phu Quoc, and Long Khanh and survived 3 years of forced hard labor.  Many of my friends did not survive but I was more fortunate and 3 years was relatively short compared with some who were imprisoned 10 or 20 years.  I did everything possible to survive, even resorting to eating anything I could forage or catch such as grasshoppers, lizards, and even snake.

OldVietnamphotos017

Serving in the South Vietnamese Army 1968.

Meanwhile, my wife along with our oldest daughter and Hong had fend for themselves, waiting for me to come home. Finally in October 1978, I was released but I realized that Vietnam was no longer the Vietnam I knew and that my children would not have a future there.  I decided to escape Vietnam with my family at all cost.  Even though I knew escaping could lead to our family’s death or separation, I was willing to “tìm caí sống trong caí chết,” to find freedom at all cost, dead or alive.

We were not the only family as hundreds of thousands of families faced a similar decision. Despite the risks of being lost at sea, drowning, or pirate attacks, the cost of freedom was high. Our family could only afford to send 3 people, despite having 6 in our family (my third daughter was born after I was released and my wife was 5 months pregnant.)  My wife and I were willing to split up family with the hopes of re-uniting together again in the future.  How long we’ll be apart or by what means we would be united, we didn’t know, but we were willing to take that risk.

A similar 30 ft fishing to the one I was on, holding an astounding 120 people.

Dressed as peasants and with only the shoes and cloths on our back, I took my oldest children Tam and Hong on a days journey west to Rach Giá, a fishing village on the western coast of Vietnam.  We stayed in a hut by the river for 2 days and on the third night,  march 16th 1980, under the cover of darkness, we  huddled in a small canoe and they pulled a fishing net over our bodies to hide us.   The canoe took us 1 mile to our rendez-vous point, but it seemed like an eternity as we feared for our lives at being caught.  We reached a larger fishing boat in the open waters of in the Gulf of Thailand and despite being only a 30 ft fishing boat, we were among 120 other families crammed together in every nook and cranny of the rickety boat.  It didn’t matter that were packed like sardines, elbow to elbow, we were all silent, scared to death, praying not to get caught and to reach our destination alive.  For three days and two nights we didn’t budge from our spot on the boat and didn’t have a single bite to eat or drink. We were truly at God’s mercy.  My oldest daughter, Tam cried of thirst, but no one had any water to give except drops of rain water I could catch in my palms.  At dusk on the third night, we arrived  in a small fishing village of Klong Yai, at the border of Thailand and Cambodia.  Strangers in a strange land, no one disturbed us and we just slept on the  boat until the following morning. The next day, the Thai police arrived and took everyone up the coast about 80 miles to Laem Sing Refugee Camp along the eastern boarder of Thailand, which became our new home.

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Rach Gia, Vietnam to Klong Yai, Thailand about 250 miles by land.

Laem Sing Refugee Camp was a camp only by name. There were no housing or barracks, it was a barren peninsula where thousands of Vietnamese stayed for refuge from 1976 to 1981. Essentially a shanty town built of make shift shelters of tin scraps and wood,  life there was extremely difficult.  We were lucky as we found shelter underneath a crematorium, away from the elements.    There was a food ration every day of rice and fish and water, but aside from that everyone  had to fend for themselves.  Sometimes there might be small pieces of chicken or a single egg to share among the three of us.

Image of a typical refugee camp courtesy of refugeecamps.net

We were grateful for the Thai people and at least we had food and shelter but most importantly we were alive and safe.  Back in Vietnam, my wife only knew that we made it safely to Thailand by telegram message I sent when we arrived.   My initial days and weeks at the camp was just focused on taking care of my children and surviving in the camp. I didn’t have time to worry about the future and when or how our family will be united again.   The goal was to make it to America and then sponsor my wife, third daughter, and our unborn child in the future. Five, ten, or fifteen years in the future, I had no idea but that was my goal.

There were at least 5,000 refugees at the camp by my count and more were coming each week. Each time new refugees came, there was much excitement and people would run to greet them in the hopes of finding a familiar face,  a family member or friend who might have escaped safely. I had a young cousin who would always go and occasionally tease me, saying my wife had arrived. But I knew he was teasing and never participated in this ritual because I knew we did not have the means for her to escape. About one month later, on a lazy afternoon of April 30th, he  came running and screaming, “Chị Phú đến! Chị Phú đến!”  This time it was different. He was screaming emphatically and caught in the emotion and excitement  I ran to to the entrance of the camp, scanning the crowd of about 100 new refugees and saw her. My pregnant wife and youngest daughter, Ngoc. I ran to embrace them. We were a family again.

family_boatpeople

A few days after being reunited, our family registration photo take United Nations High Council on Refugee (UNHCR)

Unbeknownst to me, my mother in law also had secured enough loans to send my 5 month pregnant wife and youngest daughter about a month after I left, on 4/15/80. She went from Can Tho on the eastern border of Vietnam and arrived safely in Sattahip Naval base where she stayed until she was also transferred to Laem Sing Refugee camp.

That is why I will always remember April 30th. It was the day my country fell, but it was also the day my family was reunited. I will always be grateful to God and everyone that brought us safely from Vietnam and eventually to America.  We spent another 6 months at Laem Sing, during which my youngest daughter, Freedom was born before being sponsored to America.  However life during the last 6 months could not have been better.  We were all together and was able to get more food and my wife began to cook meals for the family again.  One of the first family meals together was a simple dish she cooked called miến gà, a  chicken glass noodle soup.  Even though I ate this dish hundreds of times in the past, this time with our family re-united and free, I felt immensely blessed and grateful.  Thinking what could have been and the remote odds of seeing my family together so soon,  I ate  this simple dish with such happiness. It was the most satisfying and unforgettable meal I’ve ever experienced.

mienga2
So when my dad retold this story to us this past week, 33 years later, Kim was able to recreated this dish for my dad to celebrate the anniversary of April 30th. For more information about the Vietnamese Boat People experience,  check out Boat People: Personal Stories From the Vietnamese Exodus 1975-1996  by Carina Hoang and and the UC Irvine Vietnamese American Oral History Project and in DVD or Netflix, Journey from the Fall.

Print

mienga

Miến Gà

Yield: 4 -6

Ingredients:

1 free range chicken
5 quarts water
1/4 lb chicken gizzards, trimmed
1/4 lb chicken hearts
1 large yellow onion, charred
1 large knob of ginger, charred
1 can of sliced bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed (optional)
1/2 cup of sliced shiitake mushrooms (optional)
1 package of glass(bean thread) noodles
chopped scallions
fried shallots
black pepper
rau răm

Directions:

Char the onion and ginger over flame of your stove or broiler. In large stock pot, make the chicken stock by adding charred onion and ginger, chicken, gizzards, and hearts to the water and bringing to boil. Reduce to simmer until chicken is tender and cooked, roughly 30-40 minutes. Check by piercing the chicken at the thickest point with knife and see if any blood oozes out.

Remove the chicken and wrap in plastic wrap and allow to cool. Season the stock to your personal taste with salt/fish sauce, and pinch of sugar. Add the shiitake or bamboo shoots at this point if you like.

Soak the bean thread noodles in hot water for about 15 minutes. Shred the chicken by hand, leaving drumsticks and wings intact. Prepare each bowl with bean thread noodles and shredded chicken and bring the broth back to boil. Ladle broth into bowls and top generously with chopped scallions, fried shallots and ground black pepper. Serve immediately with side of rau răm.

 

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57 Responses to “Miến Gà Vietnamese Chicken Glass noodle soup and a Family Story”

  1. 1

    Tru Nguyen — April 30, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    This entry made me tear up a little.
    I’ve been craving chicken glass noodle soup lately. Now I need to make some and call my mom too.

  2. 2

    geebomb — April 30, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    Thank you for this story. It’s lovely. It made me cry and immediately make a donation to the Global Hunger project.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — April 30th, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

      We Thank You very much for Your lovely comments,this is our real exodus for Freedom…In the Human Sufferings…But Almighty God make Good from that.We thank This Country open Their Hearts to welcome us, gave the chances to Prosper.We were much more fortunate than the pilgrims. May God Bless this Country and all of us.

  3. 3

    mai — April 30, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    Amazing story!

  4. 4

    Liz Dang Ryan — April 30, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

    You have inspired me to write down my parent’s story! I love your blog, great pictures and easy to follow recipes!

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — April 30th, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

      yes, cherish and keep your family story alive!

  5. 5

    Pauline — April 30, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story. This is a beautiful story about the love your mom and dad had for your family. Last year when I went back to VN with my family, my mom shared our story with us during the trip, something I’ll cherish forever.

  6. 6

    Street Gourmet LA — April 30, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

    I’m from Stockton,CA, where many of the boat people settled in America–today it’s still packed with Vietnamese, and Cambodian restaurants; there’s also a large community of Hmong. My classmates in high school have similar tales–it’s great your father has such a beautiful food memory.

  7. 7

    Khanh Tran — April 30, 2013 @ 11:35 pm

    Thank you for the lovely story. My parents, too, were in the Vietnam war, and I have some awesome old pictures of them, similar to yours, from when they were young. It’s truly inspiring to read about what their generation went through.

  8. 8

    Phil @saltpigcanteen — May 1, 2013 @ 12:07 am

    What an amazing story! One of thousands, from all the Vietnamese who managed to escape the war. Having just got back from Vietnam, meeting lots of families and seeing the war museum in Hanoi, it has really opened our eyes to what happened during that time – and what some families are still going through due to chemical weapons.

    Stories like this are gold, you’re doing a great thing by documenting them. I wish I had done that with my grandparents because now they’re gone there’s no one left of that generation so the stories go with them.

    Can’t wait for the next story :)

  9. 9

    Tan Ho — May 1, 2013 @ 2:03 am

    It’s a beautiful and touching story. I came from a similar circumstance and am totally feels what you’ve been gone through. It’s so inspiring and wishing you best of luck in the future.

  10. 10

    Ngoc — May 1, 2013 @ 7:14 am

    Your story has reminded me of my own family journey too. My family of 6 also left VN by boat in the end of 1982, but we were at sea for 6 days and 5 nights before we reached Thailand. My parents often retold these old story when ever we are together. I still remember most of hardship that we had endured in order to arrive here. Thanks for sharing the story!
    By the way there is a typo in your cooking directions, you have garlic instead of ginger on the second line. :)

  11. 11

    VY — May 1, 2013 @ 7:44 am

    Thank you for sharing this amazing story and recipe. I was only 2 years old when my family escaped from Vietnam, so the experience was very different for me. Luckily, most of these memories were very positive and food-centric. I can only imagine how significant this dish is for your father.

  12. 12

    angelitacarmelita — May 1, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    What an absolutely amazing story of hope, courage and love. Your parents (and in-laws), were and are strong people. Thank you for sharing this with us, your readers. I can’t wait to try this dish, and as I do, I will think of your family and the sacrifices they made to be free. God bless you guys.

  13. 13

    sherylmcdougald — May 1, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    Thank you so much – these stories can never be forgotton, they are incredibly important!

  14. 14

    Lien — May 1, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Such a touching story! Thank you for sharing. I was fortunate (I guess, is that the right word??) to be born in the US, but my parents had to go through those horrors to get here. Going to give my mom a big hug tonight when I see her.

  15. 15

    tudo — May 1, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    very heartwarming story. even though i’ve heard this story about a million times in my lifetime, it still brings tears to my eyes. I love you Daddy!

  16. 16

    Lauren Nguyen — May 1, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

    Totally tested up. What an amazing story! I’m so glad you were all reunited and able to celebrate.
    I’m just a white girl, but my hisband’s family escaped Vietnamese in 1974 via a stolen military helicopter. My father-in-law was a helicopter pilot in the South Vietnamese Army. He had been so scared to return to visit his family many years later.
    Like another commenter, I should have my in-laws write down or dictate stories of their life in and escape from Vietnam.
    I definitely want to attempt this recipe! Love your blog!

  17. 17

    Lauren Nguyen — May 1, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

    Darn auto correct! *teared up*

  18. 18

    jeff — May 1, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

    Have heard and read similar stories over the years from my Vietnamese friends,… always touching and I thank you and your dad for the posting it. I am so glad that Australia also took in many Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon,… our lives are vastly enriched from this and most of these New Aussies have had a better life since moving here.
    But one small thing troubles me in stories about this traumatic period emanating mostly from the US. It seems some good folk there have forgotten other countries stood by the US and the South Vietnamese during the war, and many soldiers from these countries shed blood on Vietnamese soil. Perhaps this deserves more acknowledgement than it receives.
    Dedicated to my friend Tink resting near Núi Đất

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — May 8th, 2013 @ 10:45 am

      Hi Jeff, you’re absolutely right, their roles great or small should be treated with same respect and acknowledgement and we will make a note of it.

  19. 19

    Tung Pham — May 2, 2013 @ 6:51 am

    Dear Mr Jeff t We the Vietnames in The South were so grateful for all of the Precious Sacrifices of All Allied Forces came to Help the South in the VN War..The Australias fought so herocally. I was at Phuoc Tuy that time.the Aussie lost only 17 but the VC lost about 500. by: A Soldier reports byWC.Westmoreland. The Battle of Longtan by men who wher there Major Harry Smih..May God bless all of us.Thank You for your comment

  20. 20

    Karen M. — May 2, 2013 @ 9:59 am

    Thank you for sharing the story of your family’s exodus. Heartfelt and troubling. It is a stark reminder of what happens when wars erupt and the “collateral damage” that occurs…

  21. 21

    Caroline — May 2, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    An amazing and very touching story! Thank you to your dad for sharing this. I am so glad that everything ended up well for the family. I recently spent 3 weeks in Vietnam and fell in love with the country. It’s really sad that it’s had such a difficult past.
    Thank you for the recipe too, looks delicious! Can’t wait to try it.

  22. 22

    Kim A — May 2, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing your family’s story.

  23. 23

    Kim-Lien — May 3, 2013 @ 4:01 am

    Thank you for sharing the story. I was 5 when my family escaped from VN in the same situation as yours.

  24. 24

    Catalina — May 3, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    This story of your family’s exodus from Viet Nam is very touching. Great thanks to your father for telling your readers about such an important event in history that no one should ever forget.
    And thank you for an interesting soup recipe. Not having access to rau răm, perhaps I could substitute fresh cilantro?

  25. 25

    Lisa @ Je suis alimentageuse — May 3, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing a story that is so close to home. My parents were Vietnamese boat people too, and they were in a refugee camp in Thailand as well. I don’t know the name, but I should probably ask.

    Anyway, your mien ga looks so yummy and it makes me want some hu tieu now!

  26. 26

    Jura Cullen — May 5, 2013 @ 10:52 am

    Wonderful story – great to have the photos too!

  27. 27

    Seen Over The Weekend | The Ancestral Archaeologist — May 6, 2013 @ 4:04 am

    [...] A Vietnamese cuisine blog shares a food memory from the days of the boat-people exodus that made me a bit misty-eyed … and was a poignant [...]

  28. 28

    julie — May 7, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    wow… thank you so much for sharing this incredible story. my family (from saigon) ended up emigrating a number of years after, but i have a lot of relatives who fled the country as boat people and lived in refugee camps in various countries. i’m sure this story will be treasured by your family for a long time — thanks for writing it down with so much detail (and photos!) and for sharing it with all of us.

  29. 29

    Hanh — May 7, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

    Reading this story was eerie. My story is very similar, both parents were high school teachers and my dad was also a South Vietnamese army soldier who was sent to camp after the war. We also escaped in 1978, our stories diverge as our boat was picked up by a Norwegian ship and we ended up in a camp in Singapore, later coming to Canada.

    I have loved reading your blog (first found about a year ago when I googled how to make caramel pork) and especially your posts about your recent trip to Vietnam. I went back to Vietnam in March (first time back since we left when I was five years old) and loved, loved, loved my time there.

  30. 30

    Connie — May 7, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

    Inspiring and beautiful story of the struggle your parents endured for a better life. It is even more beautiful and touching that you acknowledge it. I’m sure your parents are very proud of you.

    My parents went thru a similar ordeal and I am forever grateful. Never let their story die!

  31. 31

    Laura N — May 8, 2013 @ 5:31 am

    Thank you for sharing. Every accounted detail choked me up into bits as I too remember vividly what our family went through and I was only 8 at the time. I think this will forever be ingrained in every Vietnamese Refugee person’s life. Thanking God each and every day for a new breath and new opportunities.

  32. 32

    Aimee — May 8, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    I often share my parents’ refugee/immigration story with others. I am so proud of their accomplishments, courage, and ambition. Thank for sharing your story as it is always wonderful to know others/strangers who can always relate to each others story.

  33. 33

    Herman — May 8, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

    What a great story! It’s amazing to hear the stories of people who went through many hardships, were able to survive, and live happily to tell a unique story of it. I am glad that your parents were able to make it out of those horrific experiences back then.

    As far as the dish you made, it seems like a must try! In honor of him, I will definitely try this dish out! Happy belated anniversary to your family :)

  34. 34

    Tung Pham — May 10, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    Dear Herman
    Thank you very much for your lovely comment
    All of what we have here today in this country is because of the Amazing grace of God. With the help of so many amazing Americans such as Our Sponsors, the Charity Organization that helped us with everything from the beginning to start a New life here from Zero…We are so blessed

  35. 35

    Tinh N. D — May 13, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    I’m crying right now !!!! This story is took me back to my pass. I were one of the boat people at the age of 9 when I escaped VN in 1979 by myself and alway asking why is my parent don’t want me to stay with them. We were reunited after 25 yrs and I realized that my parent had to make the biggest sacrifice to let me go so i can have the freedom and opportunities in the US. I making this dish for my family once a month but sometime I substituted chicken with pork meat ball. Great dish and thank you to sharing with us many of your recipes.

  36. 36

    Relish Blogs – Week 5.20 — May 17, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    [...] The Ravenous Couple This story, from The Ravenous Couple, is a reminder of so many things.  How lucky we are.  The sacrifices so many of our forbearers made, and the risks they took.  And how something as simple as a chicken soup can evoke all of it: Vietnamese Chicken Glass Noodle Soup. [...]

  37. 37

    Lan | morestomach — May 21, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

    thank you for sharing this story. my family ended up in bataan, philippines and i was separated from my mother. i did not reunite with her until i was 30.

    anyway, this recipe is interesting. i’ve never thought to use hearts & gizzards in a stock.

  38. 38

    la — May 23, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    Thank you for sharing your family’s story and of course for its happy ending. My family are also made up by a band of refugees scattered about the world post-war. Also with a happy ending. Thank you for sharing this recipe too – will try it this Memorial Weekend.

  39. 39

    Kate — June 4, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

    Made me tear up. Incredible story. Makes me want to make this every April 30. Thank you for sharing!

  40. 40

    Amanda Vuu — June 20, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    A very touching story, especially since it is from your father…April 30th is a memorable day for my father as well, who also escaped from Vietnam on a tiny fishing boat. Reminds me of all the sacrifices that have been made and how important food is to the family.

  41. 41

    Tung Pham — June 25, 2013 @ 5:43 am

    Thank you for You lovely comment….as for myself.. the favorite foods of my Parent bring them back….in the memory

  42. 42

    Luu Huyen Le — July 24, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    This story made me cry, such an incredible story. Im second generation immigrant living in Norway as my parents were one of the first Vietnamese people who came to Norway. Weirdly enough, my parents has not told me the story about their journey even though I have tried so many times to convince them. Your dads story and many others which I have heard the past years while growing up, have given me a picture of what it was like. Thank you for sharing your story

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — July 26th, 2013 @ 1:09 am

      thanks for your feedback…hopefully one day you’ll hear their story!

  43. 43

    Vi — August 1, 2013 @ 12:17 am

    Thank you so much for your dad’s story. My dad, too, went through the same experience. Every time he tells his story, my heart breaks in million pieces for the sacrifice he and your dad went through. The images you post are a reminder of how grateful I am.

    Ps I follow your blog but barely stumble on this post.

  44. 44

    Minh — August 14, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    My sister in London put me onto your site and your story is almost identical to my story. It is amazing.
    I love this dish too.

  45. 45

    My Linh — September 11, 2013 @ 10:32 am

    Our family’s story is almost exactly like yours except we were able to escape Vietnam together and were never separated. Please thank your father for retelling his story. We should never forget. I will forward this link to my brother to remind him of our own story.

    PS I love this dish too. So simple yet it’s a perfect example of family cooking.

  46. 46

    MBT — September 24, 2013 @ 8:19 pm

    Mien Ga Vietnamese Chicken Glass Noodle Soup

  47. 47

    Anna Mallett — September 25, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing your phenomenal story of courage, heart, and perseverance over great adversity. It was deeply moving and beautifully written. I am the Vietnamese American Heritage Archivist at Texas Tech University’s Vietnam Archive. You inspired a coworker and I to start a Food and Memory blog in the hopes that others will share their family stories and connect to their heritage through a food memory. We aim to present at a conference on the Vietnamese American immigration experience through food memories. Food engages all the senses and is an integral and essential part of one’s culture. Food is a memory trigger. My fondest memories are of gathering around the table with family and friends. The aromas, textures, colors, tastes, and sounds of a meal bring back powerful & vivid memories of the best company and the most pleasant and engaging conversations. If I can write and obtain entries half as powerful and well down as yours, I will count myself truly blessed. Thank you for inspiring me.

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — September 26th, 2013 @ 9:55 am

      thank you for your thoughtful comments. Please let us know the progress of the blog and if we can help spread the word. Good luck!

  48. 48

    nayna — October 9, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    I came across this post looking for recipes and now I find myself crying over this beautiful story. Thank you!

  49. 49

    malisa — October 13, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    Thank you for sharing your family history. This story made me cry. I have friends who also survived those years and escaped to America. May God bless your family. I really appreciate this blog and how you keep your culture alive.

  50. 50

    Juliette Do — October 21, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

    What a great story…. it brought back so many memories. We too were like your family and escaped Vietnam in 1978 on a rickety old fishing boat. We ended up in a refugee camp on an island in Malaysia (Bi Dong Island), and eventually found freedom in Sydney Australia. I was only 8 years old then.
    Thanks for sharing your Dad’s beautiful story. I will definitely be cooking this gorgeous dish for my family and tell them your Dad’s story.

  51. 51

    diane — December 29, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

    thank you for sharing such a touching story. may god continue to bless your father and the rest of your family.

    now onto a trivial question. you inspired me to make this dish but i have no idea where to get free range chicken and hearts/gizzards. little saigon is not too far away from but i dont know what store to go to.

    thanks!

  52. 52

    Lynda — February 26, 2014 @ 7:12 pm

    thank you for a lovely story. my mom and I were boat people and we landed on Ga Lang before getting sponsorship to come to America. this story made me cry. thank you for keeping the culture of our country alive in food and thus in family

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