Montreal

Crude puns and sexually explicit menu items at Rosemère restaurant anger Vietnamese Quebecers

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling on a Vietnamese restaurant to change its name and some of the language used on its menu.

Thousands sign petition calling on the restaurant to change its name

Some Vietnamese Montrealers say some of the crude wordplay on the menu at Pho King Bon restaurant go too far. (Pho King Bon/Facebook)

The menu at Pho King Bon includes a drink called "Viet Kong" and encourages diners to mispronounce the name of a classic Vietnamese dish to sound like sexually explicit slang in French.

But following criticism from some Vietnamese Quebecers who say those dishes and drinks are vulgar and offensive to their culture, the restaurant in Rosemère​​​​, a municipality about 20 kilometres north of Montreal, says it's making changes.

Danny Khoi Nguyen Le Kim says while it's commendable that the non-Vietnamese owner of the restaurant wants to celebrate the culture and cuisine, this just wasn't the right way to do so.

"It doesn't sit well with me, reading and going through and seeing my language and my culture. It feels mocked to me," he said. "The more I looked into it, the more I saw that this felt really disrespectful."

Le Kim said he was particularly shocked at the seemingly cavalier usage of the term Viet Cong, which carries serious baggage for many in the Vietnamese diaspora.

He said for those who fled Viet Cong armed forces, naming a cocktail after the regime is not an appropriate way to pay homage to Vietnamese culture.

For Kim Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese Montrealer, the name evokes a painful family history. 

"Especially as someone whose family fought in the Vietnam War," she said. "My grandfather was a political prisoner for five years at the end of the war."

Kim Nguyen, whose grandfather was a prisoner during the Vietnam War, says she was shocked to find a cocktail named after the Viet Cong. She started a petition, signed by over 2,000 people, asking the restaurant to change its name and menu. (Submitted by Kim Nguyen)

"I find this extremely offensive and I'd really like to get an apology from the owner," Nguyen said.

She started a petition calling on the restaurant to change its name and some of the names of its menu items. By Sunday evening, it had been signed by over 2,000 people.

Pho King Bon owner Guillaume Boutin sent a statement to CBC News saying the restaurant's branding had been called "marketing genius" by some, and was never meant to hurt anyone.

"The Restaurant Pho King Bon therefore apologizes to all those who felt insulted by our play on words, there were no bad intentions behind our humour," says the statement.

Management will modify the menu considering the concerns highlighted by the Vietnamese community, but the statement also appeared to characterize some of the outcry on social media as "hate speech" that it would not tolerate. 

The restaurant's management declined to comment further until later in the week.

'Brushing it off as a joke'

Le Kim, says he is happy to hear the restaurant will make some changes.

"I just hope the changes they make really encompasses everything we've brought up," he said.

He said there are many examples of Asian restaurants with non-Asian owners that operate in a respectful way.

But Nguyen says the apology is inadequate.

"The restaurant made the Vietnamese language the butt of a joke that we never consented to be a part of," she said, noting that the owner should apologize for using the terms that are offensive, not for the fact they offended some in the community.

"I'd like to see them further educate themselves on why it is offensive, rather than brushing it off as a joke."

Nguyen says she will wait to see if the actions of the restaurant line up with its promise to make appropriate changes.

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio and Rebecca Ugolini

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