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How Viet-Cajun Cuisine Came to Reign Supreme at Phuc Yea

“It’s what happens when immigrants merge their flavors with their new environment”

When Phuc Yea (temporarily) arrived on the Miami scene some five years ago, the restaurant focused on creating unique twists on classic Vietnamese dishes that quickly became a Miami favorite during its temporary, pop-up run.

But when Phuc Yea got a second chance at life — this time as a permanent outpost at 7100 Biscayne Boulevard — the team behind the eatery Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata, who are partners in the restaurant and in life, shifted their focus from Vietnamese cuisine to a Viet-Cajun mash-up. Why? Meinhold cites the reasoning behind the change to her “oh shit” moment over dinner in San Francisco.

PY Noodles

The duo were having a meal with Zapata’s uncle in January 2015, in the midst of laying the ground work for Phuc Yea’’s permanent spot. During that meal they dined on a garlic noodle dish that was simple yet flavorful showcasing oyster sauce, garlic and parmesan, which seemed to be perfectly reflective of Meinhold and Zapata’s background. Meinhold is of Vietnamese/German descent, while Zapata spent six years cooking in Houston and developing an appreciation and mastery of Cajun cuisine. That’s when the “aha” moment happened and they realized Phuc Yea should really showcasing both flavor profiles.

The ingredient line up for the Cajun wok

“Viet-Cajun cuisine is all over, in California, New Orleans…” said Meinhold. Yet not in Miami, at least not at that point. But what appealed to Meinhold the most about the mash-up is that “it’s what happens when immigrants merge their flavors with their new environment.”

While the garlic noodles make an appearance on the Phuc Yea menu in the form of the PY Noodle, with noodles coated in oyster sauce, parmesan, and garlic butter, and quickly cooked in the wok, the Cajun wok dish is where the mash-up really shines.

The flavors mixing together in the wok for the Cajun wok

Think of it as a Cajun fish boil combined with a traditional stir fry. For the dish, the diner selects a seafood option like lobster or local shrimp and their preferred sauce, such as green curry or Cajun sauce. Once cooked, the chef adds a stir fry combo lemongrass, ginger and other aromatics together creating a seafood boil unlike any other in the city — the outcome is spicy, robust and layered.

Zapata putting the final touches on the Cajun wok

Meinhold and Zapata were elated how the combo came out, noting that the dish was a celebration of them and their relationship. “We thought, ‘how could we get our relationship on the menu, you know, without drawing hearts around it?’” Meinhold says with a laugh.

— All photography by Giovanny Gutierrez/Chat Chow TV

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