For years, Genevieve Vang had a horrible cough. Especially in the winter, she would wheeze and at times, even struggle to speak. But she managed to cure herself. No doctors, no medication, just through the corrective power of her own food.
While Bangkok 96 Street Food takes its name from her family’s Thai restaurant in Dearborn, the stall at food hall Detroit Shipping Company is a different operation entirely. Vang is ethnically Hmong — a refugee who spent years in Thailand and France before coming to Detroit — and certainly draws upon her heritage for inspiration. But her story is not one of retrospection. It’s focused squarely on the future. A time where food will be an antidote.
“Grasshoppers, stem cell-generated meat, and lentils will become the only protein sources,” she says, and it feels a bit apocalyptic. “No one wants to work anymore. I think everything will be automated soon.” Same tone, she looks worried. “I’m working on making rice without carbs … it won’t be hard.” This time, she offers a smile.
Those are a few points of note in Vang’s complex grand strategy to remake our current relationship with food. The idea circles back to curing her cough by modifying what she ate — looking into the sources of her produce, ensuring that her ingredients were non-allergens, and trying to optimize her recipes for nutritional value and taste.
The ultimate goal is to create an app that people can download onto their phone, plug in their health history, and indicate their current taste preferences (“I’m craving something sweet right now”), and the appropriate dish will be generated. Regardless of how specific the requests are, it needs to be delicious. In the meantime, a dish at Bangkok 96 Street Food that she’s particularly proud of, is the Pad Thai Roll, a flour wrap filled with “famous stir-fried rice noodle,” chicken, beef, or lentil tofu, and topped with a spicy orange sauce that she says took six months to perfect.
Vang is currently consulting with hospitals on ways to improve their food and has already been working as a researcher for various food manufacturing companies on the side for the past several years, despite the fact that the only certification she holds is a CPA. “If the hospital asks for exactly 1 gram of sugar and 160 mg of sodium, that’s exactly what I make, and it’s got to taste good!” she laughs. It seems a bit difficult, but Vang is unphased. “I know. I know what I’m doing.”
Bangkok 96 Street Food, 474 Peterboro St., Detroit; 313-462-4973. L & D Daily.