Dec. 29 2010 12:00 AM

A Vietnamese feast in a Catholic church

Raised Catholic, I quickly realized I enjoyed two things about Sunday service: sipping wine at Communion and watching the final procession of lector, altar boys and priest march out past the congregation into the vestibule, ending the Mass. The end of Mass meant one thing: coffee and donuts.

It’s been a while since I shared a snack in a church basement with the faithful. That is, until I found what the good folks do at St. Andrew Dung-Lac Catholic Church in south Lansing do every Sunday.

Every week, before and after 11 a.m. Mass, the basement of St. Andrew’s morphs into an authentic Vietnamese restaurant, open and welcoming to the general public. Hao Trinh, a food microbiologist for the State of Michigan, volunteers every Sunday, setting up, organizing and ensuring all goes well for the 250 to 300 diners that drop by to select from a full menu that includes soup, rice and pork dishes, seafood, spring rolls, sweets and more.

"Initially, this was fundraising," Hao says, "But now it’s about family and community and keeping people here. Church shouldn’t be one hour and go home."

Hao came to the United States in the mid-1970s via Lansing’s St. Casimir parish. About a decade ago, a Vietnamese parish was formed on Washington Avenue in what formerly housed Cristo Rey Church. St. Andrew Dung-Lac Church, named after a 19th century Vietnamese Catholic martyr, celebrates Mass in Vietnamese, holds Vietnamese language and history classes and welcomes the culturally curious to celebrate Mass or just share some delicious food on Sunday morning.

At the church, work begins at 5 a.m. and continues through to the late afternoon. A few parishioners with small children trickle downstairs around noon, a sprinkle before the storm. Soon, an organized mob sur-rounds
the order window, orders and cash flowing in one way, bowls of soup,
sesame balls, spring rolls and shrink-wrapped meals flowing out the

Volunteers served large bowls of bun bo Hue (at $6, the most expensive dish), soup from central Vietnam that
is named after the ancient capital of the region, on a recent Sunday
morning. You’ll find a Vietnamese-style soup most Sundays, including
different types of pho, which has origins in northern Vietnam.

bun bo Hue is a pork noodle soup with slices of beef, lean pork and a
type of thin, homemade pork patty, similar in texture and appearance to
bologna. It’s seasoned with lemongrass, onion and a bevy of herbs. Cooks
begin stewing the soup the evening before: Pork and beef bones must
simmer for over 10 hours for a proper broth.

tell friends that if they stew the beef at home for only four hours,
even if they have the seasonings, they just can’t achieve the richness
of flavor," says Dianne Trinh, Hao Trinh’s wife and a product
development specialist for the Kellogg Co.

end product is a warm, rich soup, mild yet deep in flavor. The broth is
like a Gregorian chant: simple, beautiful, resonant. On 15 roundtables
rest platters of garnishs: Bean sprouts bring a crisp bite, a squeeze of
lime gives an acidic spark, cabbage and Vietnamese spinach add essential fatty acids, Hao notes, and jalapenos or hot chili sauce will give the soup some bite.

tofu is homemade, too. Soybeans are ground, soymilk is separated and
the rest is transformed into fresh, firm tofu, much of which is lightly
breaded and fried.

of the joy of visiting such an authentic gathering is not knowing
exactly what you might be trying. Small translucent dumplings housed
something orange — shrimp, it turns out. With an orange fish sauce, these little appetizers, chewy and full of flavor, were a delicious discovery.

range from tapioca drinks to deep fried bananas. Sweet rice, colored
red from a crushed seed, is sticky and mildly sweet. Sprinkles of
coconut are what make the dessert work, and it’s visually striking with
snow-white coconut shreds and crushed peanuts blanketing a vibrantly red
bed of rice.

meal is even larger after Christmas Mass, and New Year celebrations
usher in more food and cultural performances. The church also hosts a
late-summer festival, which Hao hopes to grow into a pan-Asian event.

For now, though, Hao, Dianne and fellow parishioners are happy to share their culture and food with open arms every Sunday.

try not to say ’assimilation,’ because with assimilation, you lose
yourself," Hao says. "I say ’adapting.’ We try to take the best of
Vietnam, the best of America, combine these two and move on."

St. Andrew Dung-Lac Church

5340 S. Washington Ave., Lansing. 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m. and noon-3 p.m. Sunday only. TO, $