A restaurant serving Vietnamese cuisine in Montreal, Canada has come under fire for using puns to name a number of items in its menu.
Pho King Bon, which recently opened in Rosemère, wanted customers to mispronounce names of traditional Vietnamese food, resulting in crass and sexually-explicit wordplay.
The backlash: Over 6,000 people agreed that the scheme was in bad taste and signed a Change.org petition demanding the restaurant to rename the controversial items.
Pho King Bon called Bún Thịt Nướng, a classic dish of cold rice-vermicelli noodles, “Bonne Tite Noune,” a slang for “good little p***y.”
Another item, “Lichi Mwa Lku,” misspelled the French phrase for “lick my a**.”
The restaurant also offered items with the names “Pho Kyu,” “Pho Kme,” “Pho Kit” and “Pho Koff,” which can easily be heard as swear words in English. Inside the establishment, staff also reportedly wore masks that read “Pho King COVID.”
One particular item that angered critics was a drink called “Viet Kong,” which referenced the pro-communist Việt Cộng from the Vietnam War. The organization reportedly killed thousands of innocent civilians.
“Pho King Bon Restaurant claims to be an homage to Vietnamese culture, but uses vulgar and degrading puns in its name and menu,” wrote Kim Nguyen, who started the petition.
She added, “I ask that the restaurant removes these insulting and disrespectful names, in addition to formally apologizing to the Vietnamese community.”
The response: Amid the backlash, Pho King Bon released a statement of apology on Facebook.
Guillaume Boutin, co-owner of the restaurant, explained that it was never their intention to “hurt or undermine anyone,” but acknowledged that the “certain play on words may have offended certain people, especially those from the Vietnamese community.”
The statement also announced the renaming of the items in question, especially “Viet Kong,” which should be implemented “within a week or two.”
Boutin added that some members of the community have asked him to contribute a donation, which he “will be making directly to them in order to assist and help in any causes which they hold close to their heart.”
Even after the apology, Boutin received death threats, with people even threatening to burn down the restaurant, according to Le Journal de Montréal.
By Monday, Nguyen claimed victory for her petition, but some remain unsatisfied with the restaurant’s response.
“It’s not just an insult to the Vietnamese community. You just insulted our culture and distorted our language for your own pleasure. Now whenever someone hears me speak my language, you just okay’d them to make a jumble out of whatever I say and think it’s okay,” one Facebook user wrote in the comments. “This is so ignorant for 2020. There’s already so much inequality in the world people are trying to make right and here you are bringing us back to ignorance, self entitlement and cultural appropriation.”
Impératif Français, a Quebec-based organization dedicated to protecting the French language, filed a complaint with the Office de la langue française du Québec (OLFQ) for the restaurant’s “unacceptable” wordplay, according to Le Devoir.
Boutin seemed unsure of how to move forward. He told Eater on Tuesday:
“I changed almost everything they wanted me to except for our name … I gave a sincere apology, but to some people that’s still not enough, and it has become even more viral … I have people from all over the world writing to me with hate speech … What else can I do?”
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