Having an upcoming trip to Vietnam, you find the food culture in this Southeast Asia country is still a mystery? Stay cool to read our 5-minute blog, which will reveal 6 short and sharp insights about the food culture in Vietnam from the taste, the spices, the eating habits, and cooking methods. And number 5 will surprise you!
1. 555 – a magic spell to every dish
This magical number will tell you the secret of food culture in Vietnam, as a show of balancing the yin and yang factor in the food culture.
The 5 spices represent sour, sweet, spicy, salty and bitter. These spices sometimes have already been added in the dipping sauces, which will be served with spring rolls or any mixed bowl like mixed rice noodles, salads. For 5 colors, Vietnamese food is very colorful, filled with green, red, yellow, white and black. Locals even use natural ingredients to dye the food, like the 5 colored sticky rice you can see in the picture below. More importantly, we still have enough 5 nutrients in our ingredient, namely carbohydrates, fat, protein, minerals and water. And we even try to make food that is good for gallbladder, small intestine, stomach, large intestine, and urinary bladder…The balance between healthy and decoration has made Vietnamese in the top 10 of the healthiest cuisines in the world, according to CNN in 2010.
2. Rice is a staple food
While the Westerners live on potatoes and wheat, for Vietnamese, it is rice. As the second-largest rice exporter in the world, rice happens to be every meal in Vietnam, just like “white on rice”. From breakfast with a bowl of pho, vermicelli, to lunch and dinner with steamed rice and even as ingredients in food making, it is hard for you to find any dish without rice as the ingredients in our cuisine.
3. Creative cooks
Though Vietnamese are very proud of their cuisine, whenever we find new food that is delicious and suitable for our taste, we would love to adapt it and make it our version. From the French with Banh Mi, Soup; China with Van Than, dim sum, or Thailand with Hot pot with “Thai” flavor, sticky rice with mango and coconut milk. Banh mi and Thai hot pot are among the most famous dishes.
Banh mi: Do you know that the famous “banh mi” is originated from the French’s baguette in the colonial time. They brought crops and livestock to grow in Vietnam to maintain their European diet, and baguette is a part of it. From the original baguette, Vietnamese has modified it into a smaller version, sometimes mixed between wheat flour and rice flour to create a crispy crust. And the rest is history when the bread is filled with grilled pork, deep-fried eggs, vegetables, pickles, and a final touch with delicious sauces like ketchup, mayonnaise,… This “all in one” recipe makes Banh mi as one of the most famous street food in the world.
Thai hot pot: Thai hot pot, known as Hot Pot with Tom Yum flavor, is not as world-famous when compared to Banh Mi, but if you ask any Vietnamese, definitely they have tried this dish. “Tom Yum” is originated from Thailand, where it is a spicy and sour flavor, cooked with shrimp, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Meanwhile, hot pot is a Chinese cooking method, with a big bowl of simmering stock, then the raw and fresh ingredients like meat, pork, vegetables are added into the bowl until being well-cooked and ready to eat. Combining these two recipes, Vietnamese creates the hot pot with “Tom yum” a.k.a Thai flavor dish. This is a must-try dish for you when visiting Vietnam in winter.
4. Herbs and vegetables are what make good Vietnamese food.
Normally, each dish in Vietnamese food will be served with its must-have herbs. For example, steamed – boiled duck meat will go with the basil leaves. Or boiled duck eggs will go with persicaria leaves. Vietnamese, when they cannot have these ingredients served with their dishes, will think that the taste of the food is incomplete, or even tasteless. And do you know that, for some dishes, most of the cooking time will be spent on preparing these herbs and vegetables? The fact that herbs are used as the main ingredient is good news to vegetarians: Vietnamese cuisine can be modified into a “vegetarian” or “vegetarian-friendly” version while still taste good. For example, you can have a no-meat salad instead of one filled with jerk, or no-meat spring rolls, which is made of vegetables like carrots, bean sprouts, jicama, etc.
5. Heaven for adventurous foodies
Congratulations on making it this far! Besides all of the mouth-watering and healthy food we have mentioned above, you should try these adventurous recipes when in Vietnam, such as snail, insect, blood soup, fetal duck eggs, etc. Vietnamese cuisine has everything it takes to create a memorable food quest, especially for adventurous eaters. Don’t worry as except for the blood soup is uncooked, most dishes are well-done. Normally, you can easily find the snail, fetal duck eggs at any street corner in Vietnam’s big cities.
6. Regional diversity of food culture
Finally, we have come to the end of this journey. If you have a trans-Vietnam trip, we believe that you will understand these differences. Vietnam is an S-shaped country that stretches across many regions, making the weather vary and so do the cooking techniques, flavors and ingredients in each region. It is very easy to recognize once you try them all.
Traveling around the Northern area, you will find the flavored is more balanced and mild. The hallmark of cuisines in this region are shown in bun dau mam tom (vermicelli with deep-fried tofu, boiled pork, shrimp paste), pho bo (pho noodles served with cow broth stock), bun cha (grilled pork with rice noodles, served with fresh herbs and dipping sauce).
Moving along the coastline to the Central area, you will be impressed by the Imperial cuisine with the most sophisticated and delicate recipes in Hue. Some famous Imperial-style dishes like banh beo, banh bot loc can be found on the street food. Also, other parts in the Central area is famous for their spicy and salty dishes. Because this area is heavily influenced by rainstorm, therefore, eating spicy food is a way for them to adapt to the cold and harsh climate. For the salty taste, as locals in this area can easily produce fish sauce on their own, therefore, they will consume it in a large amount as well as color the food. Some popular dishes in this area are stewed fish, spicy eel soup/ noodles, etc. Moving to the South Coast, food taste is less spicy with soup-based or mixed noodles, like cao lau (barbecue pork, pork crackling, bean sprout, herbs), bun cha ca Danang (noodle with deep-fried fish sausage, banana flower)
Finally, when you arrive in the Southern area, you will realize that this region is on the sweet side, compared to its fellows. Sugar, as well as coconut milk, is famous in this area to add flavor and sweetness. The dish is also more colorful as this region has year-round growing season with many herbs and vegetables added in to enhance the flavor. When in the South, you must try sweet and sour fish soup (canh ca), Hu Tieu/Mi Van Than (Woton), Banh Mi, Com Tam (steamed broken rice, served with grilled pork ribs and pickles), Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe)…. Ho Chi Minh also have many foreigners living, from Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, therefore, you can also find the street food of these nationalities in District 1, District 10, Ben Thanh District, etc.
With a diverse food culture, Vietnam is a promising destination for any curious travelers. Are you ready to start your food quest in Vietnam? Get prepared with more tips and travel plans in Vietnam at Eviva’s blog or contact our travel consultant for more support.