Vanishing Saigon

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The Changing Taste of Vietnam

23 August, 2011 (15:25) | Food and Drink

Whether you’re travelling through Vietnam on a short trip or staying for an extended period of time, one thing you will never forget is the unique food culture that inhabits the city and rural streets of Vietnam. Just the same as the changing roads, buildings, and lives, the food culture in Vietnam has taken on many changes with the introduction of foreign influences while maintaining its strong self-identity.

Vietnam Food Sensations

Vietnam CuisineAs a traveler venturing through the sights and sounds of Vietnam, your five senses will help to explore the delightfully vibrant sensation of Vietnamese cuisine. For your first meal in Vietnam, you may be surprised by the sight of beautifully arranged sauces bursting with color that are meticulously displayed before you. As a dish arrives, it’ll be hard to miss the smell of herbs and spices subtly used to bring out the exquisite flavors of fresh spring rolls. When you reach for your first spring roll, you can feel the texture of the rice paper gripped in your fingers; and you can hear the crunch of the fresh vegetables as you take your first bite and experience the taste of Vietnamese food culture.

From North to South

For those travelling from the North to the South, you will be sure to notice the change in flavors throughout Vietnam. Vietnamese cooking styles vary quite drastically from city to city due to the differences in climates, growing conditions and cultural influences from neighboring countries.

In the north, Vietnamese food uses fresh vegetables, quickly cooked sliced meats, and variations of rice noodles. A great example of a typical northern dish is Vietnamese Pho, which takes its name from the rice noodle (Ph) used when cooking the delicious soup. Although, it is commonly believed that the Pho dish was influenced by the French and Chinese, the popular dish is now worldly-known as a Vietnamese dish.

In the south, the Vietnamese climate is more tropical, and as a result foods with a spicy kick are more prevalent. Chilies often supplement most dishes and sauces; it is not uncommon to find sliced chilies floating atop some fish sauce (nước mm) or a mango salad. For much of this region, the dishes have been influenced by Khmer, Thai, and even Indian dishes. Many restaurants now serve Thai style hot pot and Indian curries, although most have been altered to match the tastes of the Vietnamese people. For example, a Vietnamese curry will generally be sweeter than an Indian curry; this is due to additional coconut milk added during the cooking process.

Food Globalization

banh mi

Vietnamese food has been influenced by a variety of neighboring nations. Common throughout Vietnam are typical Chinese dishes, including: Chow Mein (mì xào), dumplings (há co), and wontons (hoành thánh). However, in the past two centuries, the French have had the largest influence on Vietnamese cuisine. The French introduced fresh baked bread, potatoes, and wine making to Vietnam during their colonization of the country. One of the most popular food items in Vietnam is bánh mì which is a combination of cold cut meats, fresh vegetables, butter, and soy sauce all placed inside a warm French baguette. This delicious sandwich is a popular street food to grab on the way to or from work; it also makes for a great late night snack.

Today, with the constant flow of foreign tourists, companies, and expats to Vietnam, Vietnamese cuisine is once again experiencing great transformation. In the larger cities, like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, European, American and Asian restaurants are opening their doors to the diverse population.

The most noticeable restaurants opening in the large cities are of course the fast food establishments. American, Filipino, and Korean fast food restaurants currently lead the fast food race in Vietnam with KFC, Jollibee, and Lotteria respectively. Of course, Vietnam has their own fast food chains, with Pho 24 being the most popular and found in most cities throughout Vietnam.

For those looking for more authentic cuisines, you don’t have to look far to find good European food. German food is by far one of the most popular cuisines in Ho Chi Minh City. The city even hosts its own Beerfest and Oktoberfest to celebrate German food, beer, and culture, like Oktoberfest Vietnam. The number of German restaurants in District 1 continues to grow every year, but if you are looking for a truly authentic experience, be sure to visit Gartenstadt. Gartenstadt is Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest German restaurant, and has won praise from locals, expats, and tourists for its authentic German food, beer, and atmosphere. Their convenient location on scenic Dong Khoi Street in District 1 makes it a popular place among expats for business lunches or after work drinks.

Kissho Japanese Restaurant

In recent years, Japanese restaurants have begun to flourish in the city center of Ho Chi Minh City. As the wealth in the city begins to rise, the population has now started to enjoy unique delicacies like teppanyaki and sushi. If you are looking for a unique Japanese dining experience, I recommend trying Kissho Restaurant on Nguyen Hue Street in District 1. Kissho recently opened this year, and features entertaining teppanyaki cooking shows and great sushi. They also have great business lunch sets that are affordable and filling.

As the world continues to grow and share, we can expect to see new and exciting creations in fashion, transportation, and communication; but for me, I am most excited to see the changes that occur with food. If you have time to visit Vietnam, I encourage you to try as much of the local food as you can, but don’t forget to check out how foreign influences are changing the taste of Vietnam.

If you would like to learn more about food in Vietnam, please visit the following websites:



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