The Foodosophy of Vietnam – General thoughts

Hi Everyone,

I finally have a reasonably stable internet connection for a day or two, so I just wanted to drop everyone a quick line to say hello from hot and humid Vietnam. I’m leaving the country in a few days, so i thought this would be a good time to provide some general thoughts on my observations of Vietnamese cuisine.

It’s been a great time eating thus far. Vietnam is a fairly diverse country, with an abundance of wonderful food. If you are a food lover, this is definitely a great country to visit. I flew into Hanoi, and travelled from North to South, giving me a broad perspective on the diversity of dishes, and regional interpretations on many of the dishes available across the country. From meat to seafood, to fruits and vegetables, Vietnam has it all. Even though the country is generally quite poor monetarily, they have a very rich food culture.

Im a bit out of practice in writing, so i’ll try and summarize in point form to help structure my thoughts:

  • The first thing i noticed about Vietnamese food is how fresh it is.  Even on the street, there is great pride in serving frsh ingredients. Everything needed is bought the morning of. Nothing is kept overnight. While some dishes are par-cooked to speed up the process, for the most part, things are cooked ala minute.
  • Balance is the key to a successful Vietnamese dish. They do an amzazing job of it.
  • Vietnamese food in North America is very heavy handed. Overly strong flavours, with big impact in servings. Vietnamese food in Vietnam is a lot more subtle. More complexity, more interesting, but a lot less in your face.
  • Definitely a better balance of flavours, and served in much smaller servings, i find myself savouring food more, than gorging on it.
  • They use a lot more lemongrass than North America does. Other ingredients that show up a lot more than i would’ve expected are fried onion tops and mint.
  • Fishy flavours are extremely well balanced by citrus – salt, pepper and citrus make a great accompainiment for seafood.
  • A very distinct lack of MSG in most places here – i didnt realize how much restaurants relied on MSG in North America, until i ate food that didnt use it, or used it sparingly.
  • Restaurants in tourist areas are almost uniformly bad – no matter what the guide books say. Do yourself a favour – if you want a sitdown restaurant, get out of the tourist areas.
  • Many restaurants in tourist areas have no kitchens – they are just a place to sit, and a menu with pictures, or English. They run out to your local street vendor and buy the item in question when you order it. Makes it decent, but is a 100-200% markup worth it?
  • If i had to generalize quality of establishments, i’d say local restaurants in local districts, market food, street food, then restaurants in tourist districts
  • Vietnamese share a lot of dishes in groups, and eat fairly often. I’ve had trouble adapting to eating 5-6 times a day with the local family i’ve been hanging out with.
  • Beef on the street here is pretty bad. Cows are skinny. Beef is imported from Australia for higher quality establishments. That should be a pretty good indication that don’t expect much for your Pho Bo/Pho Tai that you paid 75 cents for on the street. On the streets, i would stick to pork, chicken, and seafood.
  • Food here is cheap – even for huge splurge meals, if you avoid tourist traps. I shared a late night seafood family meal with 4 others yesterday that was amazing. Cockles, snails, clams of all kinds, we ordered 6 or 7 dishes, 6 beers, and the total came out to under $30 for 5 of us. In comparison, 6 coffees/juices at a Western hotel with a view added up to more than this meal.
  • There are pretty big regional differences in food. You can definitely see more ethnic influences here in the south than in the north.
  • Many establishments, especially on the street, specialize in only one or two dishes. This makes the general quality of the food you get squatting on a sidewalk to be very high.
  • Smiling goes a long way when you can’t speak the language.
  • Vietnamese people are passionate about their food, and very very friendly.
  • I still don’t like Asian sweets.

Anyway, i hope you enjoyed my preliminary thoughts on the food of Vietnam. I look forward to providing you with much more specific recommendations on where to eat.

I would like to thank all the other writers at Foodosophy for picking up all the slack in my absence. Their time and commitment are greatly appreciated.

And lastly, and for me, most importantly, I would like to thank Foodosophy reader CH and family for all the time and effort you’ve spent showing me the cuisine of Southern Vietnam. It’s been an amazing experience for me to learn more about your culture and cuisine first hand. I can’t thank you enough for all the time spent driving, explaining, and tasting. I couldnt imagine having a better vacation than this!

Best wishes everyone!


5 thoughts on “The Foodosophy of Vietnam – General thoughts

  1. >>Beef on the street here is pretty bad. Cows are skinny. Beef is imported from Australia for higher quality establishments. That should be a pretty good indication that don’t expect much for your Pho Bo/Pho Tai that you paid 75 cents for on the street. On the streets, i would stick to pork, chicken, and seafood.

    That has been my experience as well. I recall posting my thoughts on this topic over at Chowhound and promptly received a good beating from gallery! It’s good to romanticize one’s gastronomic experiences in a foreign land, but I prefer to remain objective.

    Thanks for the report.

  2. Did you see firsthand, any of the Mom and Pop operated “Prawn Ponds” that are supposedly everywhere in Vietnam? What did you think of the quality, texture and taste of any prawns that you ate while there?

  3. Excellent post. Super-concise and tidbits that would prep some expectations for a never-been-there-but-want-to guy like me. Except for that dang advantage you had of local guidance – so jealous.

  4. Pingback: Foodosophy Year End Review – 2009 « f o o d o s o p h y

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