Since the 1950s the country has gained a growing presence of foods from
Russia as the communist government closely allied with the Soviet Union.
Foods like beets and cabbage became more popular, although these never gained widespread
acclaim, especially when soups made from these ingredients were competing with the
national favorite, pho.
During the same time the communists controlled the north, a very pro-western government
ruled the south until the 1970s and this government's allegiances brought in
foods to the south. These foods and the "ethnic" restaurants that serve
these foods are a reflection of both locals tastes as well as politics as
Thai, Indian, and
Chinese restaurants are all common in any major city, but more popular
in the south.
Noodles: noodles are a common base in numerous dishes
Rice: rice is usually cooked and served as sticky rice and accompanies
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Nem/Cha Gio: spring rolls commonly filled with
vegetables and served with fish sauce or soy sauce
Pho: numerous styles exist, but at its base, pho
is a noodle soup served with onions and usually a meat with any combination of spices
Northern Vietnam: seafood rules here, especially crap and prawns
Central Vietnam: the foods from this region tend to be spicy
Southern Vietnam: more vegetable-based diet with plenty of seafood
Dining in Vietnam may seem a bit confusing at first as most
people eat with chopsticks, but with a little practice and some etiquette tips you'll
be sure to fit in with the locals in no time.
If you are lucky enough to be invited to eat at a local's house be sure to bring
a small gift to show your appreciation; fruit or pastries are good choices. When
meeting locals, try to arrive on time and remove your shoes before entering the
house or restaurant if others have done so before you. Greet everyone upon arrival,
beginning with the elders. Also wait to be shown a seat as elders are generally
seated first and your host may show you to a pre-assigned seat.
As you sit down you'll be greeted by chopsticks and little else. Sometimes a
fork and spoon will be offered, but usually you'll only get chopsticks along
with perhaps a spoon, a saucer, and a welcoming host. The chopsticks are obviously
for eating (never place these sticking up in the rice, it's a sign of death),
the spoon is for the soup, and the saucer is a "discard tray" of sorts;
reserved for bones and shells that you pick out of your food.
When the meal arrives, the dishes are placed in the middle of the table. Serving
and eating begin in order of honor (and men are served first, then women) so don't
begin until you're directed to do so by your host. If serving yourself, be sure
to never touch the serving spoon to your plate or if no serving spoon is present,
take foods from the communal bowls with the back end of your chopsticks. Among the
dishes will probably be soup and a starch, typically rice. The rice is the main
course and must be treated as such, while the soup, starch, and any other food in
a bowl should be eaten by bringing the bowl up to your mouth. In order to accomplish
this you are expected to have both hands on the table at all times, even having
your elbows on the table is acceptable in most situations.
When you are finished eating, be sure to finish all the food on your plate and in
your bowl, this is true of all foods, but especially rice as leaving any behind
is considered wasteful and rude. Once the food is done, place your chopsticks together
on top of your rice bowl or on the chopstick rest next to your plate if you have
one. You may then join the locals with a tooth pick in hand to clean any remaining
food from your teeth.
If you are dining in a restaurant you will have to go to the register to get and
pay for your bill as the Vietnamese find it odd and somewhat
rude to bring a bill to your table. In restaurants catered to tourists a service
charge of about 5% is usually included so look for this on your bill. If no service
charge is included tipping is at your discretion; in most nice restaurants tips
of 5-10% are expected, but in local restaurants and in towns or villages tips are
not expected or required.
Celebrations & Events
Nearly every celebration in Vietnam is brought in with a
traditional meal simply translated as "feast." This dining event is served
at weddings, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and other large events. Like many
Vietnamese foods, this is centered around rice, but beyond that nothing remains
the same. "Feast" is a time for specific dishes and generally these don't
coincide with common Vietnamese dishes. This meal generally includes noodles, bamboo
shoots, chicken, meat balls, sausage, salad, spring rolls, and stir-fry. This main
course is then followed by nearly as many desserts.
Most of Vietnam's drinks are sweetened beginning with
their tea and coffee. Both of these drinks are usually served with sweetened condensed
milk. Local juices are also popular, including sugar cane juice, coconut milk, and
even a soy bean drink called sua dau nanh, which is again usually sweetened.
Fruit smoothies are also common and include everything from standard strawberry
or mango to bean or avocado. Soft drinks and other international beverage are also
available nearly everywhere.
If you want an alcoholic drink in Vietnam try the beer,
which is the most popular drink among the locals. Most of the beers available are
regional beers, but most popular international brands are also accessible. Whiskey
is also popular in Vietnam and can be found in most hotel bars and restaurants,
both those catered to foreigners and locals alike. Most other hard liquors and wines
are available in hotels, but for a local taste try the rice wine called ruou de,
which is similar to sake.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Vietnam,
but in limited areas it might be safe. The most cautious course of action is to
entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the water,
such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap water first
check with your local hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of the water
in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting
to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different from what your system
is used to if you are not from the region.