The history of Vietnam food and cuisine is as complex as it is fascinating. Travel back in time with us to the old days of peasants & emperors, colonisation and revolutions to find out the lineage of some of Vietnam’s most popular food dishes.
French Touch in Vietnamese Food and Cuisine
The well-known fusion of Vietnamese noodles & herbs with a French beef broth is most likely the stepping stone for the original phở (Noodle Soup). Also, the term used for the soup itself has traditional French roots. The French phrase pot-au-feu literally means to pot in the fire.
A pot-au-feu is originally made by boiling beef bones and fresh vegetables in water and then including meat to make a Vietnamese soup. If you pronounce phở (Noodle Soup) so that it actually rhymes with ‘duh’, you’ll get pretty much close to feu, which is the French word for fire. Like pot-au-feu, phở had a quite humble start as peasant cuisine.
Nomadic vendors, from the region of Van Cu in the Nam Dinh province, could be easily seen in the early 20th century walking with flexible old sticks balanced across their shoulders & two huge barrels of noodles soup attached to either side.
They sold the soup dish to any individual interested in a good and fresh meal on the roads outside of the region Hanoi. Chinese migrant workers loved the combination of soup with noodles since it reminded them of delicious cuisine from home.
French missionaries & colonial settlers also loved it due to the rich, meaty broth. The Vietnamese loved this cuisine because of its texture and flexibility in regards to food ingredients, and because of the fact that boiling the broth for too long would get it free from any sort of bacteria.
Regional Vietnamese Cuisine
Food in this country of 70 million people differs strikingly between the north region, south region and central regions, but two key elements stand out. First, rice plays a crucial role in the country’s diet as it does throughout southeast Asia.
But this is also a soup and noodle-crazy population, regularly eating noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in homes, restaurants & at roadside stands. Noodles are actually eaten wet & dry, in vegetable soup or beside soup, and are cooked in different styles and thicknesses of wheat, rice & mung beans. Secondly, no food meal is fully complete without vegetables and herbs.
A key part of every Vietnamese meal, north, south & central, is a platter having cucumbers, bean threads, slices of hot pepper, & the sprigs of basil, coriander, mint and amount of related herbs found principally in the southeast Asian markets.
As in any Asian country, Vietnam’s food and cuisine reflects its geography & history. Geographically, it has two great river deltas separated by a belt of majestic mountains. Vietnamese describe their region as two rice baskets hung on either end of a carrying pole.
The famous Red River Delta surrounding Hanoi gives rice for the residents of the North Vietnam region. The God-gifted fertile Mekong Delta in Vietnam, centered by the famous Ho Chi Minh City (which is formerly known as Saigon) generates rice with a wide variety of fruits & vegetables both for itself & the central strip of the Vietnam whose main city is the former imperial Hue.
An old colony of China, Vietnamese at that time adopted Confucianism, Buddhism, chopsticks & the wok. But in spite of decades and centuries of great domination, Vietnamese food and cuisine retained its own regional character. Because of its proximity to the Vietnam border, the north Vietnam region reflects more of the Chinese traditions than the central or south region.
Soy sauce very rarely appears in Vietnamese food dishes except on the northern side. It is actually replaced by what is called the most essential food ingredient in all of Vietnamese food and cuisine – fish sauce or known as nuoc mam.
Stir frying also plays a relatively minor role in Vietnam food and cuisine and is seen more in the northern region than elsewhere. Frying is supposed to be less essential than simmering.