Best Tropical Fruits to Try in Vietnam

By: Arik Jahn

Vietnam is one of the planet’s tropical fruit meccas. The sheer variety of juicy, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, but always healthy natural goodness that you’ll find in pretty much any food market at bargain prices is impressive. Coming mostly from Vietnam’s ‘rice bowl’, the Mekong Delta, these delicious snacks are also sold by a plethora of street vendors.

It’s worth tasting all of them, as the exotic flavours and textures are something you simply won’t find back at home. In order to guide you through the wonders of Vietnamese fruits, we’ve put together this top five ranking of the most delicious fruits any Vietnam traveller seriously must try, along with helpful information about health facts, prices and seasons.

Fifth Place: Star Apple (Vú Sữa)

No, not star fruit, star apple. Cut this tennis-ball-sized fruit in half horizontally and you’ll know why it’s called that. The segments form a star-like structure. Its Vietnamese name, however, is much more accurate: vú sữa literally means “milk breast”. A bit odd, I know... However, this is the colour and texture of the juice you should expect. Vietnamese actually just cut in a hole and suck the nectar out!

Don’t worry, you can halve it and use a spoon, or cut the fruit in wedges and enjoy it like a tiny watermelon. The fun lies in both the taste and texture. There’s a sticky sweetness to it which, combined with the thick, milky juices that you simply must taste in order to appreciate.

exotic fruitsImage source: ydvn.net

Vietnamese legend has it that at the witching hour, you can see the ghost of a mother feeding her baby roaming around its trees. Spooky, huh? So better let somebody else do the harvesting! You can buy a bagful from a street market when it’s in season in the late autumn and early winter months.

It’s easy to spot with its round, mostly purple skin. Some are green though, but this doesn’t mean they’re not ripe yet. Do softly squeeze it before enjoying the star apple to set free all the juicy goodness, and bring a wet tissue as your fingers are sure to be sticky after eating it!

Health Facts

Star apples can aid digestion, contribute to weight loss, are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, and strengthen your bones.

Season

From October to December.

Street Price

Around VND 30,000-40,000 per kilogram.

Where Does It Grow?

It’s a tropical fruit, so it likes the heat in Southern Vietnam. The most famous varieties come from the Mekong Delta: Can Tho and Vinh Kim Commune in Tien Giang Province.

Fourth Place: Rambutan (Chôm Chôm)

The Vietnamese name is cute, right? It gets even cuter when you know what it means: messy hair! However, there is also a smaller kind with shorter hair which is called chôm chôm nhãn in Vietnamese and tastes a little sweeter.

The golf-ball-sized rambutan is a relative of the lychee, though the flesh is slightly more jelly-like. There’s also more of it! You might come across some sour specimens, but rambutan is generally sweet and extremely pleasant to eat. What’s more, it is also a convenient fruit!

exotic fruitsImage source: giainhan.vn

You can use your finger to open and peel off the skin, but the most elegant way to do it is to cut the skin in half and pull off one hemisphere while holding on to the other. You can now slip them into your mouth as a whole without getting your fingers sticky. There is a seed though—don’t choke, please!

You’ll find them fresh from June to September on any street market. Alternatively, stop at one of the many vendors cruising around the cities on their bicycles. These vendors, however, tend to mark up some compared to the market prices as you’re likely never to see them again. Time to bargain!

Health Facts

Rambutan are great for weight loss, good for your skin and hair and have a lot of vitamin C. They also strengthen your immune system, prevent cancer and—allegedly—are even said to improve sperm quality.

Season

The rambutan is a summer fruit that gets ripe during the rainy season. Harvest is from May to September.

Street Price

Around VND 20,000-30,000 per kilogram.

Where Does It Grow?

The most well-known yields are at Binh Hoa Phuoc Village in the Southern Vinh Long Region. Yes, this is the Mekong Delta again. The area around Phan Thiet on the south central coast is also famous for delicious rambutan.

Third Place: Mango (Xoài)

All right, this doesn’t come as a surprise. But isn’t it true that the imported mangoes you get in non-tropical countries are not even close to being as delightful as the ones in which they’re grown? Vietnam is no exception.

On the street, you’ll mostly find green, unripe mangoes cut into sticks and sold with chilli salt, to a point that many tourists come back home saying that mangoes in Vietnam are terribly sour and unenjoyable! They couldn’t be more wrong.

The Vietnamese soil is so fertile that it produces an incredible number of mango fruits. You just can’t wait for them to be ripe or you’ll leave half of them rotting because, as good as they are, five per day are at least two too many.

So the Vietnamese have found ways to process them while they’re still green. Do not miss out on Vietnamese mango salad with fresh shrimp! It exemplifies the genius of Southeast Asian cuisine (you’ll find similar creations in Thailand).

Once ripe and light yellow in colour, Vietnamese mangoes are delightfully sweet and full-bodied. The texture of the ideal mango is only slightly firm to the bite and so flavour-bursting that you won’t want to stop eating them!

exotic fruitsImage source: kul.vn

As tempting as an American-football-sized mango might be, it’s usually better to pick the smaller but fragrant ones. While on the market, take them in your hand to test if they have a slight softness to them. If so, and if they’re not too green, you’re likely to have found one you can eat right away.

As they have a massive pit, use a knife to cut off one slice on each side of it. You can then either make them into sticks or into cubes (the trick here is not to cut through the skin).

Health Facts

Mangoes may help to prevent cancer, lower your cholesterol, are beneficial to skin and eyes and boost the immune system.

Season

Mangoes grow from October to July, but taste best in the early summer months.

Street Price

Around VND 10,000-15,000 per fruit.

Where Does It Grow?

Mangoes are mostly grown in the Mekong Delta. There are several kinds, the most famous of which is the Hoa Loc mango from the commune formerly called that, located in Tien Giang Province.

Second Place: Langsat (Bòn Bon)

Unlike other fruits (think: dragon fruit), langsat are neither world-famous nor appealing at first glance. They actually look like little potatoes. However, we’ve ranked them second-best. Why? Open one and you’ll know!

Another member of the same family as the rambutan, the flesh of this small fruit (roughly the size of a large quail egg) is translucent and soft, with several segments carrying a seed. You can chew and swallow the smaller seeds to avoid spitting out every two seconds. It won’t spoil the taste, promise!

exotic fruitsImage source: healthbenefitsfruit.blogspot.com

What taste is that? As sweet and succulent as its Vietnamese name (bòn bon) announces, with a subtle hint of sourness that reminds one of a grapefruit. It’s also called dâu da đất in the North, but it’s nothing like a strawberry (dâu)—more like a juicier, more intensely flavoured lychee.

You won’t be able to avoid using your hands to peel it, which will leave them so sticky only several hand-washings will help. Better not let it touch your clothes!

You’ll usually buy them on branches. Make sure not to confuse them with longan, which are also great, but not as great. Longan are round while langsat look more like a drop of water.

Health Facts

Langsat help reduce weight, prevent cancer and improve digestion. They are also a source of carbohydrates. You can also dry the peel and burn it to repel mosquitoes!

Season

Harvest time is in late summer, between July and October.

Street Price

Around VND 40,000 per kilogramme.

Where Does It Grow?

In Quang Nam Province, the south central coast region that is also home to Hoi An.

First Place: Mangosteen (Măng Cụt)

Hands down, this is the best fruit in Vietnam, and perhaps in the world. Back in the good old feudal days, it was famed as a noble fruit in Vietnam and offered to the royal family—and for a reason!

It doesn’t show its greatness at first sight. You have to cut it along the equator of its dark red rind to unveil the milky-white, segmented core. It is said the more segments and the less seeds a mangosteen has the better the taste is. And what a taste that is!

exotic fruitsImage source: kenh14.vn

The tangy flesh perfectly balances sweet and sour to first surprise, then delight you. Imagine biting in a strawberry, a peach and a clementine at once. Its juices give it an unheard-of freshness that just makes you want more and more.

You’ll have to indulge within the borders of the country, though, as there are restrictions on imports and exports of mangosteens.

And there’s another downside to it: as the Vietnamese say, buying mangosteens is like buying a lottery ticket—you can never be sure what you’ll get. Often, more than half of the purchased fruits are discarded as you shouldn’t eat them when they’re interspersed with yellow or purple fibres. But that should definitely not keep you from taking your chances.

Mangosteens are very popular in Vietnam and can be found pretty much anywhere from the grocery store around the corner to the major street markets or a legion of street vendors on bicycles. Note that, perhaps due to their royal past, mangosteens are a bit more expensive than other fruits.

Health Facts

Mangosteens have a lot of antioxidants and vitamin C, reduce cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory and have an anti-ageing effect.

Season

The mangosteen season is short, just about two to three months from May to August.

Price

Around VND60,000-70,000 per kilogramme.

Where Does It Grow?

Lai Thieu mangosteens from a little town in Binh Duong Province north of Ho Chi Minh City are said to be the best of the best.

Don’t agree with our ranking? Discuss with us in the comments section below or in our Facebook group!

Banner image source: cooky.vn


Essential Vietnamese New Year Foods - Northern food

By: Nhu Tong

Tết Nguyên Đán or simply Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) is the most festive time of year in Vietnam as well as the most busy due to the amount of preparation required. You can easily get a sense Tet’s intense yet joyful atmosphere just by watching streets crowded with a continuous stream of people busy with shopping and preparing in advance for Tet. On this special occasion, everything must be prepared carefully and early.

To get ready for the holiday in accordance with Vietnamese belief, you should clean your home, replace your outdated things with new ones and—because you’re to stop all work during Tet including household work—cook all the food you’ll eat during the holiday.

There are certain dishes like bánh chưng (square meat cake) that are like unofficial Tet mascots for their close association with the holiday. If you’re in Hanoi or somewhere else in the North, expect to see typical dishes from that region there like xôi gấc (stick rice) during this time of year.

In this series, we’re going to explore the food traditions of Vietnam’s three major regions—the North, Middle and South—going from top to bottom.

An Overview of Vietnamese Tet

The Vietnamese call this time of year Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Ta (Vietnamese New Year), Tết Âm Lịch (Lunar New Year), Tết Cổ Truyền (Traditional New Year). As the Lunar New Year is determined according to the phases of the Moon so Tet is celebrated later than Tết Dương Lịch (Western New Year).

It has many different names, but we’ll just call it “Tet” here for short.

There is an additional month added to the lunar calendar every three years, but otherwise the the Tet window remains unchanged: the first day of the Lunar New Year is never before January 21 and never after February 19 in the Gregorian calendar. It is usually held during late January to the middle of February.

In the past, the entire annual Lunar New Year celebration used to last for about 2 weeks across two separate periods: seven or eight days of the old year and 7 days of the new year (23 December to the end of January 7).

Just like other Asian countries deeply influenced by Chinese culture, Tet holds a very important, significant meaning in the life of the Vietnamese people for many reasons. For one, it’s an opportunity for a family reunion. It’s often the occasion to welcome family members returning home after working apart all year round. Second, it’s also an opportunity to visit acquaintances, relatives, and friends during the longest leisure time period of the year.

TetImage source: ancarat.com

Getting the Meal Ready

If you asked me which of Tet’s many activities is the most fascinating, I would doubtlessly pick preparing the traditional food.

Tet foods play a vital role in worshipping the ancestors, reuniting the family and receiving the guests during the first three days of the Lunar New Year. Preparing for these dishes requires one to be meticulous and attentive to the particular traditions of your area. As Vietnamese people are creative in the kitchen, the selection of Tet’s food is rich and diverse varying from region to region.

My grandma and mom always bought and prepared loads of food in the week before Tet’s arrival because food plays such a large part in Tet celebration. Vietnamese people always make sure that there is plenty of food for the whole family to last for at least three days since it is taboo to work or cook during the first three days of Tet. It is also bad luck to run out of food during this time.

Let me show you what might be on the typical plate of a Northern Vietnamese family during this coming Tet .

Northern Vietnam’s traditional meal

A complete Northern Tet meal is considered the most traditional meal of all. Hanoi is said to have retained the the highest number of traditional dishes among all the other the northern provinces. A complete meal there calls for preparing a broad number of foods and a sophisticated presentation. Traditionally, the complete Northern Tet meal needs eight dishes—four bowls and four plates—which represent four pillars, four seasons and four directions.

The traditional Hanoian family’s meal has been simplified now compared to the amount of recipes in the past. Nevertheless, there are still some irreplaceable dishes that almost every Northern family will prepare on this special occasion.

TetImage source: murtahil.com

Bánh Chưng (Chưng cakes or Vietnamese square cakes)

This is the most well known cake of the holiday, arguably the most famous Tet dish of them all. Bánh chưng (Vietnamese square cake) is made from glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and other ingredients, which are believed to express the essence of the heaven and the earth through the skillful hands of humans, according to Vietnam’s legendary ancient chief King Hùng Vương. By this belief, making bánh chưng cake is also the ideal way to express gratitude to our ancestors and homeland. It embodies the spirit of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

TetImage source: doanhnhanplus.vn

Vietnamese families love to pack and boil bánh chưng cake together as a household around one week before giao thừa (New Year's Eve). It is also a great chance for family members to gather and spend the night together sharing neverending stories, games and conversations while waiting for the cakes to be boiled.

TetImage source: 3.bp.blogspot.com

My family used to pack and boil bánh chưng years ago in a private corner right in front of our house. This is doubtlessly a precious memory to any kid growing up in the city like me. Because the making of the bánh chưng cake requires participation of all family members, each of us was involved in different parts of the process, but we shared a common joy.

Early in the morning we had to head out to market to choose lá dong (phrynium leaves). To make the cake, you must cleanse them over water, then carefully wipe up every single leaf. If you leave the leaf wet, it might ruin the whole cake.

Packing the cake is even more challenging. Bánh Chưng cake should be tightly and carefully wrapped, boiled for about 14 hours, taken out, soaked in water and squeezed using a heavy plank. That way, when bánh chưng cake is cut, it will be limber but not flabby. It will instead be fleshy and fragrant.

Nowadays, times have changed and it is hard to find a family who packs and boils bánh chưng cake by themselves in the city, but family elders still get first dibs and choose before anyone else so they get the one that’s best cooked. The cake should be made from a fragrant glutinous rice for better longevity.

Watch video of Vietnamese people making of bánh chưng cake:

Video source: Helen's Recipes (Vietnamese Food)

Xôi gấc - Red Sticky Rice

Xôi (Sticky rice) is also an indispensable part of the traditional Northern meal. There’s a selection of different xôi: xôi lạc (sticky rice with peanuts), xôi đậu xanh (sticky rice with mung bean), and my personal favorite xôi gấc (sticky rice with special gấc fruit). Among these types, xôi gấc is in my opinion the best choice thanks to its distinct red color, which signifies a good fortune, according Vietnamese belief.

TetImage source: media.cooky.vn

Generally, xôi gấc is usually served with giò chả (Vietnamese sausage) or boiled chicken in Tet meals. Sometimes it can be served with chè (sweet soup) like a dessert dish. Xôi gấc is a great start for the new year because this dish is believed to bring lots of luck and symbolise good things.

TetImage source: 3.bp.blogspot.com

Dưa hành– Pickled Onions

Fresh pickled onions are often served as a side dish alongside bánh chưng cake or high protein dishes to reduce the greasiness. Foreigners may find this dish, in a word, unfriendly as they often can not handle the alliaceous, intensely oniony smell.

But once you get along with these sweet-but-sour, slightly spicy pickled onions, you just can’t resist them. It helps elevate the flavor of Tet dishes as well as benefit our body’s digestive processes.

TetImage source: static1.squarespace.com

First thing’s first: in order to make standard pickled onions, you need to choose old onions with firm bulbs. Next, soak the onions in water mixed with borax and ash for two days and two nights. After that, take out the onions, cut off the roots, peel them, then put them into a large jar, cover them with salt and then put a thin layer of chopped cane on top. Cover the onions with layers of bamboo. After two weeks, you can get the onion bulbs out, soak them in sugar and vinegar. In three days, your pickled onions will be ready to rock.

Watch video of foreigner first trying dưa hành:

Video source: Zing.vn

Giò Chả, Giò Thủ – Vietnamese sausage, Pork Head Ham

Regardless of regional geography, Vietnamese Tet feast must contains a dish of giò (Vietnamese sausage), one of the most savoury of all Lunar New Year dishes.

Vietnamese sausage (Giò), usually made of pork, from meat finely milled in a stone mortar and wrapped in banana leaves to form a tube shape. It is then boiled or steamed. There’s also giò bò (beef sausage), which is made from finely milled beef, a specialty of central Vietnam. A well cut piece of giò must look neat, nice, and easy to pick up. The plating and presentation of this dish depends on the creativity of cooks.

TetImage source: media.static-adayroi.com

Then you have giò thủ (pork head ham), a Vietnamese sausage made from the meat of a pig’s head. For making giò thủ, pig’s ears and head meat are not milled but diced, and mixed with other ingredients like wood ear (black mushroom), fish sauce, pepper and garlic, all of which are stir fried. They are first fried in a pan, and then stirred well on low heat. Then, wrap the pies in fresh banana leaves, tie them carefully, and boil or steam them just like how we did with giò chả. A well cooked giò thủ dish gets it marble texture with the crunchy cartilage in every bite. This chewy, meaty, crunchy dish endowed with a deep, spicy, strong favour of condiments and garlic is best paired with pickled onions and a cold glass of bia hơi (Vietnamese fresh beer).

TetImage source: jamja.vn

Thịt đông – Frozen Meat

Thịt đông is a dish particular to the winter-spring period of the Northern Vietnam, when the outside temperature is drastically cooler. Thịt đông is made from mixed protein, sometimes from chicken as well as pork and pork skin. After the ingredients are cooked in a pot, they may be left to cool down inside the pot, or divided into small bowls, depending on your preferred serving size. Then it is covered and chilled in the open air to make what you’d agree is one wonderful dish.

TetImage source: baomoi-photo-2-td.zadn.vn

The complete thịt đông dish has a thin white layer of fat on top, and the smooth jelly-like layer of frozen meat underneath. A piece of frozen meat served with pickled onions and a hot bowl of rice makes the true Northern Tet flavor. Frozen meat is typically served with a hot, fragrant bowl of rice as the heat of well-cooked rice melts down the frozen fat and soup. All harmonize into one perfect taste.

Learn how to make your own:

Video source: Feedy VN

Banner Image source: static.vietnammoi.vn


The Banh Xeo: The tantalizing Chameleon of classic Vietnamese Cuisine

By: Mervin Lee

Beyond pho, goi cuon & banh mi, banh xeo is often named as a must-try dish for visitors to Vietnam.

Banh xeo translates literally as “Sizzling Cake”. When reduplicated, xeo xeo (pronounced like “sell-sell”) is an effective Vietnamese onomatopoeia describing the tantalising sizzles or assortment of cracking sounds one might encounter when sauteing or frying food.

Frequently compared to crepes, pancakes and more than often agreed to be a close relative of the Japanese Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)and Korean Jeon (전), these Vietnamese pancakes are commonly filled with a generous amount of bean sprouts, shrimp and slices of pork in Ho Chi Minh City. The most ubiquitous way to eat banh xeo in Saigon is by wrapping them in softened banh trang (Vietnamese rice paper) together with seasonal raw vegetables and dipping the resultant masterpiece in a wide range of sauces that vary depending on stalls, homes and regions. Depending on the region, these sauces vary from fish sauce-based to peanut-based and at times are even made from finely blended liver.

banh xeoCô Chi from Quang Ngai demonstrates how Banh Xeo is made in her hometown.

The key to banh xeo’s sizzle-magic lies in the batter where the identity and ratios of grain powders are kept as family and vendor secrets. Depending on the desired consistency, flavour, crispiness, sponginess and texture upon cooling, banh xeo batter may be made purely from rice flour or even complicated concoctions of rice powder, wheat flour, corn starch and perhaps even tapioca powder.

In most of southern Vietnam and Saigon, banh xeo mien tay (South-western) is a crowd-pleaser with its rich taste due to the liberal use of coconut milk. This style is also universally accepted abroad as the flamboyant mascot of banh xeo.

banh xeoBánh Xèo 46A on Dinh Cong Trang Street, made famous by late Anthony Bourdain.

Depending on the skill of the maker, the edges of Bánh Xèo Miền Tây are often deliberately thinner and crispier than its centre, with every bite exuding a nice burst of coconut fragrance. A yellow hue is achieved by the addition of turmeric powder, and the use of mung beans as a filling serves as a slightly sweet and umami complement. The overwhelming richness of Bánh Xèo Miền Tây coaxes its audiences to consume it with large servings of raw vegetables. This is likely the reason why it happens to be served predominantly with a savoury, fish sauce-based dipping sauce that is often mixed with sour pickles and sometimes a dash of vinegar.

Unbeknownst to many, not every banh xeo is stereotypically folded like a taco. Hailing from Binh Dinh Province, Bánh Xèo Tôm Nhảy of Quy Nhon city is known for being open-faced.

banh xeoBánh Xèo Dư, a trending Bánh Xèo establishment in Bình Thạnh district specialising in open-faced Bánh Xèo Quy Nhơn.

Unlike its southern Vietnamese counterpart, this central Vietnamese rendition of the popular snack replaces pork with thin slices of seasoned lean beef and replaces mung beans with onions and scallions. Medium-small shrimp are preferred because of the smaller pan size. The name tôm nhảy literally translates to “jumping shrimp”, so freshness of seafood is paramount. Most makers in Quy Nhon insist on milling rice flour by hand since freshly-ground rice powder purportedly results in a crunchiness that persists for a long time even after cooling. The contrast between its crunchy crust and soft, congee-like interior makes this rendition a winner in terms of texture.

banh xeoBánh Xèo Cầu Ván, a long time establishment & local favourite in Tân Phú district.

Another style from Quang Ngai province changes the textural experience with its inclusion of eggs.Best described as crepe-like or perhaps an omelette, the banh xeo of Quang Ngai is the antithesis of other more common styles. Slightly fluffy, these are a serious treat if you are an egg-lover. One notable peculiarity is how finely chopped scallions are added to the batter before the cooking process, elevating the fragrance of the piping fresh banh xeo.

banh xeoCô Chi’s Banh Xeo Quang Ngai

The origins of these pancakes remain a mystery, but rumour has it that the southern coconut milk batter rendition hails from Khmer cooking, and the smaller and somewhat more adorable central varieties are said to be a culinary hybrid resulting from interaction between the Central Highlanders of Gia Lai Province, the ethnic Vietnamese and also the Cham citizens of Bình Định province during the days when the Champa Kingdom reigned in Central Vietnam.

In conclusion, it would be safe to say that it would take an exceptionally long time if one’s mission would to be to sample all variations of this fascinatingly simple yet appetizing dish. Banh xeo authenticity is highly debatable and hundreds of variations exist even in a single city of origin. However, it is hard to deny that it is almost always consumed with raw vegetables and a regional sauce for gastronomical balance.

Such differences in preparation and cooking process illustrate the exciting contrasts in tastes and ingredients that can exist even across a span of a few hundred kilometres. Yet another reason to discover the next banh xeo surprise on your next visit to Vietnam!

Locations featured

Bánh Xèo Cầu Ván - 211 Lũy Bán Bích, Tân Thới Hoà, Tân Phú, Hồ Chí Minh
Bánh Xèo 46A - 46A Đinh Công Tráng, Tân Định, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Bánh Xèo Dư - 274 Nguyễn Văn Đậu, Phường 11, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh
Bánh Xèo Quảng Ngãi Cô Chi - 468 Bùi Đình Túy, Phường 12, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh

Image source: Mervin Lee


Vietnam’s Food Exports: High Output, Low Value

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Vietnamese people drink tea on a daily basis, and you’ve probably tasted the slightly bitter Vietnamese green tea, not to mention its watered-down iced version in Saigon’s restaurants. But have you ever heard of a brand of Vietnamese tea?

Even though Vietnam is one of the top 10 tea exporters in the world, branded, industrially produced tea is still a foreign concept.

Thang*, a former employee of Vinatea JSC, the largest tea producer and exporter in Vietnam, talked to us about the market for Vietnamese tea. The company exports to over 50 countries. The biggest markets are Pakistan, Taiwan and Russia.

food exportImage source: cdn.pixabay.com

“Most of the tea products from Vietnam are exported under our brand, but they are not final products for direct consumption. The high volume exports are black tea in primary forms, used as ingredients for further processing by the importers, to add more value and suit their customers’ taste,” Thang said.

Video source: Vietnamese SMEs Support Program VIETRADE

“We still lack the final-stage technology to produce black tea for consumption, so our products are exported at a low value. We only process green tea and some speciality varieties such as oolong tea for consumer products, but the output is low.” He added: “Green tea and black tea are produced from the same plant, but with different technical processes.”

food exportImage source: 1.bp.blogspot.com

With more than 125,000 hectares of tea plants in Northern and Central mountain provinces, such as Thai Nguyen, Son La and Lam Dong, Vietnam produces more tea for export than for domestic consumption.

Thang explained, “In these mountainous provinces, the land is most suitable for growing tea plants, so the plant provides the livelihood for the people there. That’s why we grow more tea than we consume domestically.”

Chasing After High Value

However, high quantity doesn’t equal high value, and the story of Vietnamese tea is also typical of other agricultural products aimed at exports.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nguyen Xuan Cuong, told Vietnamnet that even though Vietnam is one of the 15 largest agricultural exporters in the world, 90 percent of export products are in “crude” form, with a low level of processing and low value. These products are often further processed and distributed under foreign brands, bringing the added value to the importers.

food exportImage source: media.bizwebmedia.net

For example, according to the Vietnam Cashew Association, Vietnam has been the number one cashew exporter for the past 12 years, processing more than 50 percent of the world’s output. However, Vietnam only participates in the preliminary processing stage, equal to 18 percent of the value chain. The most profitable stages of salt roasting and distribution, accounting for a total of 60 percent in value, are not the strengths of Vietnamese companies.

Vietnam is also the second-largest coffee exporter of the world, behind Brazil, taking up 10.5 percent of global coffee exports. However, according to the Vietnam Coffee-Cocoa Association (Vicofa), processed, roasted, ground and instant coffee only account for over 10 percent of total export value.

Jonas van Binsbergen, owner of Shalom Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City, who has had many years working with Thai Hoa Group and contributed to making it one of the largest private coffee exporters in Vietnam, said that the company produced and exported for big global brands such as Nestle, Kraft Foods and Lavazza.

Video source: Nestlé

Similarly, though vegetable and fruit exports reached their highest ever peak of US$3.45 billion in 2017, Vietnam mainly exports fresh vegetables and fruits, with few companies investing in processing technology.

Due to the short storage time of fresh products, most vegetable and fruit exports from Vietnam go to China, the largest importer with over 75 percent market share.

Defining Quality

Another challenge is in ensuring the quality of export products, especially regarding food safety. Quality assurance in every stage of production and packaging is the first step for Vietnam’s agricultural products to penetrate more discerning markets.

Binsbergen said, “A lot of [previously] state-owned enterprises are active in inspecting export products, such as CafeControl and VinaControl.” Industry groups including Vicofa are also involved in setting standards. On the other hand, inspection on the importing side is not done by the government of the destination country. “Usually the buyers have, and inspect by, their own standard.”

food exportImage source: coffeehunter.com

As Thang put it, “Quality of tea depends on everything from the material to the process. There is a right time to harvest the tea buds and to bring them into processing. We must also follow industry standard and international standard, including criteria for food safety such as pesticide residue and concentration of metal elements.”

This has to be done at the local farms and factories, before delivery to headquarters for packaging and shipping. Thang also shared how each importer has different requirements for packaging. For example, some require five protection wrapping layers or wooden boxes, and for consumer products, some specify exactly how they want the tea bags made.

Without proper investment in processing and packaging technology, as well as development in marketing and branding solutions, Vietnamese agricultural exporters will likely remain in the lower links of the global value chain.

This also applies to the domestic market with an increasing presence of international brands, filling in the gaps for processed food that local producers are leaving open.

*Name has been changed.

Banner Image source: edfman.com


Food Bank Vietnam: Leading the Fight against Food Waste

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Sitting on a street corner in Saigon, it’s easy to catch the sight of street children polishing shoes and old women selling lottery tickets. These are just a few among the many Vietnamese people who may also struggle to put food on their tables every single day. Statistics from the Vietnamese Fatherland Front show that in the first half of 2017, there were 574,000 people suffering from hunger in Vietnam.

organic wasteImage source: blog.frankiefoto.com

On the other hand, food waste is a widespread issue throughout the country at almost all stages of the supply chain. A survey by Electrolux on 4,000 households in eight Asia-Pacific countries suggested that Vietnam is the second largest producer of food waste in the region, behind China. 87 percent of the households admitted that they waste two plates of food per week on average.

There are many reasons why Vietnamese people waste so much food. Culturally, preparing more food than necessary is considered a gesture of hospitality and generosity. This has become a custom not only in families but also in restaurants and ceremonies. While Vietnamese people have a habit of saving leftovers for the next meals, nearly 50 percent of people surveyed said that they often forget about excess food or fresh ingredients left in the fridge.

organic wasteImage source: baoquocte.vn

A considerable amount of food is also lost or damaged during production, storing, transportation and distribution, due to the lack of investment in technology and infrastructure. The preference for fresh food also means that items more than a day old, though still safe to eat, are too easily considered garbage and thrown away because no one is buying them.

In Ho Chi Minh City alone, food waste accounts for more than 60 percent of the city’s 8,300 tons of solid waste per day. In previous City Pass Guide reporting, Nguyen Toan Thang, Director of HCMC Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said that up to 76 percent of this waste ends up getting buried in the city’s vast landfills, which leads to severe air, water and soil pollution in the surrounding area.

organic wasteImage source: i.imgur.com

Until now, there has been no concerted effort to collect unwanted food and distribute it to those in need, thereby preventing it from becoming waste. This is where Food Bank Vietnam steps in.

Project founder Nguyen Tuan Khoi shared his vision for Food Bank Vietnam. “We want to build not only a charity project distributing food for poor and disadvantaged people, but we also aim to engage businesses such as restaurants, food producers and supermarkets, in the movement to save food, avoid wastage and supply food for the people who actually need it,” he said.

The project is a non-profit project established by Development and Sharing Foods (DSF) and C.P. Vietnam. C.P. Vietnam is a branch of Thailand-based C.P. Group, one of the largest Thai conglomerates in agriculture and food processing.

To do this, Food Bank Vietnam plans to start with supporting ten community houses and homeless centers in 2018, by providing them with free food, such as pork and rice, on a regular basis. It will also organize cooking sessions with the ingredients collected from donors, and distribute the meals to disadvantaged groups in Saigon through the help of a team of volunteers.

organic wasteImage source: ibb.co

In April 2018, Food Bank Vietnam will organize a seminar called Chong lang phi thuc pham (Fighting Food Waste) for representatives from the food and beverage industry to raise awareness among them about reducing food waste and ask for them to redirect their excess food from the waste stream.

In the long term, it plans to develop a system of “Mobile Food Banks”, or stations to receive and give out free food, as well as “Food Bank Eateries”, selling low-priced meals for the disadvantaged throughout the country.

Another important part of the project is to build an emergency food bank to provide food during natural disasters, such as floods and hurricanes, which happen every year in Vietnam. With support from the Vietnamese Committee of Red Cross and the Youth Social Work Centre, the project founder is optimistic that this is achievable within five years and will be sustainable in the future.

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How to Unite the World's Vietnamese Food Lovers

By: Keely Burkey

Why did you start Vietnamese Food Lovers (VFL)?

Because for over 11 years, as I’ve promoted Vietnam with City Pass Guide, I’ve come to the conclusion that tourism in the country is portrayed all wrong. The essence of what makes Vietnam a special place isn’t its attractions or its monuments or its landmarks. What really makes it stand out is the people and the food. You can’t really export people too much, but you can export food, and Vietnam definitely has one of the most interesting cuisines—especially now that everyone is becoming aware of the importance of eating healthier. Green, light food, diverse food, easy, simple but fresh, which are attributes of the Vietnamese cuisine.

foodImage source: The Gourmet Gourmand

How will VFL change the experience of eating Vietnamese food?

I hope that we will be able to support the Vietnamese restaurants in order to ensure higher quality and safety standards, an important area in which improvement must be made. Our aim is really to make a stand for Vietnamese cuisine worldwide.

How do you plan to do that?

It’s a long-term goal that requires ample resources and time. And this is what we’re currently building. Vietnamese Food Lovers aims to recruit the best food supply chain stakeholders and to work together with them to support the promotion of Vietnamese cuisine and food, not only marketing-wise, but sales-wise. Vietnamese Food Lovers plans to be active in international trade fairs for hospitality, F&B sectors, gastronomy and other related trade fairs. The aim is to help local producers who are producing quality food-related products to export to the rest of the world. Vietnam has not yet tapped into this huge potential in this huge industry.

foodImage source: serenitydentalclinic.com

Why do you think Vietnamese cuisine isn’t more widely celebrated in the world?

I think it’s a combination of things. First, Vietnam has truly opened its doors to the rest of the world only for the last 25 years. And for the first 10 years, tourism was very minimal. The second reason is that to make good Vietnamese food you require some basic raw ingredients that are still not yet available in most countries around the world.

VFL now has a website. What’s the purpose of the website, and what can foodies get out of it?

We just launched the English version, with a Vietnamese version coming soon. Basically, the website aims to be a one-door portal where demand and supply can meet in order to do more Vietnamese cooking. That includes recipes, a very large database of food suppliers from around the world, a large database of restaurants and hotels that have an interest in Vietnamese cuisine, and daily news and films and data that is relevant to Vietnamese Food Lovers.

foodImage source: vietnamtastelondon.com

What are your goals for VFL by 2020?

By 2020 Vietnamese Food Lovers will have organised over eight Vietnamese Food Festivals across Vietnam. We will have received a million pledges of Vietnamese food lovers around the world. Vietnamese Food Lovers will be the largest database of food supply chain and demand contacts worldwide, so we can unite all Vietnamese food lovers under one portal. It will be the largest media agency responsible for promoting both Vietnamese cuisine and Vietnam’s finest food producers.

Banner image source: serenitydentalclinic.com

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