Essential Vietnamese New Year Foods - Southern food

By: Nhu Tong

Have you ever tried Southern Vietnamese foods? If you could only use a few words to describe your Southern dish, what would they be? For some people, the answer is clear: rich, flavorful and sweet!

We have gotten to know more about Northern and Central Lunar New Year foods in the previous articles, so let’s head down to our last stop: Southern Vietnam.

Diverse Natural Resources Result in Flavour Richness

We all know that regional cuisines differ according to the climate and local products. So in Southern Vietnam, the abundance of rice, fresh fruits, veggies as well as coconuts are reflected in the dishes of this region, which tend to emphasize sweeter flavors.

southern foodImage source: vietnamworldheritages.com

The warm weather and fertile soil of Southern Vietnam create an ideal condition for growing various fruits, vegetables, and raising livestock. As a result, food in Southern Vietnam gets a more vibrant flavor profile with the generous use of garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs.

Additionally, thanks to the widespread use of coconut and sugarcane, sugar is added to more food here than anywhere else in the country giving the dishes a distinctly sweet taste—just like how sweet and friendly Southern people are.

Bánh Tét (Tet Cake or Vietnamese Round Glutinous Rice Cake)

If bánh chưng is an indispensable part of Northerner’s Tet, bánh tét plays the same vital role in Central and South Vietnam. Year after year during Tet holiday, Southern families enjoy this Tet cake, the central dish of the Southern Tet celebration.

According to Southern people's belief, bánh tét is a symbol of a prosperous life. That’s why it is considered a New Year specialty although its available throughout the year.

As we have talked about Central bánh tét in the previous article. In this article, I’m going to introduce you something totally new! The Southern version of bánh tét that isn’t well known by foreigners. This sweet and vegetarian dish is called bánh tét ngọt.

Basically, bánh tét ngọt is the ordinary bánh tét but filled with vegetarian ingredients like banana, back mung bean, mung bean instead of pork.

southern foodImage source: st.phunuonline.com.vn

The process of making bánh tét is time consuming and provides an opportunity for family members to catch up, bond and revel in the holiday spirit. In preparing this dish, glutinous rice must be carefully chosen and washed before being stir fried with coconut milk and some salt. Then the hardest part comes, filling the cake. The exact taste of the cake’s insides is up to you. This could be savory or sweet depending on the taste of each family.

Watch how Southern people make their special bánh tét:

Video source: RunAwayRice

Bánh tét ngọt also differs from region to region, as locals tend to base their recipes on what natural ingredients are close at hand put their own hallmark spin on bánh tét. For example, Can Tho is famous for its unique bánh tét lá cẩm (violet Tet cake). This bánh tét's sticky rice is soaked in purple water colured by lá cẩm (magenta leaves), which gives the cake a more eye-catching, charming purple appearance. Inside the cake, there are tasty ingredients such as mung bean, black mung bean, and sometimes salted egg yolks. All are tightly and beautifully wrapped in banana leaves. The cake is cut into pieces, which show the dark purple of banana, the yellow of green bean, and the orange of egg. The flavour of glutinous rice cake is tender and tasty.

Some just make Tet cakes for family consumption and gifts, some make it for businesses, and some have become artisans by elevating their Tet cake making to a craft.

Video source: Cooky TV

Củ kiệu tôm khô (Pickled Scallion Heads Served with Dried Shrimp)

If Central’s people like to savor bánh tét with dưa món (pickled vegetables), Southern people love to enrich their sense of taste with pickled scallion heads and dried shrimp. Even as early as mid December, the housewives have already bought scallion heads in preparation for Tet.

This rustic yet simple-looking dish, contrary to popular belief, requires an extra meticulous cooking process.

southern foodImage source: static1.bestie.vn

First things first: scallion heads are soaked for hours in water. Then the roots are carefully washed and then exposed to the sun until their leaves turn dry and wilt. Next, all the scallion heads are put into a clean jar. One layer of sugar is covered with one layer of scallion heads. After placing all the ingredients together, one must leave the jar in a dry area for about 10 days until the scallion heads are slowly fermented and eventually are ready to be taken out.

southern foodImage source: thucthan.com

Finally, one serving dish of củ kiệu isn’t complete without some dried shrimp on top. Make sure to prepare more dried shrimp in advance for our littlest diners. I assure you kids will definitely be fond of this savoury, sweet and sour dish.

And there it is! Your Southern Tet feast is halfway finished!

Thịt kho Tàu / Thịt kho hột vịt (Pork Braised With Eggs and Coconut Water)

This Vietnamese dish of braised pork with egg and coconut milk is best cooked by the Southern people. Just like other Southern housewives, my mom, a true Southerner, would prepare a giant pot of pork braised with eggs, enough for the whole family to eat during Tết.

Two days before the Lunar New Year’s Eve, my mom would go to the nearby markets early in the morning to choose the ingredients: the best meat, eggs, as well some coconuts for her giant pot of thịt kho hột vịt.

Making Southern thịt kho hột vịt is not too challenging if you just follow some tips. After watching my mom make it for years, here are some good tips that I can offer.

southern foodImage source: ukcdn.ar-cdn.com

In order to make the most delicious braised pork dish, you must choose the ingredients wisely. Pork belly must contain both fat and lean meat, or it will get unsuitably dry during the long cooking storage. This meat must be cut into large pieces, marinated with spices and fish sauce for about 30 minutes. While waiting for the meat to become thoroughly soaked, boil the eggs and remove shells.

To start, heat up your pot, then boil fresh coconut water and add cold water if needed. Then put all the marinated pork into the pot, cook until the meat becomes soft. Now it’s time for the next step, putting the eggs into the pot. Finally, season it to match your family's taste and simmer the food until the meat becomes super tender.

The finished dish of pork braised with egg and coconut water is considered properly done if it has these two qualities: an eye-catching and distinct golden brown color and well-seasoned, tender meat.

Learn how to make your own dish:

Video source: Jamie Oliver

This is a dish were cooks have some leeway to give it their own style and spin. For example, some Southerners love to dry pork belly in the sun before braising and some others like to braise their protein with scraped coconut meat. But my mom’s recipe is done without either step.

This dish is best paired with pickled scallion heads and a fragrant hot bowl of rice.

Canh khổ qua dồn thịt (Bitter melon Stuffed With Meat Soup)

You might be wondering why superstitious people like the Vietnamese would choose a bitter dish for their very first start of year. This might surprise you, but canh khổ qua dồn thịt is a significant part of Southern Vietnamese spirituality.

It may look simple at the outside, but bitter melon stuffed with meat contains many spiritual elements according to the Southerners’ belief system. In Vietnamese, “khổ” means “hardship”, and “qua” means “pass”. So basically, Southern people eat this dish in the first days of the New Year with the hope that unlucky things in the old year will pass and that they will welcome a peaceful new year.

southern foodImage source: orsimages.unileversolutions.com

Bitter melon has a nutritious blend of bitter and sweet flavors.

Additionally, canh khổ qua dồn thịt is also good for health thanks to the cool-tasting broth, which is a relief amid the humid and warm weather in Southern Vietnam. This food is believed to help lower the heat inside our body.

Make yourself a bowl of bitter melon stuffed with meat soup:

Video source: Helen's Recipes (Vietnamese Food)

Banner Image source: static.bongdacuocsong.net


Experience Australian Food Culture in Vietnam with Taste of Australia

By: Molly Headley

Taste of Australia, the much-anticipated celebration of Australian food, drinks and culture in Vietnam, officially got a running start on April 23rd with a Media Launch hosted by Australian Consul-General Julianne Cowley.

The festival spans the month of May with events in Hanoi, Danang, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City to share the diversity of Australian food culture with North, Central and Southern Vietnam. A partnership between the Australian Government and numerous sponsors, producers, restaurants and distributors, Taste of Australia will embark upon 20 official events while many Australian owned businesses throughout the country will create their own Taste of Australia inspired menus and promotions.

Taste of Australia Launches in Saigon with Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa

Participants at the Media Launch were treated to a Master cooking class with Vietnamese-Australian, Celebrity Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa at GRAIN Cooking Studio in Saigon’s District 1. The menu included three courses, which showcased a fusion of Australian ingredients and wine pairings with Vietnamese twists. Each course—Father Land, Mother Sea and Southeast Moment—brought to light some of Australia’s most well-known imports like beef and king prawns.

Taste of AustraliaAt Grain Cooking Studio with Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa

Chef Ngo Thanh Hoa’s dual roots inspired the first course entitled “Father Land”, which was an Australian beef salad with beetroot, Australian grapes, cherry tomatoes, red radish, roasted rice-lemongrass, galangal, ginger and chili-garlic, palm sugar dressing. The dish, prepared by participants per the Chef’s instructions, was an explosion of Vietnamese and Australian flavours; an excellent display of how the cuisines of the two countries can interact with aplomb.

Taste of AustraliaThe author preparing Australian Beef Salad

Andy Wall and Jackie Lam, the couple behind RADA wines, were on hand to explain their choice of pairing a white Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon from Hunter Valley, Australia with the beef.

“Most people are surprised to see a white paired with beef rather than a red”, Wall said. “But we chose this wine to show that it is also possible for a white wine to bring out the beautiful sweet and sour flavours of the meat.”

Taste of AustraliaChef Ngo Thanh Hoa showing how to properly simmer the Australian beef

Safe and Sustainable Australian Products in Vietnam

RADA, which stands for Really Affordable, Deliciously Australian, is one of the key wine sponsors of Taste of Australia. Their wines, available at https://www.ilovewines.vn/, feature varietals from all regions of Australia. Some of the more interesting references that will be used during Taste of Australia events are the organic and bio-dynamic wines.

Australia has a long-standing reputation for health-conscious products and wines are no exception. For those unfamiliar with the term, biodynamic is a form of agriculture that goes a step further than organic. It includes techniques for soil regeneration, ethical farming practices and holistic composting.

One of the pillars of the Taste of Australia event is to “Reinforce Australia’s international reputation as a supplier of food and beverages that are high-quality, safe and sustainable.

Australian Consul-General in Vietnam Julianne Cowley said “Australia and Vietnam are natural food partners because of proximity. We are able to import food directly from Paddock to Plate.” She explained that the idea behind this concept is that the faster growers are able to get the products to consumers the fresher the food will be. This is part of what gives Australia an upper hand in its reputation as being safe, clean and trusted.

Australia’s top imports into Vietnam are barley, malt and beef. The first two speak to the strong craft beer scene at play between the two countries, many of which will be available for consumption at the Taste of Australia events. Wheat is another strong contender, with as much as 70 percent of the wheat in any given banh mi coming from Australia, according to Consul-General Cowley.

Consul-General Cowley finished off the Media Launch with this statement: “It’s a very important part of our culture to invite friends and family to enjoy food together and this is also an important part of Vietnamese culture.”

This is certainly something that Taste of Australia Ambassadors such as Celebrity Chefs Luke Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Hoa have taken to heart with their smart-casual style of dining that makes their cuisine accessible and enjoyable in both Australia and Vietnam.

We, at City Pass Guide, are certainly looking forward to seeing how the Australian foodie month plays out while preparing our appetites for the gastronomic revelry to come!

Taste of AustraliaMedia participants at the Taste of Australia Launch with Australian Consul-General in Vietnam Julianne Cowley

Taste of Australia Event Schedule

For a full schedule of events, including special menus at participating restaurants and Australian business promotions, and booking information, go to Taste of Australia’s official Facebook page.

05 May
The 2019 festival kicks off on the beaches of Danang with the Taste of Australia Community BBQ at The Ocean Villas.

09 May
Australia’s finest do black-tie at the Taste of Australia Gala in Hanoi at Melia Hotel, Hanoi.

10 May
Travellers can enjoy a Taste of Australia Themed Jetstar Flight between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

10 May

The Gala comes to Ho Chi Minh City at Park Hyatt Saigon. We’ve heard rumours that a Perfetto Cafe Cocktail will be served.

11 May
Register now for this epic Taste of Australia NOSH Supperclub Dinner at Luke Nguyen’s GRAIN Cooking Studio. Only 70 available places for this celebration of all things Australian.

17 (HCMC), 21 (Danang), 23 (Hanoi) May
Wine Masterclass with Australian Master Wine Trainer Virginia Jacobs.

18 May
Taste of Australia Twilight Cinema at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi.

19 May
Australian Wine and Food Journey at Park Hyatt Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City.

21 May
Taste of Australia’s Culinary Competition heats up with the preliminary competitions in HCMC, Hanoi, Danang and Nha Trang. What’s at stake here? Two Vietnamese culinary students will have the chance to win a scholarship to study at a famous hospitality and culinary institute in Australia.

24 May
Taste of Australia Culinary Competition Final at Le Méridien Saigon hotel.

1 June
Showcase in Hanoi with Adam Liaw, winner of MasterChef Australia 2010.

Image source: Taste of Australia


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.

Banner Image source: markhamreview.com


2016 Valentine’s Day Deals in Vietnam

By: Trung Vo

Love is everywhere this season! Valentine’s Day is approaching fast - do you know what you’ll be doing for you special someone? Check out our lovely Vietnamese Valentine’s Day deals below - we chose the most romantic venues and the best offers so you won’t be running around like mad this February 14th. Moreover, for local insight and extra information about great dining places, lovely sights and cool drinks, see the rest of our website, where you can always find some places to fit you and your partner. Put on your best suit/dress and impress your loved ones with your marvelous preparation.


SHERATON HANOI HOTEL

Time: 6th - 14th February

Oven D’or Restaurant

  • VND1,300,000 ++/ set, includes 01 glass of Rose sparkling wine, free flow of beer, wine and soft drinks.

Hemispheres Restaurant

  • VND3,000,000++/set (wine pairing set dinner)

Reservation and more


SOFITEL PLAZA HANOI

Summit Romance

A magnifique date with roses, flavorful cocktails, desserts with live entertainment under the star-studded sky.

- Venue: Summit Lounge, 20th floor

- Price: VND880,000++/couple

Romantic Dinner

A lovely dinner with Champagne Cocktail, Seafood and Carvery Buffet plus special gifts for the ladies and live violin performance.

- Venue: Brasserie Westlake Restaurant

- Price: VND2,250,000++/couple

Reservation and more


HOTEL DE L'OPERA HANOI - MGALLERY

Some Enchanted Evening

Venue: Cafe Lautrec

Price: VND1,400,000++/person, five-course menu and a glass of champagne.

Reservation and more


HILTON HANOI OPERA

Immersed in a truly romantic atmosphere, enjoy this special menu for Valentine’s Day with your loved one at Hilton Hanoi Opera.

Price: VND1,355,000++/couple (included 02 glasses of champagne/wine/beer)

Additional beverage packages:

- VND300,000++/person for free flow of champagne, house wine, beer, soft drink.

- VND200,000++/person for free flow of house wine, beer, soft drink.

Express your feeling to your sweetheart in a unique way and make this an unforgettable day for both of you.

Combo of Valentine cakes with tea/coffee: VND250,000++ at Lobby Lounge Hilton Hanoi Opera

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL DANANG PREMIER HAN RIVER

- Package 1: The Cupid's Arrow – Priced at VND 1,999,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at The Square Restaurant (level 4)

- Package 2: Endless Love – Priced at VND 2,333,000++/couple 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Premier Executive Lounge (level 29)

Reservation and more


NOVOTEL NHA TRANG

Be my Valentine

Special dinner by the pool for VND 735,000++/ person, includes chocolate, 5 dishes with pairing wines and romantic live acoustic music.

Reservation and more


NEW WORLD SAIGON HOTEL

In the Mood for Love

Time: 14th February 2016

- Parkview: Lunch buffet for VND610,000++/person- Dinner buffet for VND910,000++/person, feature seafood including lobster, sparkling wine, chocolate, and a keepsake photo to mark the occasion.

- Dynasty: Set menu for two for VND1,500,000++/ couple, inclusive of complimentary sparkling wine, on-premise photos and a takeaway gift.

Reservation and more


LE MÉRIDIEN SAIGON

Valentine 2016 is coming along with the Lunar New Year, on this 14 February, choose out of the couple Romantic Valentine’s dinners at Le Méridien Saigon:

- Latest Recipe – Dinner Buffet from VND1,100,000++ per person

- Bamboo Chic – Set Menu from VND1,300,000++ per person

Complimentary a lovely rose and a glass of Champagne for couples.

Reservation and more


INTERCONTINENTAL ASIANA SAIGON

Romantic Valentine’s Day

February 14th from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

- Market 39: Buffet dinner from VDN1,688,000++/person, includes free flow of champagne, wine, beer and soft drinks.

- Residences: Romantic Set Menu for VND1,488,000++/person and VND2,800,000++/couple, includes two glasses of Bollinger Rose champagne, free flow of beer or house wine.

Reservation and more


EASTIN GRAND HOTEL

Sweet Indulgence, Sweet Valentine

Time: February 1st- 15th

Accommodation: VND1,800,000++/couple, inclusive of:

- Accommodation with an upgrade to Deluxe Room for an overnight stay or day use

- Breakfast Buffet for 2 persons

- Complimentary bottle of sparkling wine when dining at the Grand Buffet Dinner or enjoy 25% off our Grand Buffet Dinner

Reservation and more


THE LOG RESTAURANT AT ROOFTOP GEM CENTER

A Sweet Love Story on a “Tree - House”

A detectable candlelit night out filled with roses, indulge in the irresistible flavors of premium culinary cuisine at the unique rooftop dining space.

- Set Menu: VND1,400,000++/pax, 5 courses featuring Duck Breast Stuffed With Foie Gras Served With Melon Salad In Honey Sauce, Grilled Lobster In Orange Butter Sauce, Baked Tenderloin In Apple Sauce...

- Buffet dinner: VND1,600,000++/pax dinner with more than 120 amazingly delicious dishes. Full of choices from fresh seafood such as lobsters, oysters, crabs…to an array of mouthwatering international dishes, freshly made soups, salads and even dim sum.

Price includes free flow of soft drinks

Reservation and more


LA VILLA FRENCH RESTAURANT

Special Valentine Menu prepared by Chef Thierry Mounon

Price: VND1,990,000++/person (violin players during dinner)

Reservation and more



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


Why Is Food So Cheap in Vietnam?

By: Arik Jahn

A bánh mì for VND15,000? A coffee for VND15,000? If you’re on a budget, look no further than Vietnam! Prices for food and drinks, as well as the general cost of living, are so unbeatably cheap that Vietnam was recently named the world’s most affordable country for foreigners. And the best part is: you’ll eat well!

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

Accommodation, transport, sightseeing, food and drinks… budget tourism site Price of Travel has recently estimated a backpacker’s daily expenses in Hanoi at VND500,000. That’s less than the entrance fee to visit the Tower of London—in pounds!

Online institution Numbeo estimates that the cost of living in Vietnam is 45.71 percent lower than in the US.

Food makes up a good part of this. The usual Saigonese office lunch, for instance, offers a range of local specialities from cơm tấm to hủ tiếu at VND35,000, often including a soup as a starter and a small dessert. While portions are not US-sized, this three-course meal does fill you up; and it is delicious!

If you think these bargains are limited to street food, think again. Even more sophisticated eateries up to Vietnam’s dining temples are highly affordable compared to international prices. For local fare, you’ll rarely pay more than VND250,000 per dish.

One simple question arises:

Why Is Food in Vietnam So Cheap?

Vietnamese Food Is Inexpensive by Nature

Vietnamese cuisine is fresh and light in character. Following a deeply rooted food philosophy that aims at harmonising yin and yang through nutrition, nearly all Vietnamese dishes perfectly balance out greens and vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates. Portions are not humongous like in other parts of the world, but stomach-filling.

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

The recipes, on the other hand, have often been passed down from previous generations who lived a simple life, relying heavily on locally sourced ingredients you’ll find on pretty much any street market at prices that truly amaze.

A 10-pack of eggs merely puts you back VND25,000. You could easily buy a whole bagful of vegetables like carrots or local greens, or fruits like bananas or passion fruits and not spend more than VND60,000. And a country with a coastline of 3,440 kilometres is never short of the freshest and cheapest seafood.

Nature is so kind to abundantly provide Vietnamese gastronomy with everything it needs. A trip to the Mekong Delta is enough to understand just how rich and fertile the Vietnamese soil is. This country is quite simply a food paradise on earth!

Cheap Work = Cheap Food

Another reason for the cheap food prices is the same as for the affordability of life in Vietnam in general: wages are rising, but still low on an international scale. Consequently, the labour cost that goes into your lunch is considerably lower than in other countries, which beats down the prices and also creates a demand for reasonably priced food. If you earn VND4 millions per month, you won’t spend more than a dollar or two on your daily eating. So there are also vendors who cater to that demand.

Check the video below for cheap and tasty street food under $1 in Saigon:

Video source: Best Ever Food Review Show

A Lack of Food Safety?

Lastly, there’s also a downside to the spectacular prices: food safety is not Vietnam’s strong suit. Paying less attention to hygiene ultimately means a lower cost. The main problems are the use of pesticides, lack of refrigeration and insufficient storage systems, as well as hygiene violations during food processing and cooking.

vietnamese foodImage source: cntraveler.com

While any consumer in Vietnam should keep this in mind, it would be wrong to distrust the whole industry—and even more wrong to refrain from indulging in all the goodness offered on the street side! Just use your common sense. If a place looks dirty or obviously lacks proper hygiene standards, don’t go. Well-frequented street vendors and restaurants are usually safe.

Eating Well

The good news is: Vietnam—and especially its urban centres Hanoi and Saigon—gives you all the options. If you want to have lunch for VND20,000, you’ll find that. If you’re willing to pay top prices for top-quality international fare, you’ll also find that, cheaper than in many other countries. However, the best choice is, as so often, the happy medium.

vietnamese foodImage source: migrationology.com

Vietnam has plenty of mid-range street restaurants that are fixed in a house or on a street corner. Prices hover around VND30,000-70,000 per dish, food quality is good and the taste is to drop to your knees for. And after all, three dollars for a full-blown, savoury meal is not too bad, is it?

So do look out for those charming little bún chả or cơm tấm, cao lầu or bún bò Huế, mì quảng or bánh xèo places that get crowded at lunch- and dinnertime. This is where you’ll truly experience the culinary genius of Vietnam’s multifaceted, healthy and flavour-bursting cuisine.

Video source: Steve's Kitchen

Banner image source: asiatravel.biz

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