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


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


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



The Story of Tương: Vietnamese Fermented Soybean Paste

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Many people believe that shrimp paste, a typical dipping sauce of Northern Vietnamese villages, is the best sauce to pair with tofu. But since I was a child, I have always preferred my tofu to be dipped in fermented soybean paste, or tương, because its sweeter, lighter smell and taste reminds me of my grandmother, who used to make it at home.

This traditional dipping sauce enjoyed by vegetarian Buddhists is now less popular in the cities, and the recipes and techniques to make good tương are only handed down within individual families. But if you get a chance to try it and compare its taste to other fermented soybean pastes, like miso in Japan and doenjang in Korea, you will find a common, treasured food tradition.

How is it made?

The sauce has a high nutritional value because it is made from soybeans fermented with a type of mold or fungi. To make this mold, sticky rice is steamed, or alternatively, ordinary rice is cooked with less water than usual, and then scattered on a woven tray and covered with leaves to keep the heat. The rice is left to ferment for approximately 7-10 days.

Each family and each region has its own method to make the mold, but the basic principle is the same: fermented rice will generate heat and create an ideal condition for the fungi to grow. Scientists call this type of fungus A. oryzae. It’s also known as koji. This fungi helps to transform rice starch into glucose, resulting in a powdery mixture with a nice golden color and a sweet taste. It is important to keep track of the mold as it develops on the rice, as sometimes other, possibly toxic, types of fungi might develop as well, which will need to be removed.

soybeanImage source: topplus.vn

At the same time, soybeans are roasted and pounded or ground into pieces, and then boiled with water and poured into clay jars. The jars are then covered and put in a sunny ventilated place to ferment. When the rice mold is fully developed, it is mixed into the jars, and the fermentation process will continue for at least 15 to 20 days to create the final product, fermented soybean paste.

soybeanImage source: sapaviet.net

Salt is an indispensable ingredient. Adding the proper amount of salt is important to ensure good taste and long storage time. Salt can be mixed with the mold after it is ready, or added directly into the jar. Either way, the end result is a perfect combination of salty, sweet, and the umami flavour of fermented soybeans.

Watch a traditional fermentation method:

Video source: VTC14 - Thời tiết - Môi trường & Đời sống

Where can you find it?

In Vietnam, fermented soybean paste is mainly used as dipping sauce for dishes served with rice, such as tofu and boiled vegetables. It can also be used as a seasoning when cooking braised fish or braised vegetables. Especially in the North, bánh đúc lạc is a popular snack in rural markets. It is a savoury cake made of rice flour and peanuts, which is then dipped in fermented soybean paste.

soybeanImage source: 1946.vn

Watch this video to learn how to use soybean paste to improve your health:

Video source: sharecare.com

The regions in Vietnam famous for their tradition of making fermented soybean paste include: Bần village in the Hưng Yên province near Hanoi, Cự Đà village in Hanoi, and the Nam Đàn district of Nghệ An province. Many people use tương and tương bần interchangeably to refer to fermented soybean paste. The Bần village has been famous for this product since the late nineteenth century.

In Southern Vietnam there is a type of fermented soybean paste called tương hột. It is made from whole-grain boiled soybeans mixed with ground roasted soybeans, fermented by rice or corn mold, or using ready-made soy sauce to speed up the fermentation process. Tương hột is also used as a condiment for braised fish, tofu or vegetables. When blended it can be used as a component in the dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls.

soybeanImage source: 2.bp.blogspot.com

Vietnamese tương and Japanese miso

If you love Japanese cuisine, you have probably tried miso soup, the Japanese comfort food made with miso paste, seaweed, tofu and green onions. However, not many people know that miso is actually the Japanese version of fermented soybean paste. Miso is similar to Vietnamese tương in components and production methods but with some differences.

First, in Japan soybeans are not roasted before boiling. They are soaked overnight instead, so the boiled beans are much softer and can be pounded into a thick, fine paste. Second, steamed rice is mixed with industrially produced koji starter, and fermented for a few days, to become kome koji (rice mold). Finally, soybean paste and kome koji are mixed together with salt and put into a jar. The ingredients need to be weighted to pressurize the mixture. This is done with a heavy bag as in this video. The jar is then covered for a month-long fermentation process.

Video source: JapaneseCooking101

Vietnamese fermented soybean paste is just as nutritious as its Japanese cousin, and even more versatile. It can be added to variations on the country’s much-loved braised fish (cá kho), used as a dipping sauce for the famed gỏi cuốn, or used as a condiment in many vegetarian dishes. The options are endless.

Banner Image source: web.media.danviet.vn


How to Experience Vietnamese Comfort Food

By: Tran Thi Minh Hieu

Living in Hanoi, Vietnam, a tropical country with a lot of sun and rain, has conditioned me to enjoy food that provides a balance against the fickle weather. From noodle soups to snails, fried tofu to pork skewers, here are the foods that bring me back.

Goodness in a bowl

There is a reason soup-based noodles make up a large proportion of Vietnamese cuisine, with their most famous representative being phở.

Like a cup of hot tea, the fragrant broth infused with herbs and spices will wake up your senses and send “comfort waves” to your brain. This is why it is best eaten in the early morning or at night, when you want to refresh your mind.

foodImage source: phobotuhai.vn

For many, the best noodles should be home cooked, and I couldn’t agree more. However, when what you need is a quick mood fix and not an hour in the kitchen, you’ll be grateful for the noodle stalls on the street.

My go-to noodle soups when I need to feel better are phở, bún (rice vermicelli), hủ tiếu and Vietnamese wonton noodles.

Hot, Hot, Hot!

Warm and soft rice porridge, or cháo, that makes your tongue sting a little is a good call on a chilly day, or when you feel tired and need comfort. Vietnamese believe that porridge with spring onions and shiso leaves can help with treating the common cold.

foodImage source: cooky.vn

In Hanoi, porridge is usually thicker and smoother, and can be made with pork ribs, pork organs, chicken or freshwater mussels. In Saigon, it is common that rice grains remain, and ingredients vary from chicken or duck to fish or squid. Century eggs can be found as a side dish in the South, but rarely in the North.

Charcoal and Smoke

Skewers are among the most favourite snacks for schoolchildren and nostalgic adults. The sweet, spicy and fatty pork skewers can make you feel full and satisfied in an instant.

foodImage source: toinayangi.vn

However, what really takes me back to my childhood is grilled corn. If you have been to Hanoi during winter, you will see many street vendors grilling and selling corns and sweet potatoes on the spot. Burning hot in your hands and heavenly sweet in your mouth, these winter treats also bring together generations in a family, as they used to be the common food in the past when rice was scarce.

In Saigon, you can also find grilled banana wrapped in sticky rice, an adorable comfort food especially on rainy days.

Snails Anyone?

It would be a mistake not to mention snails and shellfish (ốc) as a unique comfort food in Vietnam. While the snails themselves don’t really have any taste, the different sauces that accompany them sure do. Chilli, lemongrass, tamarind, you name it, the feast of spice in chewy bites will satisfy your taste buds and leave you a happier person.

foodImage source: anthropogen.com

And what’s best? You can go to the store alone and order a bowl of steamed snails or clams, or a dish of superbly cheap grilled oysters, and nobody would bat an eye. Having such a treat all to yourself is one of the most satisfying things ever.

Family First

My favourite comfort food, which I missed a lot during the years I spent overseas, is fried tofu. Vietnamese fried tofu is different from what you can find in other Asian countries, but more than that, it reminded me of meals with my family.

foodImage source: comnieucaophat.com

Family is very important in Vietnamese culture, and meal time is when the family sits together and shares stories. We bond over our homemade food, and when we are away from home, Vietnamese food always reminds us of the coziness and familiarity that sometimes is lacking in the big, wide world.

Banner image source: foody.vn


A Dash of Vietnamese Spice History

By: Zoe Osborne

Herbs and spices are an everyday staple for any kitchen cupboard, in homes all around the world. Without them the myriad of intricate flavours and aromas that distinguish between cuisines today would be lost, leaving everyone with the same, bland bunch of vegetables, proteins and complex carbohydrates. I love plain vegetables, don’t get me wrong, but pair a humble potato with garlic, salt and a spot of chili and it suddenly becomes something far more exciting. Herbs and spices elevate and diversify our food, and for that they are completely invaluable.

Different cuisines around the world are defined by the herbs and spices they use, and how they are prepared. Vietnam’s own national cuisine is one of the most unique in the globe, partly because of the way it is eaten, but largely because of its huge emphasis on herbs, spices and strong, salty sauces. In particular fish sauce, which has to be one of the most pungent and yet most delicious acquired tastes out there.

There are a range of factors that have influenced the use of spices and herbs in Vietnamese food, from geography to religion and foreign settlement. But to truly understand it all, we will first go back to the very beginning.

A Brief History of Spices

Spices are an everyday product now - just little bits of dusty plant that sit in our cupboard, on our shelves, and disappear into our pots and pans. But the spice trade was once comparable, in terms of importance, to that of gold or precious stones. Did you know that nutmeg was once worth more in weight than gold?

The spice trade originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. It was initially controlled by Arabic spice merchants, bringing spices back from China and India to the West over land on a route now known by historians as the Silk Road. This trade road connected Asia with the Mediterranean world, via North Africa and Europe, enabling the development of some of the greatest civilisations in history, from Rome to the ancient Chinese Empire.

Silk Road Map

At the turn of the European Age of Discovery in about 1500, colonising nations such as Portugal, France and England began to expand the spice trade around the globe, setting up companies and trade centers on Asian coasts. The Portuguese were the first to successfully find their way through Africa to India, and the Spanish, English, Dutch and French followed.

With the rise of the middle class over the Renaissance period came a similar rise in the demand for spices and herbs, and the growing competition among empires to produce and trade these spices sparked bloody conflicts over the control of the spice trade. Wars over the spice industry lasted for several centuries from 1500 to 1700, and by the time the U.S. entered the industry in 1800 the spice trade was in need of a change. The U.S. began to work directly with Asian growers rather than with European companies, establishing their own businesses around Asia and contributing their own spices - from chili powder to dried onions and garlic.

Eventually, as is the way with any commodity, the supply of spices began to outgrow the demand and with that the value of spices fell. People began trading not only the spices but the spice plants themselves, and these aromatic essentials of any fine dish became not only widely available, but widely used among the top and bottom tiers of society alike. Today, spices are valuable not as a commodity but as an agent to individuality. Without them our food would be very mundane!

How Did the Use of Herbs and Spices Develop in Vietnam?

Vietnamese cuisine is a product of a number of cultural, historical and religious factors, but the country’s nation-wide focus on fresh herbs and vegetables, delicate balance and clean aromas was there from the start. It all comes down to geography.

Both the availability and therefore the use of spices in North Vietnam are limited, due to its colder climate. Northern Vietnamese tend to use black pepper, a locally grown spice, to season their dishes rather than chili which requires a warmer climate. Chili, brought to Asia originally by the Portuguese, is not native to Vietnam but now holds a very significant position in southern Vietnamese cooking.

Central Vietnamese cuisine is notable for its fragrance, and for the abundance of spices that grow in the area due to its mountainous, humid terrain. The warm weather and rich soil in the South allow for an even wider range of crops, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and it is this area of Vietnam that is responsible for Vietnamese curries.

The influence of various cultures on Vietnamese food is also a key factor in the use of spices around the country. The South of Vietnam is known for being the most widely affected by the spice trade, with its convenient coastal location making it a perfect trading spot, and its warm climate making it perfect for growing key imports such as chili from the Americas and spices from India. The South is perhaps the most diversified in terms of cuisine given its involvement in trade, and the influence of nearby Cambodian culinary tradition1. The middle regions2 of Vietnam are perhaps the most interesting examples of this, with the royal culinary traditions of the Nguyen Dynasty in the 19th Century leaving its mark on the area, with colourful, rich, almost regal foods still around today. Hue was originally the citadel of the Nguyen Dynasty. It was a cultural hub for the nation, bringing together intellectuals, Confucians and creatives, and it was the area in which the idea of “Royal Food” for Vietnam originates.

Vietnamese food is also heavily influenced by its various periods of foreign settlement, from Chinese settlement in 111 to French colonisation in the mid 1800s3. When the Chinese incorporated Vietnam under the Han Empire, they brought both Buddhist and Confucian beliefs and culture into the country. With this came the idea of yin and yang - the balance of opposites - and the concept of applying this principle to cookery4. The Vietnamese apply the idea of balancing the five elements (metal, wood, earth, fire, water) using colours and spices that correlate to an element.

The colour white represents metal, as does a touch of heat/spiciness; a sour taste and the colour green represents wood; yellow and a sweet taste is for earth; the colour red and bitterness symbolises fire; and salty flavour and black colouring represents water. It is the balance between these tastes, colours and hence elements that underpins Vietnamese cooking5. The North of Vietnam remains the most heavily Chinese-influenced area of the nation, and rich, fried food and ingredients similar to those in Chinese cooking are more common here.

This idea of balance was elaborated and altered by the French when they settled in the nation many centuries later. Bringing their own range of European standards, delicacies and principles to Vietnam, the French left the Vietnamese people with some of their modern staples - banh mi baguettes with pate and cold roast pork, baked croissant-like cakes and the Vietnamese sponge cake. The French also brought some key European products to the region, such as potatoes and asparagus.

How Are Herbs and Spices Used in Vietnamese Food Today?

In the modern world, Vietnamese cuisine is known for its delicate aromas and huge base of fresh vegetables and herbs - it’s like a garden on a plate! As an export, it is gaining a reputation around the globe as the next big healthy but delicious alternative, while Vietnamese cuisine in Vietnam remains just as aromatic and herb-filled as ever.

A number of locally grown herbs and spices are considered staples to the Vietnamese diet, as well as a number of imported elements such as chili and turmeric. Thai basil and Vietnamese mint are some staple examples of this, used in noodle soups and broths such as sour canh chua and sweet canh ngot. Lime leaf is another example, and lemongrass, perilla leaf and black pepper are all staples for a range of Vietnamese foods, from bo kho to the various types of hu tieu6.

Vietnam is also now an active member in the spice export trade, adding a range of spices, most prominently black and white pepper, to their already flourishing global trade in arabica and robusta coffee. Before the 1990’s the nation barely made enough pepper to use domestically, but with a stagnant domestic market and a growing international demand, Vietnam’s pepper exports are through the roof7.

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