Ultimate Food Guide to Vietnam
A. “An com chua?” If you’re going to understand Vietnam and the Vietnamese, this three-word phrase is key. A friendly greeting exchanged throughout the day, it poses a seemingly mundane question: "Have you eaten?". The polite answer, even if you have, is “Why, no—let’s eat!”
B. Food is at the very heart of Vietnamese culture. Almost every aspect of social, devotional, and family life revolves around the procurement, preparation, and shared pleasure of nourishment. Even commercial life: more than half of Vietnam’s population makes a living in agriculture or the food trade. Markets are on every corner; cooks on every curb. A sneeze elicits the blessing “com muoi”, or “rice with salt”.
C. On a recent train ride from Hue to Hoi An, food was everywhere in sight. At each station stop, vendors rushed up to the windows proffering homemade treats: shrimp cakes, jerky, sticky rice. One vendor came aboard and walked the aisles, selling sun-dried squid. (An American traveler bought one, thinking it was a decorative fan.) In the bar car the train conductor and his staff spent the whole ride not collecting tickets but preparing lunch: cooking noodles, shelling prawns, trimming basil into woven baskets.
D. Follow any lane in any Vietnamese city at any time of day and you’ll find some contented soul crouched over a bowl of broth or rice. Then again, if you lived in Vietnam, you’d eat all the time, too. The food is beautiful to behold, if only for the colors alone: turmeric-yellow crêpes, sunset-orange crabs, scarlet-red chilies, deep-purple shrimp paste, and endless jungles of vivid green. Vietnamese cooking is fresher, healthier and brighter than, for instance, Chinese or Indian or French, three of its closest relations. Though it is often described as “honest” and “direct”.