Vietnam is one of those countries that has all the recipes
that are bound to disconcert most Europeans. However, most of these specialties
are expensive luxuries which you are hardly likely to eat by accident. A
Western foreigner undoubtedly requires some courage to eat grilled dog, roast
cat, mouse, snake or silk caterpillars, but when these dishes are skilfully
cooked they really are something special.
Medicinal or aphrodisiac
qualities are attributed to many of these specialities. This has led to the
development of veritable gastronomic rituals. The most exciting is probably the
snake meal. The still beating heart is swallowed, as is the blood, with rice
liquor. Subsequently the snake is elaborately cooked and eaten. The more
poisonous the snake, the more beneficial to your health and the more expensive
it is. You can also stick to taking snake medicine or - highly recommended -
drinking snake liquor. If these specialities do not appeal to you, you can
content yourself with everyday Vietnamese food; you won't be disappointed.
In Vietnam there is never any need to
search long for something to eat, the streets are lined with all sorts of
restaurants and hot-food stalls. The large cities now offer practically
everything. You can choose between foreign and Vietnamese food, expensive and
cheap restaurants, between modern, air-conditioned rooms and little stalls at
the side of the street consisting of nothing but a table and a coal stove.
The restaurants and street
stalls are full at virtually all times of the day. City-dwellers have breakfast
on the street, enjoying soup or sticky rice with egg. At midday, people eat
'people's rice' or 'dust rice', as they call the food sold by the cheap stalls
on the street corner. In the evening it is common to meet up with friends and
acquaintances. Even if you don't go for a meal, then at least you will have a
drink together. The young men sit in Bia Hoi (beer gardens),
the girls at the Che stands sipping at a dessert-like drink
made of dried fruit, coconut cream or sweetened bean paste.
By contrast, the choice is
rather limited in the countryside, although the Vietnamese culinary trademarks
- pho (noodle soup) and nem (spring rolls) -
are available everywhere.
For a long time there was
little to eat in Vietnam,
and meat was a rarity. So it is not surprising that meat dishes are now
extremely popular. Vegetables are for the poor. Thus, if you are a guest, you
must be given only the best, which usually means the meat with the most fat. If
as a foreigner you go out to dinner and order vegetables, you are likely to be
regarded as stingy. For if you are a foreigner you must be rich, and rich
people don't eat vegetables if they can avoid it, surely?
And don't be worried about
formalities when eating. Vietnam
As long as you don't stick the chopsticks vertically into the rice (a deadly
omen, for the ancestors are offered incense sticks in this way), almost
In a Vietnamese house, you sit
on the floor or on the large family bed. If you are celebrating - and visitors
are always a cause for celebration in Vietnam -several meat dishes, fish
and river creatures, soup, salad and fruit will be prepared. Each person helps
him- or herself with chopsticks and eats from a separate little bowl.
Rice or rice noodles are only
served after the meal, just to fill you up. Each dish is based on the famous -
or notorious - fish sauce(nuoc mam). If this is not strong enough for
you, you should try the crab paste, mam tom, mam tep,
which can be smelled for miles.
And don't forget: meals are
never dry. You are always offered beer and rice liquor, either pure or
flavoured with herbs. And not only the men drink. The women also often enjoy a
few glasses of herb liquor, with the reassuring excuse that it is healthy. In
Vietnamese it is therefore called ruou thuoc (medicine wine). Beer has recently
become the second national beverage next to rice wine. Foreign beers like
Heineken, Carlsberg, Tiger or Henniger are available, but the home-grown beers
like 333 or Bia Hanoi are also popular and of
good quality. Coca Cola has managed to conquer the Vietnamese market too,
although it hasn't yet quite displaced the wonderful fruit drinks like coconut
And when you can no longer eat
or drink any more, there is green tea.