The rise of international cuisine in Vietnam
Alongside cultural exchange and tourism development has come the entry of foreign cuisines to Vietnam, something that has been welcomed by many locals. The most popular cuisines include French, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian, and more recently, Thai. Tourists can easily find international restaurants when wandering around big cities like Hanoi, Haiphong, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City. Both luxury and affordable restaurants serving up foreign dishes tend to attract customers throughout the year. They offer a wide range of cuisine, from familiar favourites like spaghetti, pizza, gimbap, spicy noodles, sushi and steak to exotic specialties such as Hainanese chicken rice, Kakhu hotpot, Thai noodle soup and sashimi.
In recent years numerous international and speciality restaurants have sprung up to meet the growing demand of Vietnamese - Italian restaurant chains like Pepperonis, Spaghetti Box and Al Fresco’s; Chinese restaurants such as Michelin and Crystal Jade Palace; Koreaninspired eateries like Seoul Garden, GoGi House and King BBQ; as well as Japanese Sumo BBQ, Akaari and Sushi Bar.
The strong presence of foreign restaurants in some districts has meant specialist food areas have formed. These include a Korean food area in Trung Hoa and Nhan Chinh area in Hanoi and Pham Hai in Ho Chi Minh City, Japanese food area in Kim Ma, Linh Lang and Dao Tan in Hanoi, and Indian food area in Bamboo Street and Pham Ngu Lao street in Ho Chi Minh City. These international restaurants are often tastefully decorated, offering a great range of authentic dishes at reasonable prices.
According to Nhu Loan, owner of a Korean restaurant in Nguyen Trai street in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan district, the majority of her customers are Vietnamese and mainly young. Popular dishes amongst her regulars include black bean sauce noodles, tteokbokki, gimbap, bibimbap, bingsu and most recently spicy noodles.
In 2016, spicy noodles became a craze among the youth and hundreds of restaurants opened up nationwide. Quynh Thu, an employee of Samsung Bac Ninh, is a Korean food lover. She said that many of her colleagues are Korean so she often eats out with them in nearby Korean restaurants. Despite lacking somewhat in authentic Korean flavour, the dishes are still tasty and reasonably priced. Thai cuisine has been growing in popularity recently. With prices starting at VND30,000 ($1.3) per meal, customers can enjoy popular Thai dishes like sweet soup, mango sticky rice, coconut ice-cream, rolled ice cream, Thai noodles and tom yum.
Adapting to Vietnamese palates
Many of the international restaurants serve up foreign dishes adjusted to suit Vietnamese tastes, with the food processed as little as possible to maintain authentic flavour. “Traditional Korean dishes tend to be spicy and salty, but when served in Vietnam, they are sweeter and less spicy,” Quynh Thu said.
Masayuki Manabe, director of Ajichi Farm, has lived in Vietnam for 11 years. He said that Japanese food made in Vietnam has a similarflavour to that from his homeland because more Japanese ingredients have recently made their way into Vietnam. Added to this, a number of Japanese restaurants have hired Japanese chefs to prepare the dishes. However, Japanese food doesn’t come cheap in Vietnam.
Locals are becomingly increasingly curious about international cuisine and generally foreign establishments have good reputations- known for having spacious dining areas, good service and high standards of food safety and hygiene. The increasing presence of international cuisine indicates that Vietnam is keeping up with the global trend of international integration. Tracing back the history of Vietnam’s culinary culture, there are many Vietnamese dishes that have foreign origins or influences, such as bread introduced by the French at the beginning of the 19th century, banh bao (steamed wheat flour cake) and hu tieu (a dish made with noodles and pork) originating from China, and soup and salads from Europe.
Back when foreign foods were first imported to Vietnam they were adjusted to suit Vietnamese palates and many soon earned their place amongst Vietnamese delicacies. As a result, Vietnamese food culture has become more lively and diverse due to a mix of food from all corners of the globe.
By Hoang Oanh