Last Friday on 13th of March, I did a 30 minute presentation on my beloved home country – Vietnam. There were 3 main parts in my presentation: the geographic characteristics, food, and traditional clothing.
The full name is Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is located in Southeast Asia, where its neighbors are China, Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam has the shape of an “S”, divided into 3 parts. The top part is the North, which has Hanoi – the capital city of Vietnam. The middle part is the Central, with main cities such as Hue and Danang. The below part is the South, where Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is located. The land size of Vietnam is roughly 332 thousands km2 – ranked the 66th in the world, and the population is around 92 million – ranked the 14th. That makes Vietnam 2.5 times more populated than Canada, which has a population size of only roughly 35.5 million. Even though Vietnam has a total of 54 ethnic groups – each with its own language, lifestyle and cultural heritage, 87% of our people belong to the Kinh ethnic.
It is well known that Vietnamese food is very green, fresh, healthy, low in fat, and vibrant in color. It is considered one of the healthiest foods in the world. Besides rice, there are different kinds of noodles, mostly made into noodle soups. Herbs and vegetables are used a lot in our cooking, and also mostly pork and seafood such as shrimp or crab. Seasoning choices are mainly fish sauce, soy sauce and sometimes shrimp paste.
There are regional differences in Vietnamese food influenced by the North, Central, and South. The food in the North tend to be lighter and more balanced in flavors, the food in Central Vietnam is typically very spicy, while the Southern ones are more colorful, sweeter and have more tropical flavors, like coconut.
Some of our most popular dishes that were mentioned in the presentation are:
- Banh xeo: Vietnamese “sizzling” savoury crepe;
- Bun rieu cua: Rice vermicelli in tomato and crab paste broth;
- Broken rice: usually serve with grilled meat and fish sauce;
- Bun bo Hue: Hue specialty. Spicy beef rice vermicelli soup;
- Papaya salad;
- Vietnamese coffee: it is extra strong. Usually served with condensed milk;
- and of course not to forget our legendary Banh mi and Pho.
Vietnamese people are known to eat almost anything. Below is the list of some of our most bizarre food:
- Dog meat: It is just as popular as pork, chicken or beef. There are farms to raise dogs for meat. Besides dog, some other exotic meats include field rats, snails, deers, soft shell turtles, and snakes. Animals organs are often disposed of in many countries, but make excellent food in Vietnam. Hearts, livers, intestines, undeveloped eggs, even the brain are used. These organs are sold at higher price than regular meat.
- Insects, such as silkworm pupas, grasshoppers, ants and crickets: They are usually fried until golden and crispy.
- Trung vit lon (fertilized duck egg): A common delicacy for breakfast or snack. It is typically boiled and served with a pinch of salt, a few slices of fresh ginger and a special Vietnamese herb.
- Raw duck blood pudding: Popular among older generations, this snack is best served with white alcohol. Nowadays less people are eating it due to many health concerns.
- Animal wine: animals such as snake, cobra, scorpion or sea horses are infused into grain alcohol or rice wine. It is thought to have many health benefits. It has very high alcohol percentage and is traditionally drunk as shots.
- Durian: The least bizarre food on the list, this is a kind of fruit that you either love or hate, deeply. It is big and spiky with a very strong aroma. Some people describe the smell as rotten onions. The inside is mushy; it’s mildly sweet, super creamy, sort of like almond and cheesecake combined together.
We have many different kinds of traditional clothings. Áo Dài, or “long dress”, is our national costume. It is now mostly worn by women than men, on special occasions such as weddings or some festivals. The white Áo Dài is the Vietnamese national uniform for high school girls. Our national headwear is the cone shape hat called Nón Lá.
Another traditional dress is Áo Tứ Thân, meaning “4-part dress”, has been worn by women centuries before Áo Dài. It is generally associated with Northern women. It’s usually made from plain fabric in dark colors, but when worn at special occasions such as festivals or weddings, it tends to be more vibrant and colorful. The large round headwear that comes with the dress is Nón Quai Thao.
Yếm is the undergarment that is worn beneath Áo Tứ Thân. It has a diamond shape, with strings to tie over the neck and back. Although it is being worn by women of all classes, the materials and colors can varyied widely based on the person’s rank and the occasion. Commoner women usually wore black, white or brown, whereas richer ones wear brighter colors, mostly red or pink.
Lastly is Áo bà ba, the Vietnamese silk pajamas. It is more associated with Southern part of Vietnam, especially in the rural areas. It consists of a simple blouse worn with silk or satin pants, and usually goes with a checked scarf. It can be worn while laboring or lounging.