Street food offers unique cultural experience to tourists
Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers to write in with their experiences of street food in Viet Nam and suggestions to turn it into a genuine tourist attraction.
The plan to build a new National Museum of History at a cost of VND11.3 trillion (US$537 million) to the State has been met with concern by many.
Under the terms of the proposal, a 10-ha museum with a large memorial area, a connecting outdoor exhibition venue and its own campus will be built in the new Tay Ho Tay (Western West Lake) Urban Area in Ha Noi's Tu Liem District.
Viet Nam News ran an Op Ed piece arguing that the museum is wasteful and will not catch the enthusiasm of the public (see story "No need for new museum" on September 20). There have also been complaints about the poor curatorial quality of museums in Viet Nam and a shortage of displays that can make them attractive to visitors, especially the expats. We want to know your thoughts.
What do you expect to see in such a National Museum of History once it is completed? What should be the museum's focus? How should the exhibits be displayed? Can the museum represent value for money?
In your own experience, which museums in Viet Nam do things well? Which museums have themes that interest you? What is your favourite museum in the country?
Please reply by email to: email@example.com, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, September 27.
Here are a selection of the replies...
Sandeep GS, Indian, Ha Noi
One of the delights of visiting Viet Nam is its amazing cuisine. Food is generally superbly prepared and reasonably priced. Due to this, Viet Nam has one of the best street food scenes an overseas traveller can hope for, and a trip to Viet Nam just isn't complete without tasting the street food.
I think street food shops can be turned into an important tourist attraction. With increasing immigration and globalisation, many Vietnamese street food dishes have become popular favourites around the world. And with more publicity tourists will try to avoid expensive restaurants in favour of having a street food experience.
However, street food vendors are often poor, uneducated and lack appreciation for hygiene and safe food handling. Consequently, street food is perceived to be a major public health risk.
To ensure that more and more people including tourists are attracted to street food, Government intervention is required to ensure that the standard of safety and hygiene is high enough to minimise the risk of foodborne disease.
Perhaps a rule should be made that states that all street food vendors must be registered with the authority. Once this is done and data acquired, the Government could provide the services, which include basic infrastructure, microbiological lab analysis etc, as well as educating vendors in basic food handling and safety. This would increase public and tourist confidence in street food safety, boosting sales and becoming a major tourist attraction.
Also, Government intervention via promoting street food through various media outlets and food fairs would also go a long way to positively promoting this industry to local and foreign tourists. In turn, this would add to the economic growth of the country. Providing small credit funds to vendors would also help to renew or improve their stalls and increase hygiene and safety standards, generating more customers and revenue to the nation.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
One of the reasons I moved was because of the food!
In HCM City, there's a corner in District 1 where I walk by and smell meat stewing for pho. It's open 24 hours, and even if I'm not hungry I sometimes pass, just for the smell. Now that's good food!
The most important thing to consider about food is authenticity. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The pizza chef was from Italy. Greek salad was made by a man with a big black moustache from Athens. Growing up I tried Japanese sushi using chopsticks and quickly learned not to mix too much wasabi with my soy sauce. Actually that's a lie, I never learned, always miscalculated and felt a hot head rush burning my nostrils, tearing my eyes. That was part of the fun.
Viet Nam is lucky to have two world famous foods: pho and Vietnamese spring rolls. (I also like bun cha). I think you need to promote and export authentic Vietnamese products such as locally produced fish sauce and protect brands internationally. This will not only help the local economy, but raise awareness of authentic tastes and local recipes. Invite international guests to cooking schools. Kimchee is Korean, Pad Thai is Thai, but pho is…not just noodle soup with meat. But what makes it special?
I like the balance that Thai food has with sweet and sour, spicy and salty. I like the Japanese way of presenting food simply and in bite-size portions. Viet Nam should explain the long history of its food with a list of ingredients and teach how and when to add them to the dish.
The street may be busy, the chairs may be made from cheap plastic, but if the food is hot, fresh, fast and most of all authentic, people will always come back for seconds, thirds, and so on.
Dante Janvier, Filipino, HCM City
When I booked a tour to Viet Nam via a travel agency, they promised that I would have a chance to try real Vietnamese food. I was very eager. However, I was only taken to eat food in restaurants.
The travel company explained that street food in Viet Nam fails to meet food safety and hygiene standards. However, most Vietnamese eat street food on a daily basis and nothing bad happens to them. Why not let me try?
Since visiting, I've searched the Internet and found many blogs and websites by foreigners about Viet Nam's street food. The likes of travelfish.org, savourasia.com, streetfoodtourshanoi. blogspot.com, and stickyrice.typepad.com are all very helpful and dispell a lot of myths and criticisms about street food safety.
I also found a number of great street food places in Ha Noi on Google Maps, which is an awesome resource for tourists.
However, why don't the Vietnamese themselves take advantage of such far-reaching hi-tech resources to promote their street food. It's time for Viet Nam to change the way they invite foreigners to their country.
Chris McLaren, Scottish, HCM City
I have lived in Viet Nam for a year now and regularly eat street food. I love the way the Vietnamese make simple food very tasty, even rice. I especially like the way I can have small amounts of many dishes during one meal.
I like Pho and all of the other noodle soups. Spring rolls are delicious too, as is the seafood, especially soft shelled crab. Something that I never associated with Viet Nam before coming here!
Unfortunately, the lack of hygiene does put certain visitors off. Watching people throw bones and other rubbish under the table looks unclean to many foreigners. Also many street food places prominently display parts of the animal not normally eaten in other countries, like intestines. Foreigners are squeamish!
Making Vietnamese food recognised internationally will be difficult as a lot of food eaten here is associated with China or Thailand. I know there are a number of unique dishes here but marketing them abroad may be difficult as they aren't the easiest to cook.
Jessie Jang, Korean, Sydney
After a two week vacation in Ha Noi it'd be impossible for me to pronounce the exact names of the street food dishes I tried. However, anytime, anywhere, I can still remember the amazing tastes, colours and "spirit" of pho, bun cha, bun bo, bun rieu, and banh cuon.
When you're told the names of street food dishes, you don't think of them as normal or familiar because they only tell you main ingredients. However, the minor ingredients hidden inside, which you can only feel when you try the dish, are key to entering into a totally different world of taste and emotion. There are herbs, mint, fruits, spices and so much more, all mixed together. It's wonderful!
Eating on the streets in Viet Nam is a rewarding experience. You feel the city's culture and pace of life. So, ignore any inhibitions you may have and embrace the street food experience.
The true Vietnamese taste lies in its street food. Believe me! — VNS