Viet Nam News
By Sabrina Bucknole
There are obvious attractions to living abroad.
You get to experience a different culture and enjoy other opportunities that may not exist back home.
The challenges to this are obvious too, and nowhere are they more apparent than the adjustments you might need to make to your eating and drinking habits.
This is the area where people often see “clear and present dangers”, with popular TV programmes highlighting exotic dishes like deep fried insects, snakes and ‘congealed blood cakes.’
Adding to this challenge are subtle aspects of a different dining etiquette that the typical guide book might not inform you about.
That said, expats moving to Việt Nam should be glad to know that Vietnamese cuisine is often described as one of the healthiest in the world, not to mention delicious. It is generally low in fat and calories, and bursting with ingredients full of antioxidants and nutrients. Ingredients and groceries, in general are very affordable and eating out can be incredibly cheap.
Enough has been said and written about popular and iconic Vietnamese dishes like phở (rice noodle soup with beef, chicken or pork) and gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), and the praise is well deserved.
It is the easy availability of such good food and natural drinks like coconut water, again packed with nutrients like potassium, manganese, magnesium, folate, calcium and selenium, as also an amazing array of tropical fruits, including exotic ones like the dragon-fruit and durian, that makes this country very special.
The icing on this cake is the natural friendliness and hospitality with which you are served.
Abundance: Fruits and vegetables on display in a market. - Photo pixabay.com
And it is not just that the food is healthy; the way it is eaten is very healthy, too.
The preponderance of clear soups, fresh greens that are not used as salads anywhere else, rice and steamed and grilled meat dishes are had with chopsticks and a porcelain soup spoon.
The dishes are typically placed on a big round tray, and family members sit around and pick them off with chopsticks. This makes for slow eating, allowing people to chew food for longer; something that doctors highly recommend.
Just so you know, it is usually good etiquette to wait for the eldest male to take a mouthful of food before everyone else begins eating, and it’s normally considered polite to keep both hands on the table through the meal.
Meatless goodness: Noodle soup served in a vegan Vietnamese restaurant - Photo pixabay.com
The main issues expats are warned of here are food and water-related illnesses. These can be avoided by checking that the food is piping hot and avoiding any raw meat or fish. Careful expats may even decide not to eat uncooked vegetarian dishes like salads, for fear that they may have been washed in unclean water. Many restaurants will boil vegetables if asked. Like any other countries in the region, tap water is generally avoided, and it is common to drink bottled water or filtered drinking water, rather than getting it straight from the tap.
Peanuts and peanut oil are used for cooking in Việt Nam, so those with nut allergies (or intolerances) can check the ingredients before eating unfamiliar dishes.
Preparing a note explaining in Vietnamese any allergy or intolerance you may have can ease your way around.
Popular snack: Tempura shrimp served in a Vietnamese restaurant - Photo pixabay.com
Many of Việt Nam’s food festivals and events celebrate international cuisine, as well as traditional Vietnamese cooking.
The Hội An International Food Festival, for example, features twelve chefs from around the world, cooking up dishes from their home country. It also showcases local dishes like cao lầu, which contains a special rice noodle from Hội An. These events are a good opportunity for expats new to the country, but the bottom line is this: Việt Nam is one of the best places in the world for healthy food, and whether you opt for street-side eateries of more upscale ones, every day is a food fest. — VNS