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Street food could serve up recipe for tourism success

Update: June, 14/2013 - 10:44

Next Week

What are pros and cons of having firecrackers during Tet again?

It is still more than half the year until the next Tet, but some Vietnamese people have recently become excited by the possibility that they may be allowed to use quiet and non-explosive fireworks when the Lunar New Year celebrations return.

Ever since a Governmental official revealed at a press conference last month that a proposal was being considered whereby fireworks could be used for entertainment, many people have celebrated (although not with fireworks) about the possibility of celebrating Tet in traditional style.

Others, though, are less pleased by the announcement. They argue that it would be dangerous to re-introduce fireworks and the existing ban should continue.

The Government issued the ban on production, trade and use of fireworks in 1995 in an effort to reduce the high rate of mortality and injuries caused by them, after 71 people were killed and 765 injured during the previous Tet.

What do you think? Should fireworks make a comeback to make Tet truly traditional? Are they really necessary? Would they really be safe to use?

Please reply by email to: opinion@vnsmail.com, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 79 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, June 20, 2013. — VNS

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers their opinions on how to promote tourism through street food.

Here are some responses:

Nguyen Thang, Vietnamese, Ha Noi

I am interested in walking cuisine tours, and Vietnamese people should consider their street food as a strong point to attract tourists.

Viet Nam's rich history and natural resources have led to the diversity of its cuisine. A lot of my foreign friends who visited Viet Nam told me that eating street food gives them a more real experience than dining in restaurants. That's why after formal parties, they prefer to walk along the streets to find food at small stands. Provinces across Viet Nam offer a wide range of street food.

Local street food is not only delicious but also inexpensive, so cuisine tours help tourists to enjoy their trip and learn more about the culture of a nation while saving on expense. However, in Viet Nam, the best street food is often found tucked away in small alleys, so it's difficult for tourists to find them without local knowledge.

Cuisine tours in Viet Nam with a focus on street food have not really taken off for a variety of reasons. Hygiene issues are one of them because street food is often made and sold on small stands or even on the pavements.

Vendors do not care if customers get a stomachache or become sick. Many street food vendors just advertise what they sell as "local specialties" to earn more attention from tourists and travellers. It would be helpful to post where to find well-known local dishes on official tourism websites, forums and other social media platforms. Then these postings can be commented on and ranked by readers and users.

Dennis Berg, American, HCM City

First, the advice to foreigners not to eat off the streets continues until this day. It began in a time when the advice was important. But conditions have changed and the risk of illness is much less now. Larger cities should employ an inspection systems and award posters so street vendors can advertise that their food is cooked and served under sanitary conditions.

There needs to be an attempt to help street vendor translate their menus into English and make them friendly. Not just translations, but also descriptions of the dishes' content. This could be done using service learning or internship college students assigned to help street vendors to develop customer service.

In many cases, the dishes themselves have a history. Developing descriptions of the history and how the dishes fit into the culture might also serve to attract tourists. Perhaps such information could be part of suggested walking tours in major cities. The role of food in Vietnamese society and culture is very interesting and not many outsiders get a view of that aspect.

Hung Duong, Vietnamese, Da Nang

I find it such a pity that many tourists and international travellers or even expats have to resort to western dishes such as burgers, pizzas and pasta because they want to avoid unhygienic street food.

If cooked properly following hygiene standards, there's no doubt that we have some of the best and healthiest cuisines in the world. However, we've not run enough campaigns or promotional activities that focus on street food. I have attended the European Food Festival and the Korean Food Festival before, but I've rarely seen a Vietnamese Street Food Festival that targets foreigners.

There have been some attempts to regulate street food vendors in cities such as Ha Noi and HCM City, but we have not been able to regulate them positively and effectively, which could make street food vendors become the ambassadors of local culture.

Travellers and foreign tourists often rely on word-of-mouth to find out what's good to eat in a new city or from international guidebooks, so working with them to list the best and cleanest street food in Vietnamese cities could be helpful. We need to have engaging programmes to get tourists out of their hotel rooms and onto the streets.

Cleanliness is critically important. Authorities could designate or build an area solely as an attraction for tourists to find the best and cleanest street food. I'm not talking about making it pricey similar to restaurants, I'm talking about picking out honest and reliable street food vendors and gathering them in one place. Foreign tourists would love to have easy access to reliable street food courts.

Last but not least, some famous street food owners are known for their secret or authentic recipes. Tourism promotion campaigns could also introduce the best street food and integrate them with high-end restaurants, where we can introduce our local dishes to the rest of the world.

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

There is great food on the streets of Viet Nam. There are several problems preventing many foreigners from getting that culinary satisfaction. First, clean your tables. Stop throwing garbage onto the ground or floor. Any place that cannot keep a minimum standard of cleanliness does not deserve my patronage.

Secondly, upon next day's return I find my servings smaller or more expensive. This attitude of exploitation and indifference is a short term gain that cuts your nose off to spite your face. Finally, have a tourism department sponsored education and competition campaign.

Each tourist town can award the cleanest and best priced outlets, and tourists can rank them in surveys. TripAdvisor.com is a popular site that travelers use to research and rate their experiences. Why not get ahead of the curve?

On a simple practical note, hand out questionnaires on Vietnam Airlines. Ask tourists to fill out and rate their experiences. Have restaurants picture their street food menu on a laminated page, complete with English/Vietnamese/phonetics pronunciation. Explicitly state the price. It's a winner all around. I would be a repeat customer, and walking more means I can eat more bun cha and not have to buy a bigger sized pair of pants. — VNS



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