Hygiene key to best street food standards

May 26, 2024 - 09:31
If world travellers have heard so much about phở, bánh mỳ and bún chả before they set foot in the country, when they actually come here, they will find an array of food that is delicious.
Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Summer has come to town, and this year Hà Nội has been voted by Tripadvisor as the world’s top food destination. The Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best is the annual award given to destinations around the world, with hotels, restaurants, and entertainment activities receiving ratings from the travel community over 12 months.

Hà Nội has been also better known since the Michelin Guide in 2023 gave four restaurants in Việt Nam their stars, with three of them located in Hà Nội.

If world travellers have heard so much about phở, bánh mỳ and bún chả before they set foot in the country, when they actually come here, they will find an array of food that is delicious. And it will feel like they have discovered it for themselves.

The food street of Tống Duy Tân, fresh beef roll (phở cuốn) district of Ngũ Xã, the busy walking streets around Hoàn Kiếm Lake every weekend and Tạ Hiện beer street have all become popular food destinations for visitors to explore.

But along with this fantastic food, good hygiene and quality is vital and city authorities must take any concerns seriously, if they want to keep the flow of tourists coming.

Early this month, several food safety incidents were reported by newspapers across the country, with market inspectors taking action, issuing fines to the eateries. Many people were sick. Some incidents were even at very well-established and popular sidewalk eateries.

If you take a walk along bustling night food streets in the Old Quarter, you will see a joyous, carefree atmosphere, and everyone seems deliriously happy, often munching on sour sweet lemongrass chicken feet salad and charcoal-dried squid shreds, while drinking ice-cold beer, but vendors here must adhere to food regulations, and they aren't always doing so.

Market inspectors carry out investigations, test food samples and fine owners. But among the thousands of food vendors out there, how many have been carefully taught about food safety, and proper hygiene practices?

Age-old street food vendors have been maintaining their own quality control system, which worked for them. A bún thang shop owner says they open all day long, but their large soup pot is cooked anew every four hours. Otherwise the broth won’t be fresh, but the toppings cannot stay edible for such a long time, especially during the summer heat.

It is about time the city authorities organise seminars online or hand out food safety practice details, as well as requirements and/or standards for vendors to follow. Staff workers in night street eateries also need to learn about food safety and practise basic hygiene standards.

Tourists ought to carry hand sanitiser at all times, just to be on the safe side.

If you sit down in a sidewalk phở shop, you probably have seen the locals cleaning the spoons and chopsticks with paper napkins. But a more thorough practice is using a pinch of lime or kumquat juice to clean them down.

Visitors the world over are heading to Việt Nam not only for the street food, but for the beautiful beaches, untouched islands, and mountain marathons.

They also come to remote villages to learn how to tend a buffalo in the field, use a sickle to harvest rice to make spring rolls, and even marinate fresh shrimp and fish.

During this wave of international interest in visiting Việt Nam, we’d better regulate our food hygienic standards and practices better to help street vendors adhere to food standards so the food they serve is delicious, clean and healthy.

If Hà Nội authorities launch a drive to get all food vendors involved and provide and stamp each with a food-quality safety sign, it will be easier for tourists to recognise safe spots before they go in.

Even on a weekday, the Old Quarter receives a large influx of tourists, and many come with their kids. These children, if they get to taste Hà Nội's delicacies, the food we feed our own children, will love it, too.

The city has a wide variety of rice soups, from duck or chicken to fish, beef and pig's liver and heart, which toddlers and even adults love.

Hà Nội is one of our top cities for food. Let’s make it not only a great food hot spot, but a safe one too. VNS