The story of Vietnam it is as complex as it is fascinating. Travel back in time with us to the days of peasants and emperors, colonization and revolutions to discover the lineage of some of Vietnam’s most essential dishes. That’s how phở , bánh xèo and cà phê sữa đá illuminates a complex country.
An early start and the birth of noodles
the known history of Vietnam it began around 12,000 BC. A., When the natives of Vietnam settled down in the valley of the river Hong. There it was possible to sustain life by hunting and gathering plants.
Six thousand years later we can see evidence of agricultural advances, and the Vietnamese people started growing wet rice. This rice, as well as the herbs, plants, fish and meat available in the fertile lands of Vietnam, was the initial basis of the Vietnamese diet.
Although rice has always been one of the staple foods for the Vietnamese people, cooking would eventually evolve as cooking tools became more sophisticated and influences from other countries became stronger.
In the 2nd century BC. C., the whole of what was then known as Nam Viet was considered a Chinese province. For 1,000 years, the Vietnamese people would live under the reign of various Chinese dynasties, and this proximity, though often fraught with political conflict, would have a by-product: noodles.
Noodles were invented in China sometime in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Originally made with millet or other grains native to China, the recipe soon expanded to include new forms made with wheat, rice, and eggs. These noodles and the techniques necessary to create them were exported to Vietnam; were soon used in different and delicious shapes.
Here we are, over 2000 years ago, and noodles have made it to Vietnam, so it must be when phở It was made up, right? Incorrect. Surprisingly, phở, the most famous Vietnamese dish in the world, was created in northern Vietnam at the beginning of the 20th century. By then, Chinese rule in Vietnam had come to an end and French colonialists had arrived on the scene. From 1887 to 1954, Vietnam was an essential part of French Indochina, and the strong culinary influences from french cuisine In modern Vietnamese food you can still see it today.
A french touch
The fusion of Vietnamese noodles and herbs with a French meat broth is probably the basis of the original. phở. Also, the word for the soup itself has French roots. The french word pot-au-feu It literally translates to pot on fire. TO pot-au-feu It is traditionally made by boiling beef bones and vegetables in water and then adding meat to make a soup. If you pronounce phở to rhyme with ‘duh’, you’ll get pretty close to feu, the French word for fire.
Like pot-au-feu, phở It had a humble beginning as peasant food. Nomadic vendors, from the town of Van Cu in Nam Dinh province, he could be seen in the early 20th century walking with flexible sticks balanced on his shoulders and two huge barrels of soup attached to each side. They sold the soup to anyone interested in a good meal on the roads outside of Hanoi.
Chinese migrant workers loved the soup because it reminded them of food from home. French missionaries and colonial settlers loved it for the rich, meaty broth. The Vietnamese loved it for its flexibility in terms of ingredients and the fact that boiling the broth for so long would also rid it of any bacteria. And today? The various options are plentiful.
The legacy continues
The tasty mix of cultures did not end with phở. The Vietnamese took the French baguette, filled it with their signature marinated meats, seafood, pate, or eggs, added herbs, pickled vegetables, and chili and named it bánh mì.
Bánh xèo, a thin pancake filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork, could have some roots in the French crepe, except instead of using wheat flour, eggs, and milk to create the batter, the bánh xèo It’s made from rice flour, water, and turmeric – far more ingredients available in Vietnam than the dairy-filled French version.
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Chocolate and coffee brought by European colonialists were adopted by the Vietnamese and became sô cô la and cà phê. Now instead of milk chocolates from Europe, the Vietnamese prefer chocolate dark and intense it is almost black. Cà phê it is made strong and a large dose of condensed milk is poured in to make it rich and sweet. French colonial rule in Indochina was wiped out during World War II, but the fusion of the two cuisines still remains inexorably linked.
At 1954 Geneva ConventionVietnam was divided in two and many Northerners migrated south, bringing their recipes with them. In the south, the sun throughout the year makes the land more fertile than in the north. Cooks in the South began adding suddenly available products like herbs, lime, and bean sprouts to the phở mixture. The broth became spicier and predominantly acidic. This southern style phở now it has become the international standard.
After the American war, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese traveled to other countries. Many of these immigrants made a living by opening restaurants and sharing their cuisine with fellow immigrants, as well as their new compatriots.
Beauty through adversity
As Vietnamese cuisine began to take hold around the world, rice production reached its lowest point at home. Changes in the structure of agriculture lowered motivation and led to a widespread shortage of rice.
In addition to low food production, much of Vietnam’s agricultural land was damaged during the war. The paddy fields were loaded with mines and Agent Orange had seeped into the ground. No one, not even those who had previously enjoyed the benefits of being in the upper echelons of society, had enough rice for three meals a day. People were forced to mix their rice with white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sorghum, a grain known to be particularly difficult to chew. In the 1980s, Vietnam was ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world.
Now Vietnam has undergone a remarkable transformation and hunger has turned into abundance. The country is the fifth rice exporter in the world. Vietnamese parents are now more prone to superfeed your kids instead of undernourishing them, because after all the years of undernutrition, a chubby boy is now considered to be healthier and more attractive.
The newfound prosperity has also changed food culture in Vietnam, leading to some growing pains. Worried about ‘dirty‘Food, fast food and obesity are on the rise as Vietnam tries to find the balance between increasing wealth and decreasing health.
Despite these problems, Vietnam is enjoying a culinary boom. The ability to reinvent, renew, refresh, while remaining true to origins, are things that all chefs should aspire to and that Vietnamese trendsetters have been able to achieve. Walk down any street in Vietnam and you will find restaurants and cafes spilling onto the sidewalks. From grilled meat at makeshift barbecues in the middle of a busy intersection to world-class restaurants serving only the finest dishes, the flavors and fundamentals of Vietnamese food delight the palate and amaze the senses.
From a new interest in food tourism to the growing popularity of Vietnamese food abroad, Vietnam’s culinary path continues to evolve. What’s Next? Perhaps, Vietnamese cuisine will be inspired by the western farm-to-table movement. Or maybe it will go the mass marketing route and we will find our favorite Vietnamese chefs selling frozen. phở dinners on TV. Regardless, one thing is clear: the Vietnamese people have been able to weather wars and occupations, famines and feasts, while adapting and transforming their remarkable culinary heritage. Whatever comes next, it’s sure to be delicious.