What Vietnamese food is a must

Feast the Vietnamese way
"Dos and Don'ts" when eating Vietnamese

Vietnam's cuisine is also booming in German-speaking Switzerland. We show you what to look out for when consuming foods such as “Bánh mì” sandwich and “Phở” noodle soup. «Chúc ngon miệng!» or enjoy your meal!

As the son of Vietnamese immigrants, I think it's great that my parents' national cuisine (who came to Lausanne to study in 1966) is now becoming increasingly popular in my adopted home, Zurich. After all, the varied cuisine of Vietnam has been popular for a while in metropolises such as New York, London, Paris and Berlin. Thanks to a handful of innovative new openings in recent years, Vietnamese food is now also hip in the city on the Limmat.

Everything is allowed

However, I am always amazed at the uncertainties with which my non-Asian people approach Vietnamese cuisine. "How do you eat that exactly?" and "Can you do that?" I keep hearing it. The fear of doing something wrong is great. That is an unnecessary shame, because in Vietnamese cuisine (almost) everything is allowed when it comes to consumption.

Common sense

My most important piece of advice: use your common sense when eating Vietnamese food! Free yourself from restrictive rules and constraints. After all, the meal is a time of sensual pleasure and well-being. There is actually no such thing as a clear “right” or “wrong”, and thus strict rules of behavior. It is not a problem that you do not look deeply in the eyes when toasting or not at all. The atmosphere is casual. I also remember, for example, that my grandmother liked to put one foot on the seat of her chair when eating - a pose that probably resulted from the habit of eating on the floor or on low stools.

Improvise

The motto therefore applies to the ignorant and insecure: improvising is more important than studying. Finding one's way around the events is one of the most important characteristics of the Southeast Asian people - the Vietnamese - who have been influenced by foreign cultures (China, Portugal, France, the USA) for thousands of years.

Slurping and smacking

What is a "no-noise" for many in this country hardly bothered us Asians: Sip a hot soup and chew the food with a hearty smack. Natural "consumption sounds", which are abandoned in Western culture from childhood on, are a kind of demonstration that you enjoy food and that it tastes good. Of course, the following applies (and especially in the restaurant): please don't overdo it!

Chopsticks, fork or hands?

Chopsticks are the most common cutlery in Vietnam and a really practical, versatile invention. The chopsticks are used to grab and cut the food. With noodle soups, chopsticks are used to push the food into the spoon.

Are you having trouble with the chopsticks? A tip: We Vietnamese empty the rice bowl by holding the dishes to their mouths and using the cutlery to gently slurp the food to their mouths. If that doesn't suit you, you can unabashedly reach for a spoon and fork. You don't have to reckon with oblique looks. If, for example, rice or noodles are not served in bowls, as usual, but on a flat plate, then it makes no sense to eat with chopsticks: Since there is no steep bowl rim, the meal would simply take too long.

Fresh herbs are cut up by hand in order to distribute them on the food. And by hand you wrap a spring roll in a lettuce leaf and then dip it in the (divine-tasting) fish sauce. You can also eat one of the typical Banh-Mi sandwiches with your hands, and with your bare fingers you roll your self-made summer roll made of damp rice paper and put it in your mouth immediately afterwards. Without forgetting to dip in the sauce beforehand, of course.

It is shared

Shared happiness is double happiness! Most Vietnamese dishes are served in one bowl for everyone. The more different foods, the better. Everyone has their own rice bowl in one hand, with the other one grabs the bites with chopsticks or the ladle of their choice. Part of the family atmosphere at the table is that people close to you are offered a special treat with the declaration of love: "Here, eat!" or put it directly in the rice bowl.

Please do not . . . !

Despite the credo mentioned at the beginning that practically everything is allowed in Vietnamese food, we don't want to miss out on a few no-go's at this point:

  1. Never stick or hold the chopsticks vertically in your rice bowl. This is seen as offensive and is reminiscent of incense sticks at funeral ceremonies.
  2. The unused chopsticks should also not be placed crossed, as this is understood as a sign of bad luck.
  3. You never spear food on a single stick.
  4. Never mix Nuoc Mam with soy sauce! There seem to be almost no limits to the versatility and complexity of the Vietnamese world of taste. Even though many restaurants have sets with different bottles and spices on the table, we do not recommend mixing the fish sauce «Nước Mắm» (national pride) with soy sauce, which is used as a salt substitute.