One of the must-dos while traveling in Vietnam is to sample Vietnamese food. It is so well known as one of the most important factors for Vietnam travel. Vietnamese food is exceptionally delicious and it is often recognized as one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide. To confirm this is a true statement I’ve spoken to some famous chefs in Hanoi like Madam Ánh Tuyết (owner of Madam Ánh Tuyết restaurant, and traditionalist Hanoian chef) and Chef Didier Corlou (head chef and owner of La Vartical, Madam Hiền and Bistro restaurant) in Hanoi. And they shared with me some convenient secrets of how healthy Vietnamese food is.
Eating Phở on the street side in Hanoi
Vietnamese food is very healthy and delicious.
As a local tour guide who does lots of food tours, taking people out on the street trying different types of street eats in Hanoi. I can proudly say Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest and balanced in the world. During my time introducing Vietnamese food to foreigners I have seen that dishes and ingredients used in Vietnamese cuisine can cover all the dietary needs on protein, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. This is because Vietnam has a large amount of natural diversity of agricultural products. This diversity of natural products found in Vietnam makes a good balance in Vietnamese food.
Besides, the way Vietnamese locals eat food influences greatly the nutritional value of food. As I once mentioned here earlier that Vietnamese eat with chopsticks, use multiple dishes, and share food with everyone in the family. All those allow you to eat more slowly, to chew the food longer and in the end causes a better digestion and assimilation of nutrients, without overloading the digestive system. No wonder why you can hardy find overweight Vietnamese people, especially in the countryside where they eat lots of green and rice. Thus, it is the social and cultural aspect of eating Vietnamese food that explains why Vietnamese food is healthy.
Summer rolls my favorite in the summer
So how about the “modern” Vietnamese food that comes from other cultures? I’ve seen lots of food that is deep fried, stir fried with oil. Are they that healthy to eat? Well in that case the reputation of Vietnamese food as healthy is only correct as long as you stick with those traditional Vietnamese dishes. Recently about 10 years now, the economic growth has been considerably changing the way Vietnamese people eat. More and more Western products and eating habits has been introduced to Vietnam. And that affects the younger generation, who is sensitive to new trend, a great deal. Nowadays in big cities, young generation’s eating habits are slipping away from the ideals described above. Now in big cities I can see more and more processed products, enriched with artificial nutrients, artificial flavorings and all junk food (cakes, pastries, ice creams, sodas, fast food).
As I mentioned above it is hard to find overweight Vietnamese and the truth is Vietnam is among the countries with the lowest rate of obesity in the world. But when I reconsider that number in big cities with concern of children and teenagers, that truth there is not really promising. I read somewhere that the number of Vietnamese children under five with weight problems has doubled in four years in Vietnam (said in 2015).So back to the cord of this post: What Vietnamese food should be avoided? As long as you eat traditional food, there is not food that you should avoid. You must just make sure to avoid processed food as much as possible. It is also best to avoid deep fried food and those grilled on a barbecue. I’ve got in my mind the 2 dishes that I’m pretty sure are the 2 healthiest dishes in the big variety of Vietnamese food: the Phở (noddle soup with beef or chicken) and the Bánh Mì (Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with whatever you ask for).
Phở- the most well-known Vietnamese food worldwide
- The Phở- the most well-known Vietnamese food, is certainly one of the most balanced dishes I know. Phở is a very popular food especially in Hanoi. It is eaten all day long: breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. Phở contains carbs, good proteins (beef or chicken), few fat, a lot of water, herbs and vegetables (that gives lot of dietary fibers, vitamins and minerals). Phở is actually a full meal. You will need nothing more after a full bowl of phở. And while eating phở lots of travelers don’t know what to do with the broth. And some just leave it wastefully. The broth of Phở should be eaten too by spoon or you can even lift the bowl up and drink it straight. It is delicious and nutritious because a lot of water-soluble vitamins and minerals are dissolved in the water during cooking. The broth is as important as other ingredients of the pho. When eating phở I often instruct my clients to have a spoonful of that broth in one hand and chopstick the phở out of the bowl with the other hand, eat the phở and drink the soup. Cannot be any better!
Selling bánh mì on the streets
- Bánh Mì has recently becomes a streetfood’s new king in Hanoi. It is talked all over the forums and guide books. So delicious yet really cheap. The banh mi is a Vietnamese style sandwich that can be made in many different ways depending on where you order it. It varies a great deal in Hanoi, Danang, Saigon…The most common bánh mì contains a source of proteins (pork, chicken, ham, beef, grills…), some green salad (Tomatoes, lettuce, radish, cucumbers) stuffed in freshly baked Vietnamese baguette and sometimes Vietnamese cheese is added. And to make sure your bánh mì is healthy as you wish you should make sure you want only good stuff is added, by telling the order taker what you want and what you don’t want to add in. If you don’t say a word he or she will automatically add everything available. That could lead to a something not as healthy as you want. You will not want any processed food (pate, sausages, cheese) and not too much sauce (sugar or fat) is added. Unlike the phở, bánh mì does not have any broth or liquid, therefore does not hydrate your body. So a fresh drink while you eat is recommended. Natural drinks like lime juice, coconut water or sugar cane juice will add a better flavor to your bánh mì, nutritiously speaking.
This is my friend eating bánh mì
In conclusion traditional Vietnamese food is healthy and exceptionally good. Come to Vietnam and try all the food available here and you may fall in love with it so much that you’ll decide to stay here forever.
By Pham Tuyen