From the country’s thriving coffee culture to the ubiquitous rice-flour baguette, the culinary culture of Vietnam reveals French influences at every turn, making this country’s cuisine ever so diverse. The Franco-Vietnamese relations began with the arrival of Catholic missionaries in Vietnam in the 17th century. France colonized Vietnam and Cambodia, forming the Indochinese Union in 1887, which set the French influence in Vietnam for the next 70 years. French colonialism influenced Vietnam in numerous ways – most noticeably in their cuisine. However, the locals took these influences and made these dishes their own. And while the two cuisines couldn’t be more different at first glance, they share far more than you would expect, regardless of history.
The French started sipping this magical concoction in the 1600s. About 200 hundred years later it was brought over to Vietnam. And while the French usually serves it hot and black as espresso or with steamed milk as café au lait, Vietnamese coffee is customarily served cold and sweetened with rich condensed milk. Coffee drinking is now very common all around Vietnam since the quality of beans that are grown in the country’s backyard is outstanding. Today, Vietnam is the 2nd largest coffee producer in the world.
Cooked cream desserts like bánh flan, whose name and appearance contradicts its origins as crème caramel, are typical in Vietnamese cooking. In France, these desserts are usually made with a milk and cream mixture, while in Vietnam they use coconut milk instead. Another twist that makes it extremely popular in Vietnam is the addition of coffee instead of caramel like the French do.
Bread is not widespread in East Asia, but when the French colonists arrived in Vietnam, they brought in their influence in the form of baguettes. However, while the French make their dough with wheat flour, Vietnamese use rice flour, giving it an entirely different flavor and texture. These baguettes are used as the base of one of the most famous Vietnamese dishes in the world called banh mi. This sandwich, which depending on where in the country you are, may contain either margarine and pâté, or a combination of cheese, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, sausage, fried egg, fresh cilantro, and chili sauce.
Pot Au Feu to Pho
Another French influence in Vietnamese cuisine is a traditional soup known as Pho, pronounced fuh. This staple consists of a salty broth, fresh rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef, which some say may be a copy of the French pot au feu or stew. The noodles, of course, are part of a basic Asian dish while the beef certainly comes from the European influence, since meat is not very common in Eastern cuisines. .
From the lush countryside of farms and rice paddies outside of Saigon to the bustling shops and restaurants of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, enjoy the traditions and unique culture and cuisine of Vietnam with us on a voyage this winter.