The basic characteristics of healthy Vietnam food culture
Popular dishes in Vietnam

The basic characteristics of healthy Vietnam food culture

Vietnam food culture is formed from the agricultural lifestyle along with thousands of years of domination. The beauty in Vietnam culinary has been playing an important role in the nation’s culture. Hence, the famous Vietnamese cuisine is reflected in the following characteristics:

The harmony and diversity of Vietnam food culture

In the past, Vietnam was the colony of many countries and suffered from lots of wars. Plus, the geographical position of Vietnam stretches across some different climates. As a result, the most significant characteristic of Vietnam food culture is its harmony and diversity.

Harmonious Vietnam food culture

Vietnam food culture is the perfect combination of Asian sophistication and Western classic cuisine. Thanks to the globalization, Vietnamese people have more choices with all kinds of dishes from overseas countries such as the US, UK, France, etc. What’s more, you can easily find restaurants from countries which share a similar culture with Vietnam. Moreover, some of the worldwide famous Vietnamese dishes are inspired by foreign cuisine. For example, Banh Mi is the product of the Vietnamese creation with French baguette fusion. Otherwise, you can see the similar versions of Hue Province’s special cakes at dim sum restaurants.

vietnam food culture

Banh Nam, a Hue’s munchies, is similar to a dim sum dish – Image:

Furthermore, the culinary interferences between regions can lead to the harmonious of Vietnam food culture. Though each region, each province, each city has its own cooking way, you can easily eat a city’s specialty in another city. For instance, there are many food stalls selling Quang noodles, a Danang’s specialty, in Ho Chi Minh city, or fermented vermicelli, the signature dish of Western Vietnam, is also popular in Hanoi. When “immigrating”, these dishes have altered themselves a little bit to match the new taste.

vietnam food culture

Vietnam food culture is so harmonious that you can have Danang’s specialty in other cities with some adjustments – Image:

>> Read more about the cuisine culture of 3 regions in Vietnam.

The diversity of Vietnamese food

In fact, besides the nation signature such as Pho, Banh Mi, etc, each place in Vietnam has at least one specialty. If you google “what to eat” plus name of a place, you will find out a whole Vietnam cuisine map. The distinction can be made from the special ingredients, spices which are only found in that place, or from the cooking method.

vietnam food culture

Each city in Vietnam has at least one specialty – Image:

However, the diversity of Vietnam food culture is more than that. With the same dish, each region has its own different cooking method. Let’s take Pho as an example. The Northern Pho has flat noodle, clear broth, and served with crispy cruller. While in the South, Pho noodle is small and greasy. Due to this greasy broth, they often serve Southern Pho with a punch of vegetables. Moreover, the topping of these two “schools” of Pho are totally different. The Northern is simple with rare-beef and well done-beef, whereas the Southern is diversified with beef shank, flank, tendon, tripe, meatball, and so on. So most of the Pho served in Vietnamese restaurants all over the world is actually the Southern Vietnamese Pho.

vietnam food culture

Thanks to the diversity in Vietnam food culture, there’re many ways to cook Pho across the S-shaped country – Image:

In addition to that, Vietnam food culture is so incredible that with the same ingredient, the Vietnamese “MasterChef” can create diverse dishes. Still, keep Pho as an example. Besides the traditional Pho with beef broth, you can find in Hanoi at least 4 interesting versions of Pho. Those are Pho roll, stir-fried Pho, fried Pho, and mixed Pho. This is also a factor of the diversity in Vietnamese cuisine.

vietnam food culture

The diversity of Vietnam food culture has brought new “variations” of Pho such as Pho rolls and fried Pho – Image:

The principle of Vietnam food culture

Though culinary is a great land for creators, there are some Vietnam food culture principles that they must respect.

Five-element correspondence

Vietnamese cuisine always combines fragrance, taste, and color. They always have to ensure five elements to ensure the “balance” of these features. You once must have heard about the five elements that rule the Asian mindset. They are metal, wood, fire, water, and earth. It’s the same in Vietnam food culture.

A worship meal is where the five-element theory is expressed the most – Image:

In term of spice, there are five fundamental taste senses (ngu vi): spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. They represent five elements metal, wood, fire, water, and earth, respectively. They are also five organs (ngu tang): gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and urinary bladder. What’s more, the Vietnamese daily meals always have five nutrient groups (ngu chat): mineral elements, powder, fat, water or liquid, and protein. Especially, in worship meals for Tet or big events, people must prepare a variety of dishes containing five colors (ngu sac): white (metal), green (wood), red (fire), black (water), and yellow (earth). The more important the meal is, the more perfect this five-element correspondence must be followed.

vietnam food culture

Five colors represent five natural elements in Vietnam food culture.

The most acceptable explanation for this correspondence in Vietnam food culture is that Vietnamese dishes attract diners via five senses (ngu giac). To enjoy the meal to the fullest, you need to use all your eyes to view the decoration, ears to hear the sound of crispy food, tongue to taste, nose to smell the aromatic ingredients and fingertips to touch the food texture.

Yin-yang balance

Another principle that Vietnam food culture follows is ying-yang balance. It composes a meal that provides a balance and beneficial health. Yin and yang represent the “heating” and “cooling” of a kind of ingredient. According to Vietnamese ancients, each food has its own characteristic (“heating” or “cooling”) so they can only enjoy it in certain seasons with certain side dishes to keep the balance. Some examples are: Balut is a “cooling” food so it must be combined with knotgrass and ginger, which are “heating”. Or pork, which is “heating” will go with several kinds of vegetables and herbs to “cool” it down. Plus, Vietnamese people consider greasy foods as extremely “hot” figures so they often try to avoid them in their daily meals. If not, they will have it with a pack of vegetables to maintain the balance.

vietnam food culture

They always serve Banh Xeo, a greasy dish, with lots of vegetables and fresh herbs to keep the yin-yang balance in Vietnam food culture – Image:

>> Vietnamese table manners – what you should not miss when joining a Vietnamese family meal.


Vietnam food culture is constantly learning and developing to integrate with world cuisine. However, the Vietnamese still try their best to maintain the core value, the principles that have existed for thousands of years. However, whether complex or simple, Vietnamese dishes also offer satisfying mouthfeel during dining enjoyment.