At its best, Vietnamese food is light, subtle in flavour and
astonishing in its variety. Though its cuisine is related to that of
China, Vietnam has its own distinct culinary tradition, using herbs and
seasoning rather than sauces, and favouring boiled.
In the south, Indian and Thai influences add curries and spices to the
menu, while other regions have evolved their own array of specialities,
most notably the foods of Hue and Hoi An. Buddhism introduced a
vegetarian tradition to Vietnam, while much later the French brought
with them bread, dairy products, pastries and the whole cafe culture.
Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the major tourist centres are now well
provided, with everything from street hawkers to hotel and Western-style
restaurants, and even ice-cream parlours.
The quality and variety of
Vietnamese food is generally better in the main towns than off the beaten track,
where restaurants of any sort are few and far between. That said, you'll
never go hungry; even in the back of beyond, there's always some stall
selling a noodle soup or rice platter and plenty of fruit to fill up on.
Vietnamese national drink is green tea, which is the accompaniment to every social gathering or business meeting and is frequently drunk after meals. At the harder end of the spectrum, there's also rice wine, though some local beer is also excellent, and an increasingly wide range of imported wines and spirits.