Connecting Culture Through Food: Vietnam

Thu only moved to Australia two months ago to study at the University of Wollongong but that hasn’t stopped her from missing the food from her home country of Vietnam.

“In Vietnam, my mum usually cooked for me. I wouldn’t have to worry about what I was going to eat today. I came here and I have to do all the stuff by myself. Sometimes I just feel so lazy to cook anything so I just have instant noodles.” I could relate to Thu on a very personal level here; when I went to the UK for exchange, suddenly everything was up to me. Let’s just ignore the fact that I ate basically the same five dishes for a whole five months.

Thịt Kho. Photo credit: Bao Moi

During Tết, or Vietnamese New Year, Thu says they usually celebrate with a special occasion dish of Thịt Kho. “It’s stewed pork with egg. It’s marinated and we usually have it in Lunar New Year. A lot of families cooked a whole big pot of the stewed pork and then they just store it to eat it through the whole holiday.” Another of Thu’s favourite special occasion foods is moon cake. She said “Oh my gosh, that is my favourite! We usually have this in the mid autumn festival ­– it has so much taste.”

Moon Cake. Photo credit: Rice & Flour

One of Vietnam’s traditional dishes is pho and Thu explains that living in different parts of the country means that you will more than likely cook it differently. “The north side, south side and middle have a different way of cooking this dish. People in the north side prefer salty food but in the south side, people prefer to like the sweetness.” Pho in the north is much more traditional than that in the south. Northerners prefer to stick with the simple base of beef bones, with banh pho noodles, beef and herbs but communities in the south would much prefer to add anything they like to the dish (Wilson, n.a). Vietnam’s tropical climate allows for a large variety of herbs and vegetables to be grown, making them a staple in a lot of dishes that would be simple otherwise.

Chicken Pho. Photo credit: The Works of Life

Vietnam Online points out that Hanoi supplies more authentic and original food, Hue boasts about its royal status, while Ho Chi Minh City has the most inclusive dining with flavours of India, Japan, Spain and Greece creeping through.

One of Vietnam’s staple foods is fish sauce. Thu says that “It’s a traditional sauce in Vietnam and we use it in almost every dish.” It’s also super common to have a bowl of fish sauce on the table for everyone to share when you’re dining in Vietnam. Some believe that the bowl of fish sauce represents Vietnamese solidarity but others say the bowl is the root on most bad personality traits. (Vietnam Online, n.a) I found it so interesting that something like food could be connected to something greater like solidarity or one’s personality.

Thu mentioned that her mum usually did the cooking at home and when her dad had to cook, he mostly stuck to simple dishes, like soup. “We usually have hot soup when we are sick with a lot of peppers and onions because we believe those ingredients will help us improve our immune system…”


Debicki, M 2011. ‘Flavours of Asia’. Good Health (Australia Edition). p.178

Graf, C 2012, ‘TET: CELEBRATIONS THE NEW YEAR’, Faces, p. 22.

Wilson, R (n.a.). ‘The Different Flavours of Asian Culture’. City Pass Guide.

‘Food Culture’. Vietnam Online. Available at:

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