In Vietnam, there is a natural tendency to copy the grace of Hanoians. These admired characteristics are illustrated in Hanoi meals. Although there is not one solitary style to adopt or a unifying standard to meet, there a few elements of this culture that one can notice and learn. Let’s find out with helloVietnam!
Some Vietnamese foods served on a tray (Source: Internet)
The table setting and dining etiquette
Family meals in Hanoi are taken very seriously and have a high level of formality. The whole family is expected to partake. On a Hanoi dining table, each place setting includes a bowl, a pair of aligned matching chopsticks, and a soup spoon to the right. The dipping sauce, usually nuoc mam, is at the center of the food tray. Since showing respect to the elders of the family is essential in Vietnam, younger people have to wait for their grandparents, parents, and guests of honor to start. They usually say a common sentence which serves as a kind of invitation to start the meal to the older members. One crucial thing is that they must address each member of the family from the oldest to the youngest in the invitation.
In a typical family meal, a woman, usually the mother or the oldest daughter sits right next to the rice pot and is in charge of serving the rest of the family; she is considered the host of the meal. When someone finishes their rice, they hand the empty bowl to the female host and ask for more. This responsibility requires the woman to keenly observe everyone to assure that the whole family is properly fed.
Vietnamese people always dine with their own small hand-sized bowl and chopsticks, yet the spoons to serve soup are shared. One must not hold his or her chopsticks and the communal spoon at the same time, and it is considered rude in a Hanoi meal to sip soup directly from those spoons. It is crucial not to shift the food around to pick out certain items. When dipping a piece of food into the dipping sauce bowl, one must put their rice bowl close to the sauce bowl to avoid dripping the liquid on other dishes. Leaving chopsticks standing upright in a rice bowl is also forbidden in a meal as it resembles incense sticks used as offerings for the deceased.
A bowl of nuoc mam (fermented fish sauce) (Source: Internet)
Diners are expected to hold their bowls close to their mouth, put some food into their rice bowl and mix it all together. If one is eating broth or noodles, slurping the bowl is appropriate.
Vietnamese cuisine relies heavily on fresh herbs, ingredients and the right balance of spices. There are strict rules for which types of herb goes with what dish to enhance the flavor of both. Lime leaves are a perfect match for chicken, while shallot is usually paired with pork, and ginger goes well with beef. Other less common dishes also have their own rules. Perilla leaves pair with snail, laksa leaves with mussel soup, and coriander for spring rolls.
Hanoi foods only require the common locally grown ingredients; however a huge amount of expertise and meticulousness goes into making them. Take salad for example, water spinach must be shredded and dipped in cold water to maintain the crispness. Salad is also laced with thinly sliced young banana stem or banana flower. Bean sprouts and other herbs may also be added. This salad is combined with sour soup instead of regular dressing, and the soup can well be a staple of its own. To cook it, live crabs must be thoroughly cleaned and their carapaces removed. The remaining crabs are the crushed into a fine paste. Next, it is dissolved in water to separate the crab butter and meat from the inedible parts. The refined paste now serves as the main ingredient for the soup.
Sour crab soup (Source: Internet)
There are no shortages of flavor in a Hanoi dinner, especially sour ones. Canh sau is a traditional specialty of Hanoi and can be translated loosely to dracontomelon (a common urban tree in Hanoi) soup. The fruits of dracontomelon are cooked with water and minced pork until they release a sour taste.
Dracontomelon soup (Source: Internet)
Tofu is never left out in a typical meal in Hanoi and, it is one of the must-eat dishes in Vietnam. The white bean curd is usually fried until it achieves a crispy crust yet soft interior. Shallow-frying tofu requires the cook to tend to the pan carefully and move it constantly with a thin spatula or a pair of chopsticks. Since tofu has an almost complete absence of flavor, it goes well with everything. The most common way to boost its flavor is to simmer fried tofu cubes in tomato sauce or dip them into nuoc mam.
Fried tofu cubes (Source: Internet)
If you are interested in Vietnam cuisine and culture, participating in a Hanoi family meal will bring you the best of both worlds.