Despite much shorter domination than the Chinese one, the French left deep imprints on Vietnamese cuisine. Even though the communist regime boycotted colonialism, the leaders understood the importance of maintaining the harmonious syncretism between foreign influence and national identity.
Today, Chef Hoa from Xu Restaurant and Lounge is explaining the origins and influences of Vietnamese cuisine …
Vietnamese leaders have always sought to incorporate elements from other cultures into their own to break away from Chinese influence. Thus, France has played the determining role in shaping modern Vietnam on several levels: constitutional, educational, medical, legal, linguistic, architectural, and culinary. The French influence on Vietnamese cuisine results from a "top-down" process, an influence that begins with the elite and then democratizes and infuses itself into the Vietnamese way of life. Contrary to the administrative implantation, which was done by force, the culinary contribution of France came naturally and gradually.
From the 1910s, France became genuinely interested in Vietnam as a strategic economy in Asia. The colonial government set up an industrial system everywhere. During this period, the French introduced coffee plantations, rubber plantations, wine plantations, coal mines, textile factories, rice factories, etc. To meet the needs of the homesick settlers, many cooking ingredients, such as asparagus, potatoes, cauliflower, onions, carrots, tomatoes, etc., were also imported.
Through markets, Vietnamese people are in contact with "exotic" vegetables from France or elsewhere. At first, all consumption was exclusively reserved for the French community. However, as economic development and administrative management progressed, few settlers were no longer enough.
As a result, it was necessary to seek the support of the locals. As a result, the French decided to train and recruit Vietnamese employees.
This political and cultural crossroads favored the emergence of the Vietnamese intellectual class and bourgeoisie. These new Vietnamese discovered French cuisine on the spot with enthusiasm and quickly adopted new eating habits. It was through this process that the Vietnamese were introduced to vegetables of European origin, and these same vegetables were later integrated into Vietnamese cuisine.
According to some experts, vegetables imported from the colonial era represent 30% of the ingredients in daily meals in Vietnam. However, in terms of vocabulary, Vietnamese people often add the word Tây, "Western or French," to refer to vegetable species of European origin. To see more clearly the subtle mix of terminology.
I invite you to watch the YouTube video on French in Vietnamese cuisine.
The beef was not part of the Vietnamese tradition until the French colonization. Today, the Vietnamese are among the largest consumers of beef in the world. Beef sautéed with celery is a ubiquitous dish in the country.
Besides vegetables, French colonization also changed meat consumption in Vietnam. Before the arrival of the French, beef was not typical in Vietnamese cuisine. Instead, in a profoundly agricultural country, peasants rely on cows and water buffaloes as a working tool to plow rice fields.
As a result, they did not eat beef except at festivals. On the other hand, French soldiers were big beef eaters. To feed these greedy "soldiers," it was necessary to set up cattle farms and slaughterhouses. So, beef took more than a century to become part of Vietnamese recipes. The best example is phở bò, beef soup. To get an idea of the French heritage in Vietnamese cuisine, you can check out the list of Franco-Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese cuisine Vietnamese are the only Asians to adopt the Parisian coffee culture.
They consider coffee as a meeting place.
France needs an efficient administrative apparatus to consolidate its position in Southeast Asia. This is why Saigon and Hanoi were chosen as colonial headquarters. If Saigon was the capital of Cochinchina, Hanoi was the capital of the entire Indochinese confederation.
The Parisian way of life can be felt through the shady avenues, the colonial buildings, the opera house, the cinema, the theater, and the cafés. Vietnamese civil servants were the first to be in contact with the coffee culture. Subsequently, the intellectual class was created around the 1930s, and black coffee became the beverage of choice for educated city dwellers. In another article dedicated to the coffee tradition, you will see that Vietnam is the only country in Asia to have such a visible French influence.
Despite the time, Vietnamese people (especially Hanoians) still used the old techniques with a metal filter. It can be said that coffee culture has a legitimate place in Vietnamese cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine, like coffee, bread is an integral part of French cuisine.
Along with other ingredients, the French introduced bread to Vietnam to provide food for the officials and the army. The French-Vietnamese cultural marriage gave birth to the famous Bánh Mì, derived from "pain de mie."
Again, you will find another article entirely dedicated to the tradition of Bánh Mì in Vietnam. In this preliminary part of Vietnamese cuisine, I try to synthesize French culture's influence through three dimensions: ingredients, language, and food habits.
But even if the French introduced the culture of coffee, bread, and pastry, the Vietnamese knew how to Vietnamese them and forged their own culinary culture.