Family meals are the soul of Vietnamese culture, and they are regarded as something spiritual and so sacred to a country with over 4,000 years of history. Whatever kind of food, the family members always feel a cozy and respectful atmosphere when joining a meal. Meals help to connect people and show the best values.
Wherever we get homesick, we always remember the family meals and the image of the mother busy preparing meals with all kinds of delicious dishes. At mealtime, we forget all the hustles of daily life, let all the fatigue go and totally get immersed in sharing, laughter, and mutual encouragement. So if you are cordially invited to a family meal in Vietnam, it means you are much loved as a part of the family.
It might be familiar to you that the Vietnamese use chopsticks to pick up food and everyone has their own bowl of rice. This could be different from the way Westerners have meals, and therefore, learning the table manners of an Eastern country like Vietnam could be a new experience.
In a Vietnamese family meal, the younger members have to respectfully invite the elders before eating. The youngest one will be the first one to invite, and the rest of the younger will do the same, in ascending order, from the youngest to the oldest. And when you have finished eating, you also need to kindly inform that you have done and tell others to keep on enjoying the rest of their meals.
Also, offering and sharing food with the elders and other members show how cultured, polite, and considerate you are. It is traditional that the elderly and the children are the most cared for and the best food should be reserved for them. One more important thing regarding the table manner is that the anger, the quarrel, the criticism must be completely avoided during the mealtime and everyone has to try to keep the atmosphere cozy and comfortable.
The Vietnamese often use round trays and roundtables to keep the members intimate and make the sharing easier. In that case, the elderly will sit in the spot where the best dishes are placed and where they can easily converse with everyone. In case guests join the meal, the guests are prepared a good seat to show the hospitality of the hosts. The Vietnamese also use rectangular dining tables. In this case, the oldest person will sit at the end with good food, and along the table sides, other seats are arranged in age order.
The elderly and kids are the most cared for during the meals
Nowadays, not only the modern life makes people in the cities more occupied and absent from daily family meals, but some families in the countrysides have children studying far from home also find it hard to have every meal with all the members on a regular basis. However, we always try to have a warm gathering at the end of the day or at least at the weekend as family meals are indispensable in everyone’s life.
Even though the above dining manners are not as strict as before, following them shows your courtesy as well as cultural knowledge. This is why family meals are among the best ways to preserve the moral values and the tradition of Vietnam.
See here for more information about family meals and table manners.
A typical Vietnamese meal consists of rice, dishes with meat, fish, and cooked vegetables soup. In addition, some sauces and raw vegetables accompany the main dishes. There is a range of traditional food with different kind of flavor in Vietnam, varying among the regions.
The Northerners often cook protein dishes with popular ingredients like fish and pork. They could be fried or cooked in a sauce to go with rice and soup. Some of the common dishes are sweet and sour pork ribs, claypot caramelized fish or pork and eggs, crab soup, and the sweet and sour fish soup (canh chua). The dipping sauce like fish sauce and the side dishes like garden eggs pickle are also served to enhance the flavor of the meat and vegetable.
Read more on What to Eat on Food Tours in Northern Vietnam.
A typical meal of the Northerners
An example of a family meal in Northwest Vietnam
Besides featured foods like Bun Bo Hue and Mi Quang, traditional dishes in Central Vietnam meals reflect the soul of hard-working and simple people here. When it comes to flavor, people here tend to put spicy and salty ingredients in dishes to create an appealing look. In general, spice is indispensable in everything, and those who are not used to eating spicy food can find it a little hard to taste. Because most of the provinces in Central Vietnam located near the coastline, some of the popular dishes are made from different kinds of seafood like crab, shrimp, snails, and fish. These ingredients could be steamed or made into salads. Moreover, the shrimp paste, which enhances the taste of dishes, is really popular, especially in Hue.
Most Central Vietnam families have salads in their meals, served with some rice paper crackers
Southern dishes are the sweetest of all 3 regions. As a whole, dishes are made with lots of ingredients and people tend to prefer frying and cooking with the sauce. There are quite many traditional ones found in every family meal like stir-fried beef with celery, stir-fried water spinach with garlic, snakehead fish sour soup, and sour soup with tomatoes and beaten egg. The Southerners also like to eat fish and shrimp caught in rivers.
A typical meal of the Southerners
Canh chua (sweet and sour soup
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Home-cooked food is irreplaceable to Vietnamese, and family meals reflect perfectly the soul and the Vietnamese traditional culture. Regard to the dishes, you would expect to eat saltier foods in the North, spicier foods in the Central and sweeter ones in the South.
But the kind of meal you will enjoy is not the only thing you should know. Besides chopstick skills, there are many table manners to master like where to sit and how to invite the elderly when you are invited to a Vietnamese family meal.
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It was so pleasant being invited to a Vietnamese meal, everyone was so nice and welcoming despite the language barrier. Huge perk of having a local friend in Vietnam