RESTAURANTS, FAST FOOD AND FOOD SCARES IN VIETNAM

RESTAURANTS IN VIETNAM

Many of the best restaurants used by Vietnamese consist only of one small room. On every corner there is a noodle or pho shop. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City you can find some restaurants serving American-style fast food, Italian food, French food, French-Vietnamese food, Thai food, Korean food, Japanese food and other kinds of international cuisine. Off the beaten path the choice is usually more limited: small local restaurants and perhaps a backpacker banana pancake place.

Most restaurants in tourist areas have menus in English but off the beaten track the menus are only in Vietnamese or there are no menus at all. Try to get a hold of a guidebook that lists dish names in both English and Vietnamese. The easiest way to get a good meal is find a restaurant with a lot of customers, look around at what people are eating and point out to the waitress a dish that looks good. Sometimes the dishes don't taste like you think they will and sometimes other restaurant customers don't appreciate having their food stared at and pointed out, but all in all it is the best method for sampling a variety of good dishes.

Bars and restaurants filled with cigarette smoke. At crowded, busy restaurants, sharing tables with strangers is common. Restaurants generally don’t serve water. They may serve tea or a cold tea-like drink. Sometimes no napkins are available. Many people worried about hygiene bring their own utensils and chopsticks or carry swabs and packets of alcohol to wipe off utensils and rims of glasses in restaurant. Tipping is generally not necessary.

See Separate Article on VIETNAMESE CUISINE

Long Waits and Hostile Service at Hanoi Restaurants

Tuoi Tre wrote on anhfighter.blogspot: "As the country moves toward global integration, Hanoi has been taking stock of its hospitality services, yet restaurants and hotels are still plagued by bullies, who shout or swear at their customers. Pho, the most common breakfast food in Hanoi, draws hungry punters to a myriad of establishments, such as Pho Thin, Pho Ly Quoc Su, Pho Bat Dan, and Pho Co. Arriving at Bat Dan in the old quarter on a hot summer’s day, and just finding a place to park our motorbikes was a real problem. Dozens of people were standing in two long queues waiting for their bowl of pho. It was not pleasant standing in the Hanoi summer heat along with the sweating throng. My friend got his chance first. About eight minutes later it was my chance to get my noodles. Then we had to find a seat. The small restaurant didn’t have nearly enough space, and people were sitting on the pavement outside. But even on pavement it seemed that every seat was occupied. Some folks were milling around waiting for someone to finish and leave their seat. After 40 minutes waiting, my friend and I had to take separate seats. If customers come in a group of two or three, it’s likely that they will not be able to sit together at a table unless they wait right through lunch. Nevertheless, when talking to one of my friends who are a food connoisseur, he told me that, there are still many these restaurants in Hanoi, handed down from generation to generation, where the owners are the king’s, not the customers. [Source: Tuoi Tre, http://anhfighter.blogspot.jp, June 28, 2007 |:|]

In these restaurants if customers are not shouted or sworn at, then they are already having a good time. One bun restaurant at Ngo Si Lien Market has the dubious honour as having the foulest mouthed workers. The noodles are mixed with pork, all in all a very tasty dish, and this particular restaurant attracts many customers. However, the owner, a woman in her 50s, and her daughter, are ready to swear or produce long strings of sailor talk for their customers. For instance, a customer asking for more meat or spices would be greeted with "Why didn’t you fxxxxx ask me before?". Patrons urging them to move quickly with service after being made to wait, they will be offered a retort along the liens of "Don’t fxxxxx push me. I don’t have 10 hands." Several weeks ago a customer lost his temper after being offered too many choice words, and dished the owner up several knuckle sandwiches. She was forced to languish in hospital for a few days and think about her shrewish tongue.|:|

"People who have a good knowledge of Hanoi often categorise customers who choose this kind of service into three different personality types. They include those folks who actually miss the subsidy period, another type who think that pho or ice cream culture means going to the same place as everyone else, because after all, that place is "number one". Then there are the folks who believe that such service is part of Hanoi’s charm. Many restaurant owners say that they have been shouting and swearing at customers for so long, that the punters actually expect it, and any change in their habits may drive people away. Writer’s always blather on about how Hanoians don’t just go to restaurants to eat, but also to enjoy ‘the special, unique atmosphere of Hanoi dining’. This could be true for some restaurants, where diners are forced to stand in long queues, yet, why are other, more traditional restaurants, La Vong grilled fish for example, doing so well without the shouting and swearing. |:|

"Each restaurant deals in their own specialty and one could forgive the occasional accidental outburst on a baking hot day. Perhaps in their kitchen cooked heads, shouting and swearing are terms of endearment to customers. The simple truth is that in many restaurants in Hanoi, owners and their staff ignore their customers needs. In a restaurant where food for breakfast is served, some customers from the south ordered omelet and bread. After waiting for some time there still seemed to be no food forthcoming, and the hungry customers tried to remind the waiters that their food hadn’t come. One waiter didn’t look up from whatever he was doing but said the food would be another 15 minutes. When the customers called again, the water said "It’s only been 14 minutes". One customer growled "Making an omelette takes two minutes", to which the surly waiter replied "Every customer here has to wait for 15 minutes. It is the restaurant’s regulation," "That’s ridiculous!" The customer said not believing what he heard. "If you don’t like then get lost". |:|

"Another irritating ploy is when customers order just one or two dishes, but waiters bring out too many, or entirely the wrong dish. Waiters will also allow customers to order dishes from the menus even though they don’t make said dishes, and don’t bother to tell the customers, rather just make something else. At one renowned restaurant, which is in a very good location in Hanoi, customers ordered tea after their meal. "We don’t have tea," the waiter replied. But when a big group of foreign tourists walked in, out came the cups of tea. In the book on globalisation in different places written by Thomas L Friedman called "The Lexus and the olive tree", there is a short paragraph about Hanoi. The author wrote that after he had lunch at the Sofitel Metropole he ordered tangerine for dessert. The waiter told him "We don’t have tangerines". At that time it was the right season for tangerines and many were being sold on the streets. The writer went on, "Every morning I have seen tangerines on the tables for breakfast. Are you sure?" "No, we don’t have any," the waiter insisted. When Friedman changed to watermelon, the waiter went to the kitchen. After few minutes he brought out tangerines and said, "We don’t have watermelon, but I found some tangerines." |:|

"To explain this, some people say that Hanoi was wrapped in the darkness of the subsidy period for a long time and the integration has not changed much, as it has done in Saigon. The second reason is that Hanoians simply don’t demand much of themselves or their peers. This reason is further confirmed by the fact that restaurants that have good locations such as near rivers, lakes or town center normally have a bad reputation. As these restaurants are located in good places, they don’t bother to find ways to attract more customers. It is estimated that every day VND20bil (US$125,000) is spent on marketing for goods and services in Hanoi. However, in hospitality, services are still appalling. |:|

Decline of Rice Consumption and the Rise of Fast Food, Obesity and Diabetes in Vietnam

Duc Hanh of AFP wrote: “For the first time last year, absolute consumption of rice in Vietnam began to slowly decline as the newly wealthy seek out alternative sources of carbohydrate, according to a 2013 World Bank report. [Source: Duc Hanh, AFP, February 8, 2014 **]

“With a 90 million-strong population and average per capita income of more than $1,500, "Vietnam is on the radar now" for US franchises, said Sean Ngo, managing director of consulting firm Vietnam Franchises Ltd. The price Vietnam is paying for prosperity is rising rates of diabetes and obesity -- particularly in affluent urban areas like Ho Chi Minh City, where nearly 10 percent of children are now classed as overweight, according to state media. **

The Wall Street Journal reported: Yum Brands’s KFC, an overseas trail blazer in fast food, arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 1997 and now has 135 outlets in 19 cities and provinces throughout Vietnam. Burger King opened its first restaurant here in 2012, and now has 13 outlets in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang. In February 2013, Starbucks opened its first outlet in the city. Meanwhile, Philippines-based Jollibee and South Korea's Lotteria arrived in 1998. [Source: Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2014]

According to Associated Press: Vietnam's youthful population is a strong lure for foreign companies. Vietnam's rulers only began opening the country's economy to the world in the early 1990s. Foreign brands enjoy prestige among people keen to experiment with food and lifestyle choices unavailable to their parent's generation.

KFC Opens First American Fast Food Outlet in Hanoi

The first fast food outlet to open in Vietnam was a Baskin Robbins in Ho Chi Minh City. Early Vietnamese takes on American fast food included a restaurant called HAM-BUT-GO CA-LI-PHO-NIA.

In 2006, AFP reported: "U.S. deep-fried chicken chain KFC opened its first restaurant in the Vietnamese capital, drawing crowds eager for a taste of Western fast food. "This is the first American fast food restaurant in Hanoi and we plan to open two more here this year," said KFC Vietnam general director Pornchai Thuratum. "We've had a lot of people today." Hundreds of youngsters flocked to the 120-seat restaurant. [Source: Agence France Presse, June 22, 2006 <>]

"I heard about KFC a long time ago, and I came here mostly out of curiosity," said Nguyen Thanh Huong, a 15-year-old schoolgirl. "It's quite nice and convenient." The capital is "a very good potential market, that's why we came here," said KFC Vietnam deputy director general Nguyen Chi Kien. KFC, then known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, first came to communist Vietnam in 1997 and has since opened 20 outlets in and around southern Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. In the north it is also planning a new branch in the port city of Haiphong, said Pornchai. <>

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, an American colonel from Kentucky has made a triumphant arrival in this communist capital. But rather than battling for any hearts and minds, this newest in-country campaign is being waged over Vietnam's stomach. KFC Corp. -- and its white-bearded icon, Col. Sanders -- recently became the first U.S.-based fast-food chain to open a restaurant in Hanoi. Though expensive by Vietnamese standards, costing three times as much as a bowl of pho noodle bowl, a traditional dish sold at local restaurants, Southern fried chicken is quickly attracting a hungry following. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2006 ><]

"To celebrate her birthday, math tutor Vu Thi Viet Anh and her two teenage students decided to splurge at the fast-food outlet. "The food tastes greasier than Vietnamese food," Anh said. "I like that." Critics worry that a taste for foreign food may drive Vietnamese youth away from their own culture. "It's only food, but it can have an influence," said Hung, the Foreign Ministry official. "If young people get to like this American fast food, they may develop a fixation for the country that produces it. They may feel they can no longer be 100 percent Vietnamese. We don't want that to happen." ><

"One cab driver tipped down his Ray-Ban sunglasses to say he wouldn't go near any KFC restaurant. "I have no interest," he said. Others question an appetite for greasy fast food in a land of light, healthy fare. "Yes, it's a sign of the times, it's the way of the world, it's what people want, but it's also damn depressing," wrote a columnist in the Vietnam Investment Review, "so depressing I think I'm going to go out and gorge myself on bun rieu. bun cha, pho ga.... After all, we don't need 'finger-licking good' in Vietnam -- we use chopsticks." ><

"Still, Vietnam is considered a hot market for fast food: More than 65 percent of its 80 million residents are younger than 35. In 1998, KFC opened its doors in Ho Chi Minh City, which now has 20 outlets. But the move 700 miles north to Hanoi, a city of 3.5 million, took a while because of the region's more conservative culture and the city's status as the seat of the communist government, officials say. Since its opening in July on the first floor of a retail-office complex, the 120-seat Hanoi KFC outlet has become a popular spot for teens and young adults. "This is really good," 17-year-old Nguyen Phuong Dung said as she and her older brother lunched on platters of chicken and fries in Hanoi's financial district. "But it's expensive for a student." ><

"Hung, of the Foreign Ministry, said he took his two sons to KFC as a reward for good grades in school. "But we can do it only occasionally," he said. "It's still a luxury, especially for low-income people." Nguyen Phuong Dung and her waif-thin older brother said calories were an issue. "I only come here occasionally," she said. "Sure, the cost is more. But I'm just afraid of getting fat. My mother always warns me about that." ><

Vietnam Gets Its First McDonald’s in 2014

In February 2014, McDonald's opened its first restaurant in Vietnam and its 10,000th in Asia-Pacific, Mideast and Africa Region. Duc Hanh of AFP wrote: “The arrival of one of the most potent symbols of US capitalism in southern Ho Chi Minh City -- known as Saigon when American troops dramatically withdrew in 1975 -- is the result of a partnership with the son-in-law of Vietnam's powerful Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. McDonald's is following US rivals Burger King, KFC and coffee giant Starbucks into Vietnam -- a country many Americans associate more with an unpopular war than a newly wealthy middle class. [Source: Duc Hanh, AFP, February 8, 2014 **]

The Wall Street Journal reported: McDonald's opened its first restaurant in Vietnam to huge crowds eager to try a Big Mac, with people waiting in long, velvet-roped lines or on motor scooters inching up to the drive-through. McDonald's let in its first customers Saturday at its flagship 24-hour store on crowded Dien Bien Phu street in Ho Chi Minh City. The crowds frequently outnumbered the available 350 seats, with the largely young clientele snapping selfies with the Golden Arches symbol behind them. In addition to the usual McDonald's fare, the menu includes McPork sandwiches, pioneered for the pork-loving country. "It's very tasty and the size is just about right for my lunch," Nguyen Trung Kien, 26, said after finishing a McPork, priced at $3.10, a not-so-cheap lunch in a city where street vendors sell a bowl of beef noodle soup for $1.50. [Source: Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2014 ////]

“The official launch was two days later, when Don Thompson, McDonald's global chief executive, said Vietnam offers "tremendous opportunity to grow our brand." The restaurant is the first 24-hour, drive-through restaurant in Vietnam. Vietnam "is a very young and vibrant market place…and we think it's now time to have [a] McDonald's experience in Vietnam," Mr. Thompson said. Henry Nguyen, McDonald’s main franchise partner in Vietnam said the restaurant served 20,000 customers on each of its first two days. He said the next McDonald's restaurant is scheduled to be opened in the city in three months. He declined to offer further expansion details. ////

McDonald's in Vietnam: Food, Culture and Partly-Owned by the Premier’s Son-in-Law

Duc Hanh of AFP wrote: “Signs of the country's rising affluence were on display Saturday as hundreds of people -- mostly young students or families with children -- queued at the McDonald's store on Dien Bien Phu street, named after the battle that ended French colonial rule in Indochina. "I like fast-food. I don't like Vietnamese food. I don't like fish sauce," Nguyen Hoang Long told AFP as he devoured a Big Mac meal, referring to the pungent condiment made from fermented fish and sea salt that is used liberally in local cooking. "McDonald's in Vietnam is seen as a high-class restaurant. In the US, it's just normal," added the 25-year-old, who acquired a love of fast food while studying in California. ** [Source: Duc Hanh, AFP, February 8, 2014 **]

A Big Mac costs about $2.85 at the Vietnamese outlet, while a bowl of traditional pho noodle soup can be bought on most street corners for around $1.50. The relatively high price of a burger positions McDonald's as an aspirational dining option accessible only to the middle class, prominent economist Le Dang Doanh told AFP. But the Vietnamese "are still used to eating rice and noodles," Doanh said. "McDonald's will have to find solutions for this market." Hong Diep, a 33-year-old mother of two who had taken her fast-food loving children to the McDonald's opening, said she only let her son and daughter eat burgers and fries as a special treat. "I know it's not healthy," she said. "In terms of nutrition, no food can compare to the Vietnamese dishes I cook them at home." **

Chung Thanh Dung, 24, ate his first McChicken after waiting in line for 15 minutes told the Wall Street Journal: "It's quite good…better than most of the fast-food items I have tried," Pham Thi Huong Phuong, 24, predicted young people like herself will like socializing at America's Golden Arches. "Eating at McDonald's is…a way of a modern life for us young people. It's not only a place to have a meal, but also a place to hang out with friends," said Miss Phuong. But she predicts Vietnamese people will still prefer local food. "I can eat rice and pho (beef or chicken noodle soup) daily, but McDonald's…well, not quite," Ms. Phuong said. ////

The arrival of McDonald's marks a full turnaround for the fortunes of US brands in former wartime foe Vietnam. Iconic brands such as Coca-Cola were available in US-allied South Vietnam until the end of the war, but the companies pulled out after the communist victory which paved the way for the unification of the country in 1975. The arrival of McDonald's in a country where a war was once fought over capitalism "means that globalisation really is nearly complete," said cultural critic and award winning author Anne Elizabeth Moore. **

McDonald's chose Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country. According to to Associated Press: The company said it had chosen Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnam's prime minister, as the main franchise partner based on a "rigorous" selection process. Nguyen was quoted as saying that a stint at McDonald's was one of his first jobs as a teenager in the United States. "I have dreamed of one day opening a McDonald's restaurant in my native country ever since my return to Vietnam more than a decade ago," Nguyen said. "I have been in contact with McDonald's over the years sharing the opportunity that exists in our country." [Source: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press, July 16, 2013]

North Korean Fast Food in Vietnam

In 2003, Reuters reported: "Famine-struck North Korea has opened its first fast food restaurant in communist Vietnam, hoping to cash in on a taste for the unusual in boomtown Ho Chi Minh City. The main dish on the menu at the 50-seat restaurant is naengmyeon — wheat noodles served ice-cold, with a dash of traditional Korean pickle and broth extracted from cow's lungs and intestines. "The establishment will serve Vietnamese comrades," said Ryu H.Y., one of the eatery's four North Korean managers. Sited on the edge of a bustling commercial quarter in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, the Taedonggang Pyongyang restaurant was nearly full today, its opening day. [Source: Reuters, October 12, 2003 **]

"The food here tastes great. It's very, very delicious," said Hattori Tsuneo, a Japanese businessman based in the city formerly known as Saigon. He sampled cold noodles and raw salmon. Paying the equivalent of just over $US2 ($A2.90) for a set meal -- not too much more than a Vietnamese eatery's average rice dish -- customers could wash it all down with soft drinks, Heineken beer or Japanese sake rice wine. Communist Vietnam, where average annual incomes still hover around $US400 ($A580), has few international fast-food chains. The U.S. Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jollibee Foods Corp from the Philippines operate in Ho Chi Minh City. Ryu said he was sure that besides local Vietnamese, foreign tourists "contributing to the friendship and understanding between North Korea and the world" would also opt to eat there. **

"On the dining room's bright pink walls, pictures showed happy North Korean families rowing in the River Taedonggang, after which the restaurant is named. The restaurant represents one of the rare links that Vietnam, which has experienced many capitalist influences in recent years, has with the reclusive east Asian state. "The restaurant is important for North Korea's internationalisation," Ryu said in near-perfect French as a North Korean embassy staffer from the capital Hanoi looked on. **

North Korea is regarded as one of the world's most isolated countries and its hardline communist leaders are extremely wary of foreign influences. The restaurant is only the third North Korean restaurant open for business in southeast Asia. One is located in Cambodia's Siem Reap and the other is in Phnom Penh. The Korea International Travel Company (KITC) is the sole owner with a $US100,000 ($A145,300) investment in the Vietnam eatery. Ryu said the KITC was eyeing expansion to other cities and countries in Asia and Europe to promote North Korea's "special characteristics". "We will start small but grow big. We are capable of running a business, too," he said. **

Vietnamese Fast Food Chains

John Ruwitch and Jason Szep of Reuters wrote: “The 38-year-old chief executive of Golden Gate Trade & Service, a fast-growing restaurant chain operator, is modeling his business on China's Little Sheep Group Ltd which has more than 350 chain stores around the world. "That is our case study," he said, "But of course our culture is different and we have to find our way of doing things." Five years ago, Vinh and two friends set up a restaurant specializing in "mushroom hotpot" -- a savory mix of mushrooms, meat and vegetables boiled in a salty broth and eaten from a gas-fired vessel. Within two years, he had six shops. By last year, he had 34. [Source: John Ruwitch and Jason Szep, Reuters, January 13, 2011 <>]

"Our vision is in the next three years to increase profits 40-50 percent a year, and at the end of 2013 to have about 90 or 100 restaurants," he said. His rival, seven-year-old Pho 24, a network of soup noodle shops that has become the biggest restaurant chain in Vietnam with 60 stores, has expanded abroad with 19 restaurants. Founder and chief executive Ly Qui Trung said he expects the number of franchised stores to double or triple in the next five years. <>

Fast Food Brings Concerns About Diabetes to Vietnam

Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, Jeremy Laurance wrote in The Independent, "As darkness falls, clusters of tiny plastic tables and stools spread across the pavements - improvised street-side restaurants to feed the armies of office workers. The acrid smell of pigs' trotters seared over charcoal braziers beside pans of meat bubbling on spirit burners fills the humid night air." In the old days "crisps, cola and ice-cream were novelties and fast-food restaurants featured only in Western magazines. Now they are part of the everyday scene.[Source: Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, February 27, 2006 /\]

"But progress has a price. Across the Far East, growing urbanisation, rapid industrialisation and increasing obesity associated with decreased physical activity is fuelling an epidemic that has killed as many as Aids but has received a fraction of the attention. The disease is diabetes. On the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, fast-food chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken are starting to appear, alongside the snack bars, cake shops and mobile food carts catering for the worker on the move. Traditional dishes that have sustained people over generations are disappearing, to be replaced by Western-style cooking that uses more fat, salt, sugar, oil and meat. Ordinary restaurants now offer a special version of the standard Pho Ga - chicken noodle soup - aimed at more affluent office workers that contains 22 percent more calories than the basic dish. The casualties of the trend can be seen in hospitals around the country. Squatting on an iron bedstead covered with a thin straw mat, Le Quang Can, aged 58, is unaware of the threat the disease poses to his life. /\

"He arrived at the endocrinology clinic in Thanh Hoa province in northern Vietnam, 90 miles south of Hanoi, at 7 am for a routine test. He has unexpectedly been kept in for observation because his blood sugar level is sky high, and he could slip into a coma at any moment. A retired soldier with six children, Mr Can waits for the insulin with which he has been injected to bring his blood glucose level down. He wears a woolly hat and blue pyjamas against the cold - it is winter in north Vietnam and a chill wind is blowing down from China. He and his wife work in the rice fields and the doctor will later warn him that unless he controls his diet he could end up a blind amputee, dependent on his family. Outside, scores of patients wait patiently on the steps under the corrugated iron roof for the results of tests carried out in the morning. The clinic, funded by the WDF, sees 130 diabetes patients a day in this provincial town, one of the poorest in Vietnam, and the scale of the need it has uncovered has persuaded the government to set up similar clinics across the country. /\

"The most striking thing about the patients at the Thanh Hoa clinic is how few of them are fat. In the West, obesity is the chief driver of the epidemic - the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has just released a new report showing that soaring levels of obesity among children in the UK are sparking a crisis of diabetes in under-16s. But Mr Can is lean and spry as are most of the other patients. Doctors do not know why Asians are more prone to the disease. One theory is that because of their slighter build, compared with Westerners, they have less muscle bulk and more fat, so do not need to gain much weight to put themselves at risk. Malnourishment in infancy or in the womb, which is known to increase the risk of diabetes, may also play a part. Seven out of 10 of the worst affected nations by the disease are in Asia. India already has a total of 31 million cases, the highest in the world, closely followed by China with 20 million. The Far East is expected to see the fastest growth by 2025, with a near doubling in the current total of 81 million cases to 156 million. /\

"The road to Thanh Hoa from Hanoi passes small village stores selling crisps, ice-cream and soft drinks, which are often cheaper than water. It is thronged with scooters but is free of the children - who once walked beside it to school - they now travel by bus. The disappearance of traditional diets and lifestyles and their replacement with junk foods and motor transport are believed to be behind the growth in the disease. "As the economy grows, lifestyle and eating patterns change," Dr Kapur said. /\

Millions in Vietnam at Risk from Raw Fish Worms

In 2002, Reuters reported: "Millions of Vietnamese are exposed to parasitic infections because many people in the southeast Asian country eat raw fish, health officials said on Tuesday. "Around five million people are exposed to the risk of infection...and around 400,000-500,000 are estimated to be infected," Vietnam's health minister Tran Thi Trung Chien told a three-day workshop on parasites that began on Tuesday. Seafood is a staple for Vietnam's 80 million people and eating raw fish is common. About one third of the population lives below the poverty line. [Source: Reuters, November 26, 2002]

Residents living in high-incidence areas for worm infections would be advised to stop eating raw fish, health officials said. In October, the government also set up a fund to provide health screening for the poor. Around 40 million people worldwide — mostly in eastern and southern Asia — are infected with trematode worms, conference organizers the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement.

Food Poisoning Hits 400 Children in Vietnam

In November 2003, AFP reported: "Four hundred primary school children were taken to hospital with food poisoning in southern Vietnam after drinking milk and eating biscuits provided by their schools, officials said today. The children, from three schools in the Tan Hong district of Dong Thap province, were taken to a local health center for treatment yesterday after complaining of stomach aches and nausea. The milk and biscuits were provided to 22 schools in the district by two Vietnamese companies as part of a US-funded school nutritional programme, local education officials said. The children were kept at the center overnight and released this morning. Provincial health authorities said they were trying to trace the source of the contamination. Food poisoning outbreaks are increasingly common in Vietnam, particularly in the south where year-round humidity and inadequate cold storage facilities often provide fertile breeding grounds for bacteria. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 6, 2003]

A month earlier, Xinhua reported: Nearly 200 people in Vietnamese northern province Thai Binh had to receive emergency treatment due to food poisoning on Monday afternoon, local newspaper Labor reported Tuesday. After having a wedding party, all of the patients showed the symptoms of vomiting, stomachache, and lower blood pressure.By 4 PM on Monday, the Thai Binh Province Polyclinic Hospital received more than 50 serious poisoning cases, mostly children and elder people. The hospital took 22 testing samples from the patients to find out reasons for the collective food poisoning case. As of August this year, 2,300 people suffered from food poisoning, of whom, 21 died in Vietnam. [Source: Xinhua, October 1, 2003]

Food Scares in Vietnam: Toxic Soy Sauce, Pesticide-Laden Vegetables

in September 2007, AFP reported: "A frown crosses the face of Nguyen Thi Huong as she peruses the fresh produce at a Vietnamese market -- a series of food scandals has left her worried about just what is safe for her family to eat. Vietnamese consumers have been hit by a string of bad news, with dangerous pesticides found on fruit and vegetables, cancer-causing chemicals in soy sauce and formaldehyde in the national dish, pho noodle soup. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 11, 2007 \|/]

"What can I buy now?" the 55-year-old housewife said, scanning the farm produce, tofu and meats at Hanoi's bustling Xanh market. "All the food looks fresh and good, but I can't be sure it's safe for my family." Consumers in Vietnam, a country of 84 million people, have long been proud of their delicious and healthy cuisine, typically high in greens and low in fat and prepared with a wide variety of market-fresh ingredients. Early each morning, thousands of farmers travel by truck, moped or bicycle to deliver fresh vegetables, poultry products and meat from outlying farms to the inner city areas of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. \|/

"But as Vietnam is turning from a mainly agrarian country, where three quarters of people are farmers, into a more industrialised and market-driven economy, food scares blamed on intense agrochemical use have risen sharply. A recent survey by the state-run Plant Protection Department found pesticides on 30 to 60 percent of the vegetables tested in Hanoi markets, including substances that are banned in Vietnam and other countries. One of them was the insecticide metamidophos, which has been linked to health problems in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and the United States. \|/

"Many farmers in Vietnam and neighbouring China use high doses of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost production in a cut-throat market where margins are slim, even though many know the substances pose health risks. "My family doesn't eat the vegetables I sell in the market every day," admitted Nguyen Thi Nhuong, a stall-owner who sells produce she grows in Thanh Tri district outside the capital Hanoi. "We have set aside a small part of our garden for vegetables that grow naturally for our daily use. We are afraid the chemicals will harm our health." Health scandals have also hit other foods in Vietnam, where an increasingly aggressive media is highlighting food scandals, leaving many people scared and unsure what, if anything, is still safe to eat. \|/

"In June, consumers boycotted domestically-made soy sauce after health authorities found levels of 3MPCD -- a flavor booster that may cause cancer after prolonged consumption -- 10 to 100 times above legal limits. "Health agencies have known that Vietnamese soy sauce, the country's second most popular sauce after fish sauce, has been chock full of cancer agents since at least 2001," thundered the Thanh Nien daily. "Why didn't anyone tell us?" The paper pointed out that no fewer than 11 state agencies were responsible for food safety, and that none of them took responsibility for the contaminations. Vietnam's consumers are used to trouble. Past scandals have focused on toxins in popular foods -- formaldehyde in pho noodle soup, borax in traditional cakes and sausages, and dangerous preservatives in seafood. According to state-run Vietnam Television, every year Vietnam reports 250 to 500 cases of food poisoning that sicken up to 10,000 people, although the unreported figure is almost certain to be far higher. \|/

"In the first six months of the year, the Health Ministry said 25 people had died of food poisoning, and the Vietnam Cancer Association blames one third of the country's 150,000 annual cancer cases on tainted food. Vietnam bans many toxic substances, but authorities in the communist nation admit that monitoring and enforcement are weak. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in August declared the health ministry the top authority on food safety, to end the practice of overlapping ministries and authorities issuing conflicting reports on food safety. Two inspection teams will be set up on a pilot basis in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in the near future, he said on the official government website. Authorities have ordered food producers to abide by state guidelines, and the government has dabbled in organic farming, so far a limited experiment. \|/

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently worked on a pilot project to ween Mekong Delta rice farmers off pesticides by using an electric device to check the migrations of brown plant hoppers, a major pest. The project found that if farmers planted rice immediately after the infestations, the crops grew strong enough to resist the next hopper infestation three weeks later -- without the use of pesticides. The strategy produced a healthy crop and good yields, said the FAO, even as other farmers sprayed their fields eight times or more and inadvertently killed off spiders and other natural enemies of the hoppers. "There is a trend to go back to using chemicals, under pressure from salesmen and advertisements," said FAO country chief Andrew Speedy. "Vietnam has a long and successful history of applying integrated pest management for natural control of pests and this should not be forgotten by modern farmers." Despite such efforts and government promises to make things better, for now, housewife Huong remains skeptical. "I don't trust the officials," she said. "They say a lot of things but don't realise them. We have to protect ourselves and our families." \|/

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.