Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Cultural Taste of Vietnam

Browsing a street in Hyewha, one of the vital culture zones for youths at leisure, the warm brothy soup at the Paris-Hanoi restaurant caught my eye and led my nostrils. Vietnamese food is tasty, light and refreshing. A pot of jasmine tea and a petite teacup were on my culturally vermilion table even before I sat down to order beef pho (noodles). I love the ambiance of Asian restaurants and the ambiance at Paris-Hanoi clearly showed the historical culture-exchanges between China and the Kingdom of Anam (the former name of Vietnam). Red predominated and sprigs of fake but authentic looking flowers graced slim lacquered vases. Dragon images and lattice decor reflected the Asian spirit. On the round inlay-worked shelves, however, were uniquely Southeast Asian art and the fuller-faced Buddha of a dark metal typical of the south.

Other cultural similarities yet differences lie on the table. Though round chopsticks are used in both Vietnam and China, Vietnamese use shorter chopsticks than the Chinese but slightly longer ones than the squarish Korean chopsticks. The Vietnamese also use the culturally borrowed short bowl-shaped soup spoon of the Chinese whereas Koreans use a long handled flattish-bowled spoon.

The soup bowl came with its side-dishes of lemoned onion slices, instead of the ubiquitous pickles or kimchi of Korea, and fresh bean sprouts with lemon to squeeze. Two sauces, one sweetish and nutty and the other peppery, are for mixing and spicing up the soup broth to one's own taste. And while noodles are in all three cultures, each culture has its own unique cut and varying ingredients not to mention soup bases and principle herbs for flavoring ... and today's Asian flavor is definitely Vietnamese!

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