• Kim Chi Le

Why do Vietnamese love food so much? – Is that more than just eating and tasting?

As every Vietnamese child I have learned to eat with chopsticks, and I got my own small bowl of rice. I really enjoyed eating with my family. My Father was a chef and my sister, and I still remember how obsessed we were with his Mắm Tôm – that’s why he still calls me by my nickname 'Mắm'. But for me it was more than just eating and tasting. For me it was spending time with my family and savoring the moment by sharing the same food. We all enjoyed this time because it was just peaceful filled with moments full of love.

When I went to Kindergarten for the first time, I actually experienced something like a genuine culture shock. I had to learn how to eat with fork and knife, which was probably the least evil. So, I handled it. But for me the ‘Abendbrot’ was a really shocking moment. Because my friend celebrated it! It was her holy day moment – I was excited, too when she invited me for my first dinner with her family. The holy Abendbrot was about to happen. I remember how we all were sitting around the table. At our table you got your own little bowl of rice, but here I got my own dish with a fork and in the middle of table there was a breadbasket, two plates - one with different cheese and one with different (German) sausages - and butter. And that was about it. I was shocked and sad because secretly I was hoping for the similar food we always ate at home: Rice, steamed vegetables, a little soup, tofu, eggs or meat – warm food. food that warms your heart and soul. But I was just a small kid and I had to learn that things were different.

Now, as an adult I’m able to reflect on the experiences of my childhood. And by sharing my story, my experiences and my memories I want to show that for Vietnamese people, food can be so much more than just eating and tasting. For me it is more like meditating because when I come home - either to my mom or to Vietnam - we all play a specific role in the process of helping and preparing our food together. this process helped me to become more aware and conscious with regard to food in general. Above, families and friends come together, generations of family members are sitting together and in order to share the same food. For me it means fulfillment and belonging because we take care of each other.

But with this in mind, I would like to share my reflected new view on the ‘Abendbrot’ story. The insight I gained is that even in the breadbasket there is not just one type of bread, but rather three to five. Also, with the cheese and sausage platter, there were different types and diverse sorts of it because Germany is also known for the variety of bread, sausages and cheese. With regard to the important process of maturing, bread dough needs to rest in order to proof yeast. The same holds true for the intense tastes of cheese or the long process of manufacturing raw meat into sausages. Waiting and wondering, taking my time to think and calm down were also processes I learned appreciating.

Food is a matter of joy and appreciation. With the view of both - the Vietnamese and the German one – food is life, food is love, food means spending time with family and friends. It’s everything and more. But honestly, I still do love Vietnamese food more, just saying. At least this is a fact: Vietnamese people love food that has no need to be questioned – if you don’t know what to talk about in a foreign group or even when you meet a person you haven’t known before - with the topic of food you can always make a connection.

Love, Kim Chi

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