You Wouldn’t Have Vietnamese Cuisine As We Know It Without A French Influence
Vietnamese cuisine is distinct. It amalgamates various Asian cuisines. It features farm-fresh ingredients from the baskets of Vietnamese farmers. It also holds some little-known influence from French cuisine.
Connections Between French Cuisine and Vietnamese Cuisine
From 1887 until 1954, Vietnam was under French rule. A colony of France, the land recognized today as Vietnam was once the home of many French soldiers. Here, they lived and shared language, culture, and more.
In total, France had rule over Vietnam for nearly 70 years. Two whole generations of people had come and gone by the time the French withdrew. By the end of their colonial rule in Vietnam, a lot of French influence had already taken root in Vietnamese culture, art, religion, and architecture.
One area where there was an undeniable mark on Vietnam was in the food. Despite their independence declaration in 1954, there was forever a mark on Vietnamese cuisine from decades of French-style living.
Though it would be unfair to say that French cuisine dominates Vietnam food, it’s an influence that exceeds others. In Vietnamese cooking, alongside French styles, you also have Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and other ethnic influences.
What gives Vietnamese a distinct identity is the blending of these foods alongside ingredients and preferences of the people of Vietnam.
What Are the Most Common French Foods in Vietnamese Cuisine?
You will find a variety of adapted French foods in Vietnamese cuisine, the most popular being baguettes.
Baguettes are French bread. In Vietnamese cooking, they are filled with things like cold cuts, jalapenos, pickled white radish, carrot, cucumber slices, and cheese to make sub-esque sandwiches.
In addition to baguettes, there are a small handful of French desserts. The banh flan is one such dessert and comes with a caramel or coffee sauce poured over top.
Sua chua is a Vietnam variant on yogurt, originally brought to Vietnam by French colonists. Created from condensed milk, sua chua is sold in small bags and has a sweet, tart flavor to it.
French-inspired meat pastries also became very popular in the first half of the twentieth century.
In fact, it was during the French colonial rule that the use of beef became popularized in Vietnamese cooking. Before the French came, Vietnamese people hardly ate beef. The same can be said for buffalo.
As they arrived, French soldiers noticed the abundance of cattle in the fields. At that time, the Vietnamese would have never thought of using them as a source of food. Cattle were always considered working animals and assistants in plowing fields of rice. To this point, rice was the staple.
Over time, things began to change. The French were using cattle for meat. They instructed the people of Vietnam accordingly. From the way it was cooked to its cut and presentation, the French-style of beef had a significant role in how it would forever be prepared in Vietnamese cuisine. Multi-course beef-based meals and beef in Vietnamese pho are two examples of its popularity.
What is the French Influence on Vietnamese Vegetables?
Things like onions, asparagus, and potatoes were grown and eaten in Vietnam for many years prior to the arrival of the French.
However, it was the French that gave Vietnamese people a different way to prepare these foods.
Items like onions, cauliflower, lettuce, potatoes, tarragon, carrots, artichoke, asparagus, and coffee are all prepared in Vietnamese cuisine somewhat according to how they are eaten in French cuisine.
It was also the French who also brought dairy products to Vietnam. There weren’t very many uses of dairy products anywhere in Vietnamese cuisine before French colonial rule. So much of the food in Vietnamese eating was either vegetables, meat, or rice.
Other dishes you may be surprised are French-influenced include salads, various pastries, croissants, yogurt, butter, rotisserie meats, duck, omelettes, and other ways to cook eggs, ham, sauces, and also the method of cooking with wine.
What is the French Influence on Vietnamese Pho?
Pho is Vietnam’s national dish. It is a hearty soup made from slow-simmered beef, the first hint of French cuisine.
Pho shares a lot of similarities with the French soup ‘pot au feu’. Both soups are made from beef bones. Both also used ginger and onions to flavor the broth.
The traditional red meat version of Vietnamese pho is very French-heavy in its influence. Many variations exist, however. Seafood-based pho is very Vietnam-heavy. There are also chicken, vegetarian, and pork versions.
The spices themselves can also vary dish-to-dish, depending on preferences of the family.
Preparing pho is very much a family activity with recipes passed down through the generations, bringing together traditions of old and new. Almost every variety of pho has a little of French cuisine and a lot of Vietnamese cuisine and is usually mixed with one or two other inspirations to ultimately craft something truly memorable.
What Are the Differences Between Banh Mi and French Baguettes?
The French introduced a lot to Vietnamese cooking but it’s in the ways that these foods were adapted to suit the country’s cuisine that marks the key differences between French and Vietnamese.
The baguette in France is a very distinguished and very French food. In Vietnamese, the filling is Vietnamese with ingredients and sauces made from home ingredients. In addition, the Vietnamese baguette is made entirely from rice flour which differentiates it from a French baguette.
Biting into a Vietnamese baguette, you will notice it is fluffier and crispier than the French prefer and the bread is quite a bit lighter with an emphasis placed on the stuffing rather than the preference of the French who want the focus to be the bread.
Baguettes prepared in this way are delicious with tea or coffee to match. It was also in the occupation of Vietnam that the French brought coffee to the Vietnamese people. Slowly adapting it to their tastes, modern-day Vietnamese coffee is brewed strong, served over ice, nestled in sweetened condensed milk, and is an energizing treat with a bold, caffeinated flavor.
Similarities Between Vietnamese Cuisine and other Ethnic Cuisine
French colonization of the region wasn’t restricted to the modern-day borders of Vietnam, either.
Dishes and beverages shared between Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and other regions have a common influence in French colonization.
Digging further into Vietnamese cuisine, you will also find influences from Champa and Malaysia.
Traders in these regions and far beyond brought with them to Vietnam new ingredients. New methods of preparation came to be discovered that would forever change the identity of Vietnamese cooking using said ingredients.
This is also why there are differences between north and south Vietnam. The traders coming to these areas, preferences of the people, and what’s able to be grown on farms all have a strong influence on the food.
The modern-day traditional style of Vietnamese cuisine originates in part from all these sources. As Vietnamese people travelled to countries all over the world, there is now Vietnamese food fused with all sorts of cuisines from Canada to Russia, Europe, Africa, India, and beyond.
All in all, French-influenced Vietnamese food showcases the power of fusion in cooking. With Vietnamese restaurants in Toronto, the GTA, and beyond offering a glimpse into what it is to eat Vietnamese, you’re also getting to see the influence that Canadian and American styles of cooking and eating are having on key dishes like banh mi, pho, stir-fry dishes, rice dishes, and more.
At TorontoPHO, we have the best Vietnamese food in the GTA. We work hard to provide traditional, healthy Vietnamese options that lean on the French-style of cooking as well as alternatives like vegetarian, Thai, and Canadian-influenced Asian options. Come and visit us in-person or check out our special menu online. More than just a Vietnamese restaurant, we take immense care in preparing our food authentically while respecting the traditions of old. Visit TorontoPHO today to see a little more of what we mean.