Rice vendor having a wee break - little Vietnamese boy sits in a rice bowl having a drink.
Rice vendor having a wee break.

Rice is called ‘white gold’ in Vietnam.

It is definitely a staple of Vietnam, and is said to be eaten three times a day.

One starts the day with a hearty breakfast of noodle soup (Pho), rice gruel (like a porridge) or rice cakes wrapped in a banana leaf.

Lunch or dinner constitutes grilled meat or seafood, rice noodles (vermicelli) or rice.

Yes, I know some of you will look at the above and say . . . boring !!  But this is not the case at all, as when I mention rice it can mean a magnitude of dishes.

It is considered that if no rice appears on the menu for a meal, it is not a meal, but a snack.  Funny thing is the opposite is true for my family, if only rice is served they think they will be hungry soon.


Glutinous Rice

When one talks about glutinous rice, one mustn’t get confused and think that rice contains gluten, as that is not the case.  Glutinous rice is a type of short grained rice that gets seriously sticky when it is cooked.

For the new comer to chopsticks, this is a blessing as trying to eat long grain rice with chop sticks is almost impossible.  But short grained glutinous rice grains sticks together, then even the newbie chop stick user can eat like a pro.

For me when I was growing up, I thought there was only one type of rice and that came in the form of rice salad.  After 12 years in Asia I know there are about 1 million types and many are particular to the country which reflects the type of food they eat and how they eat it.

Rice is an essential part of Vietnamese cuisine and is very much part of the lives of Vietnamese people.  There are only about 101 things Vietnamese do with rice, but we only look at a couple in the Food Glorious Food section.

Rice is cleaned and sorted by the seller, multiple different types and grades exist.
Rice is cleaned and sorted by the seller, multiple different types and grades exist.

Rice Economics

Rice is grown all over Vietnam; seven varieties are grown to suit the different environment and climate of each area.  Near Hanoi in the Red River Delta is important for the local food supply, and national economy; but in Southern Vietnam in the Mekong Delta dominates rice growing and is called the Rice Bowl of Vietnam.  As the Mekong River heads to the sea, it leaves behind rich and fertile land.  Modern mechanized farming methods are used and new strains of rice are becoming popular, but traditional varieties will always have a place as suit certain soil and climate types; plus people love the taste.

In 2008 17 million people lived in the Mekong Delta area, with 80% of them being engaged in rice cultivation.

Rice History

Food was influenced for 1,000 years with Chinese rule, followed by Cambodian dishes which had Indian spice elements, and then the French came along introducing numerous variations including salads and sautéing food.  Even with all of those influences Vietnamese rice is considered the main dish of every meal with the other foods simply add-ons and arranged around it.

In general four types of rice are commonly eaten:

  1. White rice – eaten with every meal.
  2. Jasmine rice – commonly used for upper class.
  3. Glutinous rice – made into numerous dishes and paper.
  4. Broken rice – converted to Can Tom, a dish cooked by restaurants which all have their own distinctive flavor.


Rice Legend

In the ancient past rice would come to the Vietnamese people as an answer to their prayers, arriving as a big ball to every house.  There was none of the hard back breaking work that is required today.

Then one day a lady was instructed by her husband to clean the house to prepare for the next rice parcel.  So, busy cleaning she didn’t see the rice ball had arrived and accidently hit her broom hard against it.  The broom broke and so did the spell !!

Since that day the Vietnamese have had to cultivate and grow rice hard way.