Street Food and the Gentrification of Vietnam

An otherwise innocuous blog post on chicken rice (com ga) in the Central Vietnamese town of Hoi An hides a disturbing little announcement for fans of Vietnamese street food. After describing the chicken dish, longtime Hanoi-based food blogger Stickyrice writes:

“Alas, the vendor informed us, it was the final night of street food in the old town thanks to some new by-law preventing cluttered pavements coming into effect the very next day. Such vendors are being forced into proper premises or more obscure cracks and darkened spaces.”

Is this another doomed attempt to force Vietnamese streets into the mold of a Singaporean style modernity? Or the death knell of Vietnamese street food? Another food blogger Eating Asia laments in the comments to this post: “I think vendor-less streets are the wave of the future in Asia… I feel your pain.”

Street Food in Vietnam

Street food is unfortunately often the victim of the march of “progress” in countries that perceive chaotic street life as anathema to development. Sometimes the rationale is cosmetic (street food vendors clutter the streets); other times the objection is poor hygiene.

A recent article in Nhan Dan, the official Communist Party of Vietnam newspaper, announces an imminent “nationwide crack-down on food safety violators and the building of standards for food hygiene in general”. The English-language article warns of plans to increase food inspections and stricter punishments for violators.

This campaign appears to be in response to industrial food safety concerns of the sort currently in the news about China (tainted soy sauce is the example given in the article). It is still unclear to what extent this crack-down may affect the vital tradition of street food in Vietnam.

One hopes the Vietnamese government will recognize the inherent cultural value – not to mention tourist potential – of the lively street food scene of the nation, and see that food safety and development are not necessarily at odds with its street food traditions.

6 comments

  • Interestingly, “street food,” at least in Hanoi, used to mean small road-side stalls (or women with small mobile grills), not those moving carts like the one pictured above, which I always associate with Thailand, though I am sure they’re common elsewhere in Asia.

  • i cannot agree more. taking away street vendors is taking away an endearing part of the local culture and cuisine. i was even upset by toronto’s decision to remove hot dog vendors from the yorkville district. rich people eat hot junk too!! hahaha :)

  • C.K.

    Taking away the vendors will not improve the appearance of the city but taking away the city’s uniqueness. The ritual of stopping for a quick bite to eat, it’s Vietnamese fast food. It could be BBQ Chicken with Rice or Pho.

  • Therese

    Interesting that this is happening. It was recently banned for the upteenth time in Shanghai, only allowed to come back (in some small fashion). The thought of city officials is that it makes the city look poor, etc. and removing them will improve 1) the appearance of the city, and 2) the hygeine of the city.

  • I’m in Hoi An right now (Aug 13th) and there’s still a Com Ga food stall in town, along with a few others (Cau Lau, Bun Cari.)

  • I wouldn’t worry about Vietnamese street food. As of July it was still going strong, filling up sidewalks in even the nicest parts of Hanoi. As for the official ruling cited in this post; that was in Hoi An, which is a tourist town. Perhaps Vietnamese officials are trying to gentrify the town as more and more tourists come in each year. If they are, that’s a misguided policy because tourists like the cultural spectacle of “little plastic chair” sidewalk cafes, even if they’re normally too nervous to eat there themselves.

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