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 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.