Blog post 2: 18 days in HCMC (Task 5)

The cuisine of Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC) is a confluence of various Vietnamese (e.g., northern and central Vietnam) and international influences (e.g., Thailand, Korea, France, and Japan). The street food embodies all of these influences; it also reveals the material conditions that form the backbone of culinary culture in HCMC, and Vietnam in general. Street food, which is served out of carts, stalls, motorcycles, is food for the people. It is affordable, delicious, simple, and focused.

My favorite street food in HCMC is Bot Chien, a rice-cake omelette cooked in a cauldron-like tried-and-true searing-hot wok. Bot Chien is topped off with various pickled vegetables and soybean based sauce. This dish is very balanced; the rice-and-egg base lives in harmony with its vinegar-y sweet-and-sour vegetable topping.

This dish is culturally important because it is food for the working class. The dish costs less than a dollar typically. Any attempt to “restaurant-ize” this dish, a process which often occurs in the states, is conceptually untenable and culturally abhorrent. The chef at the particular bot chien stand I frequent knows that anyone trying to place bot chien next to cloth napkins is making a fool of themselves. Part and parcel to its popularity is the fact that it is cooked in a wok that represents labor itself.