Staring at shots of scrumptious foods on Instagram? You’re not alone. In this ever-changing world, people’s fascination with food has remained constant, if not growing. From how we get so fixated with celebrity chefs and cooking competitions to how we leave no salad un-photographed, it has become almost impossible for us not to talk about food.
The rise of digital media has created more platforms for us to showcase what we eat and share our food experiences in one click. Remember how you eagerly waited for the food to arrive on your table so you can take that perfect flat lay? Snapping a food shot has, in one way or another, become an integral part of dining.
“Instagram is not only the place to showcase food, food is the most photographed subject you’ll find there,” reads a blog from international food magazine Chef’s Pencil. Hashtags such as #Food, #FoodPorn and #Yummie dominate the photo sharing app. As of February 2021, #Food alone accounted for 430 million Instagram posts.
The Vietnamese cuisine is taking a well-deserved share in this digital food craze. With more than 2.8 million #VietnameseFood posts showing the country’s most iconic dishes, it’s been ranked as the 9th most popular cuisine on Instagram, according to Chef’s Pencil.
Along with some of the most delectable Asian cuisines — Japanese (1st), Indian (3rd), Korean (4th), Thai (5th), Chinese (7th), Indonesian (8th), Filipino (10th) — the visual appeals of Vietnamese dishes such as Bún bò and Gỏi cuốn have captured the eyes of both hungry Instagram scrollers and seasoned gastronomes.
“Whether Instagram is driving the trend or reflecting it, the scores show a clear preference for all foods Asia,” the blog reads.
The ranking does not come as a surprise. While the Vietnamese cuisine isn’t known for being complex and elaborate, the intriguing flavors and delicious selection of ingredients tickle even the most discerning palates.
The all-time favorite crispy pancakes of Saigon, the devilishly spicy broths of the central coast and the pork belly slices up north — name it, Vietnam has it.
“The food, culture, landscape and smell; they’re all inseparable. It just seemed like another planet; a delicious one that sort of sucked me in and never let go,” said the late chef Anthony Bourdain in a 2014 interview with Conde Nast Traveler. Fondly called “anh Tony”, Bourdain's obsession with Vietnamese food connected the once-meek Southeast Asian nation to the global culinary world.
Vietnam: Asia’s leading culinary destination
Savoring local delicacies has gone from merely being a small part of a travel itinerary to becoming the main reason travelers come to Vietnam. Thanks to the likes of Anthony Bourdain who gave the spotlight to this country’s unique flavors and to the millions of appetizing images of local dishes widely available on social media, Vietnam’s food tourism has become a vital component of the overall tourism industry.
In 2019, at the World Travel Awards for Asia and Oceania, Vietnam was recognized as Asia’s Leading Culinary Destination for the first time, a feat that further confirmed what the Vietnamese (and the hundreds of thousands of expats here) already know: Vietnam’s culinary heritage is like no other.
Before the pandemic, millions of globetrotters have found their way to this Southeast Asian nation to try a bowl of Phở or a piece of Bánh mì, and listen to tales behind these well-loved dishes. Many also joined street food tours (now a common offering among local travel agencies) onboard Vespas, scouring vibrant night markets for signature delicacies or hidden nooks for some exotic eats.
In fact, the majority of the registered travel companies identify food tours as a strategic factor to attract travelers. Companies continuously develop “culinary discovery tours” — from taking tourists to wet markets to pick fresh vegetables and meat to organizing private cooking classes with local chefs inside historical buildings.
“Food tourism is a great opportunity to promote the local and national economy, create conditions to increase the value chain in agriculture, food production and processing, while preserving and promoting the national culture to the world,” according to the World Tourism Organization.
Nothing beats the sight of people clustered around low tables, enjoying steaming bowls of street food as thousands of motorbikes pass by. Not only does it allow travelers to see how iconic dishes are made, but also gives a glimpse of how food binds people and unites a country.
It’s going to take a while before Vietnam can welcome new foodies so eager to claim their own small chair on sidewalk eateries and gulp down a bowlful of hot soup like a real Vietnamese. But when borders open and travelers are ready, there’s always a room at the table for everyone.
If you’re missing the flavors of Vietnam and want to recreate some classic dishes right at your kitchen, try these authentic recipes (craving Bánh xèo or Bún thang?) curated by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism.