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Culinary Culture: The Element That Allocates Ho Chi Minh City Tourism

Friday, 05/19/2017 11:16
To develop tourism basing on fine cuisine in Ho Chi Minh city not only contributes to attract more tourists but also to build reputation of a tourism brand.

In the afternoon of April 26th, At the Saigon Exhibition & Convention Center (SECC), the HCMC Department of Tourism and the representative office of Singapore Exhibition Services Co., Ltd held a seminar called "Promoting Vietnamese culinary value in shaping and developing tourism in Ho Chi Minh City”, which aimed at building and raising the value of Vietnamese cuisine in the eyes of tourist from all the world.

Let’s the cuisine be our national brand’s ambassador

Cuisine is an important element to build up the culture and attraction of a nation. During 4,000 years, Vietnamese have been created so much good food, which carries intensive marks of their regions.

In a presentation on Vietnamese Food History and Cultures - The cornerstone of Vietnamese lifestyles, Paul Le – General Secretary of the Escoffier Food Association, Vice President of Retail Support - Central Group said, “Throughout a long history, among the ruling classes from the North to the West, France left the deepest imprint in Vietnamese culinary culture. These ups and downs have made Vietnam to become a well blend of various and diverse culinary cultures."

According to Paul Le, modern lifestyle brings us plenty ways to enjoy culinary world, from street food to fine cuisine of professional or Michelin chefs. All historical elements including culinary culture and our lifestyles, especially in Ho Chi Minh city, are authentic ingredients for “Vietnamese lifestyle”.

Mr. Paul Le - General Secretary of the Escoffier Food Association, Vice President of Retail Support, Central Group – praised Vietnamese culinary culture for its abundance and diversity in both spices and specialties

In fact, cuisine and tourism always stick together. Tourists are willing to taste new dishes during their trips because, psychologically, it’s a part of travelling experiences.

Cuisine also plays as a distinguisher among countries because food always comes with flavors, cooking arts, and names of its country. It simply leaves a mark in tourists’ minds and helps them to decide whether they would come back a place or a country for leisure and discovery.

According to Nguyen Quoc Ky, Chairman of the Board of Directors / General Director of Vietravel Tourism company, in recent years, Ho Chi Minh City has pushed the development of tourism promotion programs, in which cuisine is treated as an important tourism product, such as Festival of International Delicious, Southern Food Festival, and Southern Fruit Festival.

However, the number of such programs is still small and the scales were not outstanding enough to impress visitors. Ho Chi Minh city still lacks of introductory locations where tourists can get information about historical and recent culinary documents. Furthermore, although street food stands on their local food, street vendors can’t keep food safety and proper prices as they should be.

Mr. Nguyen Quoc Ky assured that Vietnam need to successfully build up its tourism brand.

He suggested, “Even though it’s inherited different food backgrounds, Ho Chi Minh city’s culinary culture has not really focused to make an outstanding remarkable point. Therefore, we have to reasonably zone food courts or night food markets for tourists.

Besides, tourism and Vietnamese cuisine should be advertised together. Tourism companies could open more food tours in HCMC, such as buffet night markets.”

He also thought that Department of Tourism should have encouraged restaurants to serve traditional dishes and should have organized food festivals or culinary contests at international level in order to honor chefs, food experts, and cooking career. 

During the seminar, delegates discussed about the important role of communication in advertising Vietnamese culinary culture to the world.

Ms. Nguyen Thu Huong - General Director of Nam Huong Investment and Communications JSC said, “Vietnamese food is appreciated because of its freshness, transparency, and harmonic flavors. However, according to surveys, international tourists only have known several typical dishes, such as phở, chả giò (fried rolls), and bánh mì (French bread). It means we do have boundary around our real diverse and abundant cuisine.”

She also gave examples of countries that have developed culinary cultures through communication, such as Korea or Japan. Korea has had a logical communicating strategy for their tourism, especially tourism with traditional cuisine. From TV series like Dae Jang Geum or Kim-chee Family to reality shows, Korea has brought their pride – traditional kim-chee – to the world.

Therefore, to elevate the images of Vietnamese cuisine, Mrs. Huong thought that we should have, through communication, built an international standard for qualified restaurants on prices, services, and utilities. We also could use recent social networks, fan pages, and hot bloggers to create stunning TVC about remarkable and highlighted aspects of Vietnamese tourism and cuisine.

Delegates attentively observed presentations.

Cooking is not a dirty job

In the second part of the seminar, delegates had a chance to directly discuss with experts about issues related to modern culinary culture.

To turn cuisine into culinary arts and to introduce fine cuisine to the world, chefs must be counted. Most people simply think that chefs’ job is to cook. Indeed, a person who seriously takes cooking as his career must go through a long and challenging road.

Mr. Ly Huy Sang - Deputy General Director of Minh Long I Co., Ltd - Vice Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Golden Spoon contest said, “Vietnamese cuisine is a primitive treasure with lots of hidden specialties and spices. In fact, Korean, Thai, or French food is so trendy recently, especially with young generation that Vietnamese food has been forgotten. The most important issue here is cooking career has not been respected enough from society.

Even when winners of The Golden Spoon contest performed cooking skills, people didn’t really care. We really need to change our social prejudices so that our chefs can be proud of their chosen career.”

“Therefore, The Golden Spoon contest was held to honor cooking career. In near future, we hope that we can support more to bring our contest up to international level in order to introduce Vietnamese cuisine.”, shared Mr. Sang.

According to Mr. Han Nguyen Nguyen Nha - Head of the Vietnam Kitchen Project - Kitchen of the World, former director of Vietnamese Institute of Culinary Research, there is no potential place better than Phan Xich Long area in HCMC. They can build food villages here, where is the most convenient for all types of transportation. From what has been going around that area, if it is zoned, it can be the biggest food village of the country, or in the Southeast Asia, or even of the world.

In the second part of the seminar, delegates had a chance to directly discuss with experts about issues related to modern culinary culture. Photo: Huu Long

Mr. Pham Viet Anh, Left Brain Connectors’ founder, thought that stories of culture were always the attractive nature for tourism in order to promote Vietnamese images in general and images of HCMC, too. In theory, if pavements in HCMC or in Hanoi are similar to Bangkok or Singapore, tourists might not go to Vietnam after visiting similar countries, and vice versus.

“Besides cleaning and adjusting urban order, managing sidewalk, the city needs to consider solutions for existing street vendors, trading on pavement in frameworks to maintain a folk trading culture. It attracts visitors and creates favorable conditions for the people to stabilize their lives”, suggested Mr. Anh.

From all delegates’ opinions, Mr. La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Tourism Department, said that the city would plan to zone specific areas for street food vendors and encourage investors of chains of restaurants to carry the traditional breath of each region as a highlight of city tours, from which tour operators will self-identify the routes to exploit, contributing to promote and introduce Vietnamese cuisine.

Representatives of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Tourism give flowers to the speakers. Photo: Huu Long

By Phuong Nguyen/ Alobacsi

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