The translated advice from the elderly Vietnamese man seemed sage enough initially. I had just finished dinner and more than a few shots of rice wine at a colleague’s wedding in the outskirts of Hanoi, and with no Tic Tacs at hand, the betel leaves were my best shot at restoring my breath to its normally heavenly quality.
After chewing the green leaves for mere seconds, a scalding hot and bitter taste spread across my mouth, as if I’d been chewing on a nettle soaked in deep heat. I spat the horrible concoction out, to laughter all around. Chewing betel leaves and areca nuts has long been a Vietnamese tradition, but it’s safe to say I wasn’t about to trade in my Colgate for betel.
When cultures collide things like the betel incident are bound to happen, and there’s plenty about Vietnamese food culture that expats just don’t get, and other things that some simply don’t like. And that’s ok. Now, for those of you anger reading with the phrase “if you don’t like it go home” reverberating around your head, please take a breath, relax and stop chewing so hard on your betel leaves. It’s okay to question or be baffled by parts of other cultures. Doing so is just part of embracing our differences, as long as we do it in a respectful manner. So, without further ado, here are 600 words ragging on Vietnamese food.