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About Vietnam: Culture

Introduction General Facts Culture Environment History

Cuisine

Vietnamese cuisine is especially varied - there are said to be nearly 500 different traditional dishes, ranging from exotic meats, seafood and noodle soups to fantastic vegetarian creations (often prepared to replicate meat and fish dishes).

However, the staple of Vietnamese cuisine is plain white rice dressed up with a plethora of vegetables, meat, fish, spices and sauces. Spring rolls and steamed rice pancakes are popular snacks, and the ubiquitous soups include eel and vermicelli, shredded chicken and bitter soups. Some of the more unusual fruits available include green dragon fruit, jujube, khaki, longan, mangosteen, pomelo, three-seed cherry and water apple. Vietnamese coffee is excellent.

Religious Events

Special prayers are held at Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when there is a full moon. Some of the major religious festivals follow a lunar calendar.

They include: Tet (late Jan-early Feb), the most important festival of the year, marking the new lunar year as well as the advent of spring; Wandering Souls Day (August), the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead: Doan Ngu (June), when human effigies are burnt, becoming soldiers in the god of death’s army and Holiday of the Dead (April), which commemorates deceased relatives. In the South, many Christian churches are open for services.

Four great philosophies and religions have shaped the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. Over the centuries, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have melded with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what is known as Tam Giao (or ‘Triple Religion).

Language

The Vietnamese language (kinh) belongs to the Mon-Khmer stock, which comprises Mon (spoken in Myanmar) and Khmer (the language of Cambodia), as well as Khrnu, Bahnar. Bru and other languages of the highlands of Vietnam, Mon-Khmer, Tai and Chinese elements are combined with many basic words derived from the monotonic Mon-Khmer languages.

The most widely spoken foreign languages in Vietnam are Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), English, French and Russian, more or less in that order.

Popular artistic forms include traditional painting produced on frame-mounted silk, an eclectic array of theatre, puppetry, music and dance, religious sculpture and lacquerware.