A number of Vietnamese channels on YouTube featuring shocking eating practices falsely claimed as ethnic have sparked angry responses.
“Thang co”, a well-known specialty of the H’Mong ethnic minority group in the northern mountainous town of Sa Pa. It is traditionally made from the meat and offal of horses or buffaloes. Photo by VnExpress.
As food channels in various languages mushroom on YouTube, all kinds of stuff make an appearance, people gorging on large quantities of food or making supersized dishes, straightforward cooking recipes and instructions, tourist food and travel experiences, rural cooking.
But one kind is attracting ire in Vietnam.
In recent days Vietnamese media has been drawing attention to channels that, to attract views and money, show people eating in unsanitary conditions, against which WHO is warning during this Covid-19 pandemic, while purporting to show shocking ethnic culinary practices.
They misrepresent the food habits of people living in the northwestern mountainous region freely using epithets such as “horrifying”, “terrifying” and “shuddering” to describe what are often groups of people squatting on the ground and eating raw bugs, crabs or goat meat from dirty utensils.
For instance, Sapa TV has an episode in which a bunch of young men gnaw at some large uncooked fish and call it the traditional “fish jumping” dish of the ethnic Thai people.
“This is insulting to the Thai people,” one commentator said, giving expression to a common reaction.
Cam Trang Tho, a member of the Vietnam Thai Culture Exchange Group and the Thai People in Hanoi Group, told local media that authentic Thai jumping fish is actually an elegant dish made from only small fish with small intestines that live in clean, clear streams.
After being caught the fish are put into a bowl of water for one or two days, and the water is changed constantly so that the fish can expel the dirt from their bodies. Then they are washed and put into another clean bowl of water.
For this dish, the right soaking sauce is essential. It is made up of condensed sour bamboo shoot soup which can eliminate the stinking smell and harmful bacteria in the fish. Certain spicy herbs to get rid of odors and prevent stomachaches are also used in addition to leaves for rolling the fish. The fish are rolled tightly and dipped into particular dipping sauces and eaten.
Assoc Prof Dr Vuong Xuan Tinh, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Ethnology and Anthropology Association, said raw dishes eaten commonly by the majority ethnic group, the Kinh, such as fish salads are also made very carefully to ensure safety and served with numerous spices to prevent stomachaches.
What do Vietnamese eat?
Tinh pointed out that eating raw or half-cooked food is a custom all over the world, not just in Vietnam. The Japanese eat raw seafood, for instance, he said.
It is not as if ethnic people in Vietnam eat more raw food than cooked, Tinh said. The main reason people eat things raw is because they find they taste better than when cooked, he explained.
In Vietnamese cuisine, food commonly eaten uncooked includes fish and shrimp salads, and half-cooked beef with lemon juice.
Some other experts and research works point out that Vietnamese cuisine isn’t predominantly meat or vegetarian.
Unlike Chinese or Japanese cuisine which emphasize nutrition and visual appeal, Vietnamese food revolves around good taste and a traditional balance between rice, vegetables and fish and boasts a richness and originality that can equal any other cuisine.
For Tho, quintessential Thai cooking revolved around boiling or grilling with little fat or oil and plenty of delicious and even medicinal herbs and vegetables as typified by grilled minced meat wrapped in banana or prynium leaves, grilled carp and grilled moss.
Other ethnic groups also have their signature dishes like the five-color sticky rice of the Thai, Muong and Tay peoples, the meat soup and corn wine of the H’Mong, the curry of the Cham, and the prahok fish paste and sam lo noodles of the Khmer, to name a few.
The five-color sticky rice of the Thai. Photo by VnExpress.
Tho said she saw some misrepresentations of pia and called up the content creators, but they denied any wrongdoing.
She and others are gathering information and plan to complain to the National Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs.
In September an act of gratuitous cruelty and vulgarity was reported to culture authorities, who fined the perpetrators VND7.5 million ($323) and ordered them to pull the offending content off YouTube.
It involved Nguyen Van Hung, the creator of the Hung Troll channel and son of Nguyen Thi Tan of the popular supersized dish channel Ms Tan Vlog, putting a chicken that was not completely dead with its feathers into a pot of porridge to prank his siblings.
Copies of this clip, pixelated when the chicken is put into the pot, can still be found on YouTube.