Since May 2021, the hashtag #foodartmonthly has spread all over Instagram, creating an impromptu database of dishes representing the world’s cuisines, including delicacies from Vietnam.
The hashtag is essentially a monthly food illustration challenge initiated by a group of about a dozen artists from Indonesia, Japan, Ukraine, China, the U.S., Venezuela, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia.
It has drawn attention from food illustrators throughout the social network.
One of the host artists of #foodartmonthly is Ly Tuyet Phan, an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.
Phan participated in the October challenge centered around ‘egg dishes,’ offering up an illustration of thit kho trung (caramelized pork and eggs) and the ingredients to make the dish including pork, coconut juice, garlic, and chili.
“A traditional dish in Vietnam at Tet [Vietnamese Lunar New Year] and you can also see it in everyday meals in Vietnam. And rice is commonly served along with this dish,” Phan wrote in the caption of the illustration posted to her @phanh_phanh_0717 handle.
|An illustration of ‘thit kho trung’ (caramelized pork and eggs) by @phanh_phanh_0717
Foodies from around the world seemed to love Phan’s work.
“Wow! An interesting traditional dish! The illustration is incredible!” @anyta.kulyk from Ukraine commented.
“I always love how you paint both the ingredients and the dish! Your style is beautiful!” @kailenefalls, who is living in Japan, added.
According to Phan, every month, the group of host artists proposes a theme and calls on Instagram’s art community to join them in creating food art.
After approving a theme, each host creates an illustration and sends it to Kailene Falls (@kailenefalls), an American illustrator based in Tokyo, who creates collages of their works.
About a week before the posting date (the 20th of each month), all the host artists will announce the theme on their Instagram and call on their followers to participate.
On the 20th day of each month, the host artists will post their own illustrations and tag others in the group.
Since launching, #foodartmonthly has carried on a number of topics, which feature celebration food from a country, fruit dishes/sweets, egg dishes, sandwiches, packaged snacks, street food, traditional breakfast, and sweets.
For each topic, participants are asked to illustrate a typical dish of their country, or the country they are living in.
After knowing of the theme to illustrate, Phan chooses to narrow her selection of related dishes before picking her favorite dish.
“I don’t find any topic too difficult, I’m just worried that I’m not capable of conveying all the quintessence of the dish on the paper,” Phan told Tuoi Tre News.
“Fortunately, during the past topics, I have not encountered that problem.”
|A supplied illustrated portrait of Ly Tuyet Phan drawn by @pumknjr_illustration
According to the 28-year-old, Vietnamese cuisine deserves to be promoted more.
“The unique feature of Vietnamese cuisine is the combination of many ingredients, especially vegetables, to create a dish,” she commented.
“When I see people commenting and expressing their love for Vietnamese food, I feel happy and a little excited as thanks to my illustrations, my friends on Instagram know more about Vietnamese cuisine.”
|An illustration by @phanh_ phanh_0717 featuring ‘tau hu nuoc duong’ (tofu topped with sugar syrup).
Diem Ngoc, a former host artist from Vietnam, also caught the eyes of her followers with illustrations of Vietnamese dishes on her @edimcatstuff handle.
Although she withdrew from the role of a host artist in October, Ngoc still partook in the challenge of ‘egg dishes’ with a painting of hot vit lon (balut).
“It is a really popular street food here in Saigon, you can hear the legendary voice ‘hot vit lon day’ [from the street vendor inviting customers to buy] everywhere,” Ngoc introduced in the illustration’s caption, referring to Ho Chi Minh City.
|An illustration featuring ‘hot vit lon’ by @edimcatstuff
Before ‘egg dishes,’ the 27-year-old woman also participated in other #foodartmonthly challenges with dishes like roasted pork sandwiches, boiled snails with lemongrass and lemon leaves, and more.
“My favorite topic, which is also the hardest one for me, was street food,” Ngoc shared.
“Vietnam has too many street foods, and eventually I chose boiled snails because of its uniqueness.
“People were surprised and delighted because they did not think snails would be such a popular dish in Vietnam.”
A famous cuisine will help encourage tourism and spread the country’s culture more widely, according to Ngoc.
For her, the most unique thing about Vietnamese food is the focus on the balance of flavors, along with the skillful combination of ingredients and spices to make the dishes fit the taste of many people.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese cuisine also sees a variety of flavors or processing methods for the same dish in different regions.
“As Vietnamese cuisine is no longer strange to international friends, everyone knows about our famous dishes like banh mi or pho, so when I joined #foodartmonthly, I wanted to introduce lesser famous foods that still represent Vietnamese cuisine”, Ngoc explained.
50 to 100 submissions for each challenge
#foodartmonthly was sparked from the idea of Pavan Kapoor, an Indonesian artist of Indian origin, to introduce cuisines from countries around the world and build a community of culinary artists on Instagram.
“I used to save all the food illustrators I liked so when I got the idea to have my own collaborations, I just sent messages to a few artists making sure each one was from a different country,” Kapoor told Tuoi Tre News.
A book author and journalist, Kapoor became active on Instagram with her handle @pavankapoor21art when COVID-19 hit the world in early 2020.
“I have always been very fond of painting food and when I approached Kailene Falls with my idea, she was excited and our group was born,” Kapoor recalled.
|An illustrated portrait of Pavan Kapoor
According to Kapoor, #foodartmonthly saw more than 500 posts related to their topic in a few months of launching.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old American Kailene Falls shared that the host artist group usually receives somewhere between 50 and 100 submissions for each challenge, with the breakfast challenge having the most submissions, at around 120.
“I think the challenge encourages people to look at food from an artistic perspective, and appreciate the foods that they’ve grown up with in an entirely different way,” Falls said.
“Sharing international art at a time when travel is quite restricted helps us get out of our own bubbles a bit.”
‘Wonderful food culture in Vietnam’
Every month the challenge receives submissions from Vietnamese participants, Falls said.
“I think there is a wonderful food culture in Vietnam, and a strong appreciation for food art,” she remarked.
“I love the esthetic that comes from your country, and the foods always look so delicious and amazing!
“I’m a huge fan of herbs, and I feel like Vietnamese food does herbs absolutely the best!
“The combinations of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors alongside the bright and fresh herbs are just amazing.
“Honestly, everything I ate in Vietnam was wonderful! I also loved the huge variety of amazing fruit beverages.”
|Kailene Falls is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.
Once visiting her sister who taught English in Vietnam for nearly a year, Falls said she would love Vietnamese food to become even more internationally renowned.
In Japan, there are many Vietnamese restaurants but it is hard to find something with the same punchy flavors that she ate in Vietnam because herbs are so expensive there, she added.
“I would love for more authentic Vietnamese foods to become more accessible around the world, because the flavors are so unique and wonderful,” she said.
Currently, the #foodartmonthly creators hope to maintain this challenge for a long time so that more food cultures can be connected.
Anna Kulyk (@anyta.kulyk), a 28-year-old female host artist from Ukraine, said that she joined the challenge out of her love for food illustrations and to know more about world cuisines.
|An illustrated portrait of Anna Kulyk
And indeed, she discovered a new world in Vietnamese dishes.
“Vietnamese cuisine in this challenge was a discovery for me,” she commented.
“I have never been to Vietnam before and have no idea what kind of food they eat there, but thanks to the challenge, I got acquainted with unusual desserts with tofu, durian donuts, and interesting hearty banh mi breakfast.
“Some snacks from Vietnam can be found in our country, for example, vegetable chips.”
The challenge has shown how diverse the cuisines of different countries are and, at the same time, how much they have in common, Kulyk observed.
|An illustration by @phanh_ phanh_0717 featuring ‘com tam’ (Vietnamese broken rice topped with grilled ribs and steamed egg meat loaf).