Domestic Life in Vietnam

Domestic Life in Vietnam

The domestic life of the Vietnamese closely resembles that of traditional China even with the distinguishing characteristics of the village, town and city. Close family life, respect for elders and the dignified politeness of children are all apparent. Some elements of traditional animism, Taoism and Buddhism show in family celebrations and festivities and even in everyday affairs. Few Vietnamese homes fail to give at least cursory homage to several personal gods.

Despite the modernization of the cities, the presence of French and later the Americans, despite even education abroad, old traditions hold dear. A child is considered one year old at birth and counts birthdays not on the day of birth but on each New Year's; scholars still lead in the traditional hierarchy of society followed by agriculturalists, salaried workers, and finally merchants; belief in herbal teas and the medicinal qualities of certain foods persist and remain important.

Similarly, Vietnamese kitchens and tables reflect much of China's influence. Facilities and utensils vary according to means: many small electrical appliances find a useful place in city kitchens while the age-old methods of food storage and meal preparation hold sway in traditional village kitchen. Women enjoy preparing their foods for meals in the separate kitchen that is often also a separate building from the main living quarters. This is not only practical from the standpoint of fire hazards, but also provides the women a special place to talk together. Three-stoned stands set in clay or stone hearths hold charcoal embers and efficiently heat steamers, iron kettles, or woks. Sharp knives and cleavers make quick work of slicing, slivering, chopping, mincing, while quick and artful fingers carefully arrange platters of foods to be placed attractively on the meal table. Among the wealthy, the cuisine of the household may be very continental and varied, with dishes from local and western cultures. For all Vietnamese, the dishes of Chinese origin (but given a special Vietnamese fillip) appear for all special occasions.

Tradition persists not only in the home and kitchen, but even in the diets of expectant mothers. Vietnamese women are fearful of eating too much food lest their babies become too heavy, and many fear that certain foods may be harmful to the fetus. Rice, soy sauce, some vegetables, and nuoc mam (the fish-sauce condiment) are taken as required, but many believe the fish and meats may generate poisons in the child and refuse to eat them as part of the daily diet during pregnancy. These are typical of food beliefs in the countryside and are not commonly found among women in Saigon.

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