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Hanoi maximizes culinary value to boost tourism
Jenna Duong 21:42, 2024/06/02
Hanoi's unique cuisine, with its myriad of delicious dishes, has become a 'gold mine' for attracting tourism.

For many years, Vietnamese cuisine in general, and Hanoi’s cuisine in particular, has been highly praised by international media and experts, with dishes listed among the world's delicacies.

 The dish of Bun cha Hanoi or Hanoi grilled pork with fresh noodles. Photo: Ha Nguyen

However, compared to its abundant resources, the local cuisine is still relatively modest on the world food map. This highlights the need for Vietnam's tourism sector to systematically develop its cuisine into a national brand in order to realize its huge potential.

Vietnamese cuisine honored by global sites

Hanoi's cuisine is not only about tasty dishes but also reflects the ingenuity and sophistication of its people in preparing and enjoying them. In addition to sightseeing, most visitors to the capital spend a lot of time tasting pho (beef rice noodle soup), cha ca La Vong (grilled fish with noodles), bun cha Hang Manh (grilled pork with noodles), banh cuon Thanh Tri (steamed rice rolls), and other famous specialties.

In early April, TasteAtlas, the online travel guide to traditional cuisines around the world, released an article titled ‘Top 100 Asian Street Foods’. The list includes representatives from the S-shaped country such as banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), pho (noodle soup with beef or chicken), com tam (broken rice), cha gio (fried spring rolls), or banh xeo (crispy Vietnamese pancake).

 A specialty of Hanoi: the banh mi. Photo: Phi Yenn

As for Hanoi, the city in January was voted the world's best food destination for 2024 by readers of the leading travel site TripAdvisor, after coming third in 2023. Last year, for the first time, 48 restaurants in Hanoi - along with 55 in Ho Chi Minh City - were recommended by the Michelin Guide (the world's most prestigious culinary guide). Four of them were awarded one star, including three in the capital.

Hanoi's cuisine is even attracting international politicians. Former US President Barack Obama enjoyed bun cha in 2016, former South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife sampled beef pho in 2018, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese enjoyed banh mi during his official visit in June 2023, while Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko enjoyed banh mi and ca phe (coffee) with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in the same year.

According to culinary expert Pham Thi Anh Tuyet, the appeal of Hanoi's dishes lies in their balanced ratio of healthy nutrients, as well as the careful selection of ingredients and delicate preparation, which help to preserve the typical flavors of traditional cuisine. "This makes Hanoians proud of a capital with a rich cuisine of its own identity, thanks to which it has been put on the world food map," she said.

 Some 'challenging' dishes for foreigners in Hanoi. Photo: Tam Vi Restaurant

Nguyen Trung Khanh, Director General of the Vietnam National Tourism Authority, said the industry will step up global promotion of Vietnamese cuisine through international fairs, with a focus on Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels. At the same time, it will bring travel agencies and such restaurants together to organize culinary tours.

Commenting on the role of food in the growth of tourism, Khanh said that Vietnamese food is gradually making its way onto the world culinary scene thanks to dishes that are becoming popular with travelers from other countries. This has great potential to attract foreign tourists.

Developing food tours step-by-step

Recognizing the benefits of cuisine in promoting local culture and stimulating tourism demand, in recent years many localities have focused on developing their cuisine while planning and designing food tours.

Haiphong Food Tour is a successful tourism product, and travelers can easily get a taste of its digital food map.

 Foreign travelers enjoy egg coffee in Hanoi. Photo: Grant Sanderson

Tourists can also enjoy a variety of royal cuisine experiences in Thua Thien Hue province. However, many experts say that Hanoi in particular, and Vietnam as a whole, have yet to fully realize the potential of culinary tourism.

Duong Van Hung, Standing Vice President of the Vietnam Chefs Association, said many culinary streets have been formed in Hanoi, but they are still untidy and unsightly and mainly offer street food and fast food, not presenting the quintessence of Hanoi cuisine.

"Vietnamese cuisine is still expressed through street culture, so it's important to control food safety to improve Vietnamese cuisine," he stressed.

According to Phung Quang Thang, Chairman of the Hanoi Travel Association, many travel agencies have developed food tours, but they are not yet effective. Cuisine promotion activities are still fragmented and ineffective. In addition, tourism staff lack a deep understanding of culinary culture to explain to tourists. They also have yet to proactively explore and revive ingredients, spices, and recipes for traditional dishes or invent new ones.

 The pomelo salad dish is prepared by the chef from Sente restaurant in Hanoi. Photo: 

SENTÉ - The Flavour of Lotus

Pham Hong Long, Dean of the Faculty of Tourism Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (Vietnam National University - Hanoi), stressed the need for a master plan for the culinary business to develop in a stable and healthy way. 

As Hanoi expands and its population grows, the culinary business will have ample room for further development. Therefore, it is necessary to anticipate needs and trends for proper planning, while plans must always be adjusted according to actual developments to be successful.

Meanwhile, Flamingo Redtours CEO Nguyen Cong Hoan believed that culinary tourism is a highly cultural and artistic service sector.  

  Cha ca or grilled fish served with fresh noodles. Photo: Hai Nguyen

To launch themed food tours in Hanoi, two factors need to be identified first: "highlight" and "standard". Specifically, it is crucial to select highlight dishes for promotion and build a system of professional restaurants specializing in Vietnamese cuisine.

"But this requires Hanoi to have policies that support the branding and development of internationally recognized restaurants, thereby raising the status of Hanoi cuisine in particular and Vietnamese cuisine in general," Hoan suggested.

Chef Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet added that in recent years, Hanoi has been honored several times by major world media and renowned travel websites that favor culinary tours.

However, in addition to the efforts of businesses, this requires authorities and managers to review strategies, experiences, communication, and marketing methodically. In this way, Hanoi tourism and cuisine in particular, and Vietnamese cuisine in general, can attract crowds of tourists to the capital and the country.

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