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​How to keep street foods in Vietnam safe?

Friday, October 12, 2018, 18:40 GMT+7
​How to keep street foods in Vietnam safe?
Tourists are pictured buying food from a street vendor on Bui Vien Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A number of foreigners have expressed their opinions on how to make street foods in Vietnam safe.

The comments are made in response to Tuoi Tre News’ request, following a recent regulation which increases the fines for street food safety violations to a new frame from VND500,000 (US$21) to VND3 million ($129).

Violations include a wide range of acts such as directly touching foods without wearing gloves, displaying foods without covers, using unsafe food utensils or containers, using unsafe water for making foods and many more.

A seller wears plastic gloves while serving food at a stall in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 1. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A seller wears plastic gloves while serving food at a stall in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Sanitary inspection is needed

During 15 years living in Ho Chi Minh City, I wouldn't know how to survive without street food! I normally go to the Turtle Lake area [in District 3] to satisfy my cravings for Vietnamese street foods. The taste is perfectly good. I love bánh tráng nướng (grilled rice paper topped with minced pork, quail egg and spring onion), súp cua (crab soup), xoài lắc (mango shaken with chili salt), bánh mì and a variety of noodles. They all make me hungry even after a meal. Vietnamese food is very unique. The flavors in your mouth just come out from anywhere. It always surprises me how good the food here is.

Street food it is one of the best attractions in Vietnam actually. Vietnam is quickly making a name for its food. It is important to stick to your traditional recipes which make your foods very unique.

Amor Garcia in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News
Amor Garcia in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News

Safety? I've never experienced any problem so far. Unfortunately some relatives of mine from the U.S. used to experience food poisoning here. They spent two whole days vomiting and taking frequent trips to the toilet.

I think fines are ok, but what is more important is to have a group of people checking on every restaurant and street food to make sure that people are safe, everything is sanitary and ingredients are safe for consumption. I think even small businesses should get a permit to operate. To obtain such, they have to go through a sanitary inspection. This would make everybody feel safer about the food.

Street food in the Philippines is very different. There is no regulation but you can be sure that what you are eating is safe. People from the food and drug administration are secretly going around places and checking the quality of food around the Philippines, and this helps a lot.

Amor Garcia from the Philippines

Education is the best way

Street food is one of the main reasons I keep traveling to Vietnam, so I am more than delighted to see that the authorities care about the food safety of these sellers. However, I believe that another method should be implemented other than increasing fines.

One of the main reasons why people prefer street food is the low price. However, the increase in fine and tightening the regulations will result in the increase in food prices. Personally I do not think customers are willing to pay such a price. Moreover, in order to implement the new regulations, there also need to be authorities in charge of keeping the street vendors in check.

Lu Ling Kai in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News
Lu Ling Kai in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Food safety, however, also depends on the buyers’ attitude. Once, I bought a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) at a highway stop. Right after I took a bite, I found out my meal was full of ants. I was so terrified that I spit everything out and threw it away. As I was quite angry due to the incident, I came up to my Vietnamese friend and told her all about it but she insisted it was “normal”.

Hence, I think the best way to truly tackle street food safety is education. It is necessary to teach people that they should choose the vendors with good hygiene. That way, all the stands will try to improve their hygiene, and the ones that do not will simply not have any customers.

Lu Ling Kai from Taiwan

A seller wears plastic gloves while serving food at a stall in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 8. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A seller wears plastic gloves while serving food at a stall in District 8, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

'A great draw to tourists'

I regularly eat all kinds of street food but my favorite is still com tam with lots of spicy fish sauce and a fried egg (please do not cook the yolk into a hard yellow disc).

In much of Europe and America there are many food safety laws. Hence, it is often a shock for people who are new to Vietnam to see so much meat being prepared in the open sun without refrigeration.

England certainly does not have any kind of comparable street food scene to the BBQ smoke-laden streets of Vietnam. Food safety rules are very strict and anyone selling food must be qualified and undergo safety inspection checks. This makes opening a business expensive so it is not possible for an enterprising Briton who can cook a nice bowl of noodles to start selling it outside.

The food safety laws in England really prohibit any kind of street food scene whatsoever. Great street food is usually the art of very small businesses and families. If the investment to ensure that your business complies with all food safety specifications is too much of a financial risk, there is very little incentive to do it.

If the government takes legitimate steps towards promoting food safety then that can only be a good thing. Vietnam's reputation as a supreme purveyor of street food won't disappear and the government should nurture that image as it is such a great draw to tourists.

Bill Thomas from the UK

Ha My - Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

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