Bui Thi Suong, who has long been well known in the Vietnamese food industry thanks to her role as a juror in several cooking contests and other cooking-related activities, has had a short interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on how to keep meals’ original flavor and promote Vietnamese dishes to the world.
Suong was born in the southern province of Tien Giang in 1952. She is currently vice chair of the Saigon Professional Chef Association.
The gastronomer has taught cuisine for 35 years and taken part in numerous national cooking contests and festivals.
People attending a cooking contest held in the northwestern region with you said there was a meal that is not easy to eat but you complimented it. Which meal was it?
It’s “thang co” [meat soup]. I had previously seen many ethnic people eating food in huge saucepans which contains bones, skin, tripe, meat and even the blood of horses, buffalos and cows when visiting Bac Ha market [in the northwestern province of Lao Cai]. It impressed me a lot. I didn’t see the pre-processing cooking stage and was able to observe such different spices as cinnamon and lime leaves. However, I only tasted a little of it. In a cooking competition held in Lao Cai, I had a chance to try “thang co” made by restaurants, which ensures hygiene but also keeps its original taste.
In many books about world cuisine, people often prefer meals which keep their original taste and reflect the uniqueness of a region. Do you think it is necessary to warn people about the change in meals’ taste and flavor?
Yes, it is. I think meals in the northern region are less changed than those of the central region. Many people said that it is because northerners are more conservative. However, that conservativeness is good to maintain the cuisine tradition of our ancestors. I’m impressed with “muoi tom” [salt mixed with shrimp grind] and “banh trang phoi suong” [dew-wetted rice papers] of Trang Bang District in southern Tay Ninh Province. The way Trang Bang people process pork legs in “banh canh gio heo” [broth made from pork bones and chopped slices of pig legs] is also similar to that of Hue people when cooking “bun bo gio heo” [Hue beef rice noodles with pig legs], in which they use cold water to maintain the color of the legs. That cooking method doesn’t need any chemical substances.
Hanoi-style spring rolls at Movenpick Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
What do you think we need to do in order to promote Vietnamese food to the world?
Vietnamese cuisine is healthy. We also have a diversified climate, rich seafood resources and a wide range of ethnic minorities that offer numerous delicious meals. Foreign cooks told me that the Vietnamese government needs a strategy to promote food the way Thailand did. Most of the people that I have met only know “pho” [beef noodle soup] and “cha gio” [fried spring rolls]. The presentation to introduce Vietnamese meals to the world is also an important phase as it must be usable and eye-catching. Chefs must also be well-trained. I regret that Vietnam doesn’t have a cuisine institute to store all the special meals of 54 ethnic minorities. We only need cooking equipment, kitchens and ingredients of different regions. Other countries already did it. Is it too difficult for Vietnam to do that?