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Oct 24, 2007 08:56 AM

Compare: Japanese and Vietnamese Cuisine

I'm writing a high school paper on the differences and similarities between Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. I love eating and learning about both of them but only have a reasonable amount of knowledge. The paper can only be around 2-3 pages long, which I know is not enough, so I have to highlight the main differences.

I didn't come to this board for people to write a paper for me, just for some knowledge on how they differ. I know how they are dissimilar in aspects such as ingredients and the way they both serve their food, but what I have trouble writing about is their main differences in preparation.

Thank you in advance.

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  1. I'm no expert - especially on the Vietnamese side, but a few thoughts come to mind.

    1) The main and obvious difference is the use of fish sauce vs. soy sauce. These are fundamental elements in each cooking that determine a lot of subsequent methods and techniques.

    2) The fish to meat (pork, chicken, beef) ratio is much higher in Japan. That drives cooking techniques that favor fish, including raw (sashimi), salt-broiled (shio yaki), charcoal grilled, etc. Fish is dried and used as stock in Japan, (dashi is extremely important in all Japanese cooking), but is an adjunct to soy sauce, where the fish sauce itself is a main flavor in Vietnamese cooking. Dashi and other fish base preparations are generally not fermented like Vietnamese fish sauce. Of course, soy sauce is also fermented.

    The fish I see in Vietnamese foods are either freshwater or close-in tidal or brackish water fish, where Japan has been deep sea fishing for centuries - they are an island, after all.

    3) Both cultures eat rice and some noodles - the noodles in Japan follow either the earlier imported Chinese tradition (ramen noodles) or later home grown traditions (soba, udon), and are almost always wheat, (soba is buckwheat) although there is some use of rice noodles (shirataki). Vietnamese cooking seems to be much more based on rice noodles.

    4) External influences have had a very divergent influence in the two countries. Both had strong French influences (pho/fer in Vietnam, the Japanese word for bread is Pan). There is the whole tradition of French style curry in Japan - as far as I know nothing like that in Vietnam. Japan had Portuguese (tempura).

    5) Other little items I can think of include that both seem to enjoy tofu in various forms, but that miso is exclusive to Japan. Japanese make a lot of fish cakes from the otherwise wasted fish, while Vietnamese have lots of beef tendon balls, pork meat balls, etc - items made from the lesser cuts of beef and pork.

    When Vietnamese restaurants opened up here (US, east coast) in the 80's, my Japanese mother became very fond of a couple of local places - and always preferred it to Chinese - especially the American-Chinese places. I think that the lighter quality, use of fresh vegetables really appealed to her.

    Not at all scientific or researched, but just some thoughts - hope they help.

    Also - there have been several Pho Vs. Ramen threads here. Most are opinions - I like this, I like that... but some have good info on ingredients, and real differences. Here's one link I found. If you search using 'ramen pho' you'll find others.

    1. how about utensils? I think vietnamese use fork and spoon for eating rice, but use chopsticks for noodles. Japanese of course use chopsticks for pretty much everything (right?)

      2 Replies
      1. re: bitsubeats

        utensil wise for the vietnamese, i know that in my family we use chopsticks to eat rice with. but that is at home. i know that in restaurants it is different.

        1. re: bitsubeats

          Almost, but not 100%. The Japanese use chopsticks for all native cuisines, and fork/spoon/knife for exotic cuisines. The same goes for plateware; Japanese plateware for native cuisines, western style plates for exotic. Also for menus, where exotic dishes will be in a separate location on the menu vs. the native dishes, which are normally organized by cooking technique.

          In this way a good cultural test of how incorporated some formally exotic cuisine is is how it is served, plated, and even noted on a menu. Tempura almost always is treated as a native dish, while curry almost always is treated as an exotic dish.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. You can't. :) Unless you consider this board as "an interview" with someone with particular knowledge...but you can't even prove that. You might be able to get some keywords and phrases here and there, like "Tempura, Portuguese origin", or various dishes that are mentioned here. Then you can do your own research with those terms or ideas, so that you're not just copying what people are saying here. Then you should write the paper in your own words and cite proper sources you found as necessary.

            One word of advice to the high school student. You need a narrower focus than "similarities and differences between Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine", because on such a vast subject, you can probably write a book. You need a thesis that is concise and arguable, and focuses on a specific aspect of these two cuisines. You should probably start out with theme of the paper by picking what aspect of cuisines are you interested? I can think of a few: the relationship between their climate and food, the relationship between their history and food, the relationship between their location and food, the relationship between their geography and food, the relationship between the influences (similar to history) and the food, religion and food, culture and food, etc. Once you've chosen a topic, you should try to find an arguable point, "While both cuisines exhibit elements of Chinese cuisine due to the historical Chinese cultural dominance in Asia, the geography of these nations played a crucial role in the variation of that adoption. Japan, an island nation throughout its history, ..., whereas Vietnam, a peninsula connected to China, developed much more directly related...blah blah blah.

            1. re: baekster

              yes i agree w. baekster it would be too hard to compare two vastly different cuisines that do have some similarities but are otherwise different. It would be like saying let's compare VN cuisine to say, Turkish. There would be some similarities, but many differences. Anywayz, that doesn't help you out much. But I would go with the Chinese influences on both cuisines spelled out by applehome and baekster. The soups and noodle uses are Chinese influenced.

              The differences, that could take you ages to write about cuz they are inherent. To simplify, JN don't use fish sauce in the same way as VN. (but JN cuisine actually has fish sauces, too) JN uses a lot of preservedand fermented ingredients. (but VN cuisine also has preserved ingredients, and also preserved snacks and stuff)

              I don't know that much about JN cuisine in depth, but I remember seeing something once that JNese consider rice as a side dish accompanying the meal. For VN rice is essential and mixed directly with the main dish (like Southern Chinese) Rice is so essential, it is reflected in the language (as in an com---literally to eat rice means to eat---I think em co biet noi tieng viet, phai khong?---your name is VN) like, a VNese would ask have you eaten as in "have you eaten rice? Not just "have you eaten?" And all dishes except noodle dishes and french bread dishes or pancakes are served with rice in a bowl with the other dish on top of it. Not eaten out of a side bowl like in what I saw on TV about JN cuisine. Maybe someone who knows JN cuisine well can clarify about this.

              Um, I think the shape of the VN chopstick is also different from the JN one, too.

              VN ppl do eat rice and everything else with chopsticks. The flat Chinese spoon is only used for soups. Since Western cuisine isn't pervasive in VN (beyond the French influence) as it is in JN, I have only seen VN ppl eating Western food in the US and I have seen them using two forks at once, one in the left hand and one in the right, or a fork and a spoon together. But only with recent immigrants and I think that is cuz it is hard to eat stuff with a fork of you are use to chopsticks...I don't think that is a cultural phenomenon or anything.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                Just FYI, rice is not considered a side dish in traditional Japanese cuisine, but a staple. Even in many bento boxes today, rice is half of the meal. In fact, as you gave an example in Vietnamese, a generic colloquial Japanese term for any hot meal is "gohan" which means steamed rice. There are some dishes, like "donburi" where food is topped on rice, but usually it is in a separate bowl.

                Your comment about preserving is accurate though as pickling the use of vinegar is a major part of Japanese cuisine and certainly has its' influence on everything from daily consumption of "oshinko" pickles, umeboshi, and of course the origins of sushi.

          2. I have no source on this, so don't take my word, but I've heard that Japanese food and beer were both influenced by German masters who visited Japan. Might be interesting to look into.

            1. The French influence would also be interesting: So strong in Vietnamese because of the colonization (Bahn mi, for example) but also quite present in Japan, simply by cultural dispertion.