Rice Vs. Pho - Just The Old Vietnamese Debate

Bill Hayton did not fail to stress times and times again the importance of rice to Vietnamese people in his new piece "Vietnam - The Rising Dragon". Now we question, can rice maintains its superiority, in the face of "pho" and - well, KFC - , in the setting of a fast changing Vietnamese culture and lifestyle today?

Vietnamese civilization and even the current population of almost 90 million people are based on the cultivation of rice. And yet according to a recent report, the rice element in a traditional meal is quickly replaced by meat, vegetables and other food items. More Pho restaurants are spring up in every street corner from the North to the South, which can partially reflect a rising demand. This Vietnamese "fast food", on another note, is made known to the world, at a much faster rate than rice dishes. Is "pho" or "com" more preferred by the new Vietnamese? 

Trung Vu and Duong Nguyen both take sides in the debate.

Duong Nguyen - The Rice Party Leader!

1. Simple, healthy and economical

 Vietnamese Rice Bowl 

It is no more than a piece of cake to make a hot and appetizing bowl of rice. Just clean rice, add water and boil it until it is well done. With a few of processing stages needed, a bowl of rice could be made within 20 minutes, maintaining its nutrients and inherent flavor. The elegantly rustic aroma of rice paddy fields, the sweetness and purity of water and the full vitality of sunshine seem to be condensed in just tiny white rice grains, sticky and subtly sweet to bring us a close-to-nature flavor and an amazingly healthy dish.

As an excellent source of carbohydrates - which makes up the majority of nutrition intake, rice provides enough energy for people for all day long, not to mention its richness of vitamins and minerals at the cost much lower than you could expect. Pho, believe it or not, can be categorized as a processed food and you never know what additive people put into Pho while making the noodle, the meat and the broth.

2. A good companion

Almost dishes of Vietnam culinary are full of spice, so it is hard to enjoy 3 to 4 dishes at once as the combination of too many strong flavors could produce adverse impacts on the quality of the meal. It is the reason why the appearance of a gently tasty dish as rice is needed. Imagine serving pho with spring rolls, hm, I am not sure what to think about that.

In daily meal, Vietnamese will eat each main dish with rice, which is widely known as the ideal way to enhance the taste of main dishes as well as enrich the flavor of rice. What’s more, when people tend to get bored with eating too much food which is high in oil, fat, salt and protein, the appearance of a light dish as rice could be such a new wind whetting up your appetite and helping you savor your meal to the utmost.

3. Cannot be fed up with and cannot live without it

Supposedly, you are in love with Vietnamese spring rolls and are able to deal with maybe 20 rolls, for example. But whether or not you could eat spring rolls at least twice a day and continue to do it for a month or even a year is certainly a big question mark. After a month, you surely drop Vietnamese spring roll into your never-eat-again list soon. What about rice?

Do you know when Vietnamese people started to eat rice as an integral dish in their daily meal? It was thousands of years ago when the rice-based civilization marked the beginning of Vietnam history and Vietnam society, just as you grow up in wheat. And until now, hardly can you find rice absent from a daily meal of Vietnamese people. Rice has such a magnificent magic that should you eat it regularly, you are likely to be addicted to it by nature. Nothing special, nothing impressive, very simple and rustic, rice is mouthwatering and invincible due to its hidden charm and so does its country. Well, if you still do not believe it, look at the diet of Chinese, Japan, Korea and Thai!


Trung Vu - It's time to move on to PHO!

      Vietnamese noodle      

Pho, one of the most popular dishes of Vietnam, can be a perfect meal for people. With the beefy broth, soft noodle, tasty beef or chicken slices, fresh vegetables and onions, pho can cure the hunger quickly and give you a pho-filling feel for the whole day. Nowadays there are more and more people dropping the habit of eating rice for daily meals and shifting to Pho. They have some good reasons for this.

1. Better taste, easy to consume and save time on washing dishes
Pho’s taste is surely better than the bland rice, especially in winter. The broth, the beef/chicken slices, the noodles and the vegetables/onion makes a perfect combination. Moreover, Pho nowadays is served with youtiao (quay) very crispy and tasty. Another good point is Pho restaurants are very popular in the streets (even at midnight) with reasonable price (VND 25,000-VND 30,000/bowl) and customers do not need to worry about cooking and cleaning the bowls and dishes. Imagine how many dishes, bowls AND pots you have to wash after a small rice-involved meals?

Pho is a complete food, in a sense that it has a rich source of protein, vitamin and reasonable carb proportion. (Watch out dieter!) Certainty Pho is easier to consume in hot weather for its abundant broth, like in the summer, compare to rice, bun and bread. Nevertheless, the vegetables served with Pho are wide in range and fresh. Vietnamese usually eat Pho with cilantro, bean sprout, basil, lime, green onion, which helps to reduce the greasiness in taste of beef/chicken and broth (which was well-cooked with bones).

2. Variety in flavours, less eating time: 
Pho takes many different forms: fried pho (pho xao), deep-fried pho (pho ran), rolled pho (pho cuon – an uncut piece of noodle covers beef, onions, herbs and vegetables, favourited by many youngsters). Recently, pho with beef au “vin” (pho sot vang) has also been introduced. With this wide range in pho preparation, you will stand no chance in getting tired of pho, like you do it with "com" (Just so you know, "Chan Com Them Pho" is a popular VIetnamese proverb).

Secondly, Pho is flexible in term of flavours. Customers are free to change from beef to chicken, from regular pho to fried pho, or from pho with normal broth to pho with beef au “vin”. Thirdly, Pho is easier to consume and have the advantage about time, which the modern Vietnamese are all in urgent need. Eating a pho bowl just take about 15-20 minutes, compared to having rice, which can take up to an hour for slow eaters.

3. Pho consumption is a social activities: 
Having a pho bowl with friends is a popular habit. It’s also the chance for people to meet and chat with each other. It also increases the social network among populations, and strengthens the relationship between colleagues, classmates and family members. I have not heard much about colleagues going out for a breakfast with Com as yet, for my entire life in Vietnam.

Moreover, Pho is a very traditional food of Vietnam. Eating pho is a cultural activity which helps maintain the traditional norm of Vietnamese. (see how Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai all eat rice?). I mean, Pho is almost a status or indicator for a modern world now.


I guess it's a never-ending story, just like the Hanoi or Saigon debate. The fast-changing Vietnam has seen split in the population, one nostalgic for the tradition an one eager to welcome what is new, fast and convenient. More debates to follow...