Vietnam has mostly been defined by its tumultuous history of border scuffles, invasions, and colonialism — which does this beautiful, graceful, colorful southeast Asian country a disservice.
Respect for tradition jostles up against a forward-facing attitude in Vietnam, which makes for a jumble of fascinating contrasts: the hyper-energetic urban centers of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City versus the idyllic countryside (which two-thirds of the population call home); state-mandated atheism versus a long tradition of spiritual practices; Communist government versus capitalist economy.
But spend any time getting curious about Vietnam, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: family and a reverence for tradition are nearly universal. As is a passion for flavorful food that woos all the senses and an appreciation for the country’s stunning natural beauty.
In this episode, we delve into Vietnam’s dramatic history and discuss what makes it like no other place on the planet, then we recommend books that transported us there on the page, including moving family sagas, first-person memoirs, and an ode to a perfect bowl of pho.
Read the full transcript of Episode 22: Vietnam.
Vietnamese street food: From pho to banh mi and everything in between, Vietnamese street food is among some of the world’s best on-the-go grub. Here’s a list of 13 delicious options.
Egg coffee: Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of coffee in the world, and the coffee culture is strong. One specialty: egg coffee made from beaten egg yolks, milk, and sugar that’s blended with the coffee. It’s like coffee custard! Here’s a recipe, so you can try it at home.
British Cave Research Association: Here is the proof that it exists
Hang Son Doong Cave Tour: Only 1000 people are allowed to visit the cave every year, and this is the only organization licensed to conduct tours.
Barack Obama & Anthony Bourdain eat bun cha: In May 2016, the two legends sat down at a greasy spoon in Hanoi to talk over bowls of noodles. Here’s an article with the photo of the preserved table, and this is the restuarant, should you find yourself in Hanoi. Eavesdrop on their chat:
NPR interview with Thanhha Lai: The author of Listen, Slowly talks about her fantastic novel. It’s a fun, fast 5 minutes!
Andrew X Pham at VONA Faculty Reading: The author of The Eaves of Heaven reads from his stunning book.
Libro FM interview with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai: The author of The Mountains Sing shares the inspiration for her gorgeous novel.
Thi Bui at Century College Speaker Series: In this presentation from 2019, the author of The Best We Could Do talks about the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child.
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Top image courtesy of Tong_stocker.
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