Jun 19, 2018
To R -my dear friend :)
Oxford, Cowley Road, in a restaurant with some friends,
This was how everything started:
Oh Google! Wonderful Google! Treacherous Google! My friend was already typing "scary Vietnamese food", and within a second of the click, the very first image appearing on Google was a bowl full of... coconut worms. I have never eaten coconut worms in my life, not even seen them, but I did have some memory of how they look: absolutely terrifying.
I came to understand that as a part of our Vietnamese culture, we do enjoy eating strange dishes. The reason why we like doing so is because we get excited when experiencing an unforgettable memory for ourselves. People are eager to have a story to tell their friends "Me. Me. I have tried it!" and share their wonderfully horrible experience. Take coconut worms as an example. Not many Vietnamese people have ever tried them, but they still like talking about them. The coconut worm is a kind of worm that lives inside coconut trees. At some point, they are not as scary as they look. They taste like white cheese. It is not a bloody dish at all.
When it comes to food, we Vietnamese want our food to be considered unique, as second-to-none. Sitting in a table with a group of Vietnamese people, you probably would hear the same chorus repeated in most of our conversations about food: "Nowhere else in the world could you ever eat any food like ours. Only in Vietnam".
If you are a foreigner, people will excitedly offer you an unusual dish (food that they normally don't have in their daily meal), because, well, they want to see how you react! Vietnamese people are excited to see how a non-Vietnamese reacts to their unusual food. No matter whether you try the food or not, Vietnamese people will hardly be offended. It is your reaction that they are curious about! If you take the food and enjoy it, they will feel so pleased and praise you. If you tell them that you feel scared and refuse to take the dish, they will be absolutely delighted with your frowning face saying "You are scared of our food, aren't you?". In both cases, they’ll laugh out loud. Just remember not to politely force the food down and pretend you like it when you don’t (believe it or not, Vietnamese people are easily offended with a white liar. Being sincere is highly appreciated, and over-politeness can cause a problem)