I often describe Vietnamese food as the "have it your way" cuisine because you're free to tweak things according to personal taste. (Think of how you eat pho noodle soup, for example.) But seems like that concept (the signature tag line of Burger King) is materializing in Vietnam in scary/corporate/homogeneous ways these days.
When I was in Ho Chi Minh City last January, I was struck by the number of brightly lit KFC, Pizza Hut and Lotteria (a hamburger joint owned by Koreans). Those fast food restaurants did good business and many of the customers were locals. A status symbol of the elite? Yes. But turns out those places offer cleanliness, good service, and well-priced food — which hip, young Viet urbanites appreciate. There's also free wi-fi, air conditioning, and TV. That's the same business formula that keeps U.S. fast food chains like McDonald's and Burger King in the black.
In the U.S., people say that fast food is cheap and affordable, but I can make better tasting, healthier food at home without all the processed ingredients and mysterious junk. In Vietnam, you can get 'fast food' from street vendors for next to nothing. But people across cultures love formulated special sauces. Predictability is comforting. Colonel Sanders and the Golden Arches (coming soon to Vietnam) are welcoming symbols of civilized modernity.
What does the onslaught of fast food restaurants say for Vietnam? Does the growing presence of fast food joints in the cities reflect a brighter future? (Has Vietnam 'arrived'?) Or do the restaurants signal a global food culture that will eventually swallow up the country's distinctive cuisine to create a "have it fewer ways" kind of food scene? Is all this bunk since people have been eating 'fast food' for decades in the form of instant noodles?
Get a glimpse of Saigon's fast food scene from this article from VietnamNet, and let me know your thoughts.
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