The food and culture of Ethnic minorities in Vietnam

Vietnam is ethnically diverse, with 54 ethnic groups living in different regions. Of these ethnic groups, the Kinh is the most populous, making up 85.3% of the population (around 82 million people). The remaining 53 ethnic groups account for 14.6% of the population and are mostly concentrated in the mountainous and rural regions of Vietnam. Growing food and other staples are a major source of employment for indigenous groups in Vietnam, with the agriculture sector playing a crucial role in Vietnam’s economy and society. Whilst Rice is the dominant staple , other staples such as bamboo shoots, corn, livestock and fish also contribute to the agriculture sector’s output and the basis for the food and dishes consumed by the different ethnic minorities.

Data on agricultural output and food grown

Vietnam is a country renowned for its tasty food, eaten around the world with dishes such as Pho, and Banh Mi available and popular around the world. Whilst these more famous dishes have been exported around the world, there is also a diverse variety of dishes produced by the many groups of ethnic minorities throughout Vietnam. Whilst rice is the main staple and ingredient in many of the dishes, followed by corn, the different ethnic groups also have their unique ingredients that contribute to their diet.

The Thai people, whose main traditional dishes are Com Lam and Canh Boi, prefer grilled dishes with strong seasonings, such as mac khen leaves, chilli, garlic, garlic, and salt. Com Lam is a sticky rice dish in bamboo tubes, whilst Canh Boi is a soup.

The diet of the Nung people mainly consists of vegetables fried in animal oil and only a small consumption of fish and meat. Their more well-known dish is Khau Nhuc, consisting of braised pork belly with dried Chinese Broccoli.

The Pa Then people, whose food and beverages vary, have a variety of speciality dishes such as salted dried Buffalo meat, salted, dried pork, five-colour sticky rice, Noan Co, Noan May, and grilled fish. One of their more well-known dishes is Bull-horn cake. 

A typical dish of the Tho people is ‘Boi’ soup, or ‘Oi’ mushroom soup (made from shiitake mushroom). The main ingredients of this soup are fresh mushrooms and glutinous rice. Beyond this, the Tho enjoy the Ramie leaf cake, made from glutinous rice, ramie leaves, green beans and sugar.

‘Oo’ soup, ‘Oo soup’ or ‘Doong Unr’ is a historical dish of the Kho Mu people originating from the habit of hunting and gathering wild animals. The animals are, after processing, hung above stoves for two to three days, with people collecting vegetables that will be cooked together with the meat in a mixed soup.

Food also plays an important cultural role in the ethnic minority groups of Vietnam. Food is a daily need and plays an important role in ceremonies such as weddings or funerals, ceremonies, or providing for guests.

Hunting and gathering formed the basis of many ethnic groups available food, and even though, through the availability of rice and other staples, these traditions continue to be prevalent, such as with the ‘Oo’ soup, ‘Oo soup’ or ‘Doong Unr’ dish of the Kho Mu people.

The preparation of glutinous rice, an ingredient of Ramie leaf cake, through the pounding of rice with a mortar and pestle, is one of the cultural features of the Tho people. This task was traditionally the task of the Tho women, done either by one person or in a group, with young girls being taught these skills from an early age. Due to advances in technology and the introduction of the milling machine, women are no longer expected to complete this laborious task. Instead, it is reserved for display or special occasions, such as making the Ramie leaf cakes.

The ‘Xen Dong’ ceremony of the Thai ethnic group has existed for hundreds of years. This unique ceremony is undertaken to remember and acknowledge the contributions of their ancestors, give thanks to heaven and earth and worship the villages who have since passed. This ceremony is held on the 12th day of the first lunar month every year. On this day, the offerings of one buffalo head, one front leg, one back leg and the tail of the buffalo; three trays of meat, heart, blood, tendon, fruit, wine, “banh chung”, a bowl of rice, a bowl of salt, sticky rice, and sugarcane are made.

Sour meat is a speciality of the Dao Tien people, considered a precious dish and used in holidays such as the ‘Lap Tinh’ ceremony and for weddings or inviting guests . Sour meat can be made from buffalo, beef, or pork. Sour meat requires a fermentation period of 12 months and is a method of preserving the meat.

The use of food in ceremonies is not only reserved for prepared dishes but also in ceremonies for the planting of seeds. The Kho Mu people, when the Gowk birds chirp, select the seeds from the previous crop to plant. The seed planting ceremony is meant to bring a bountiful harvest

Food not only plays an integral role in the economy of Vietnam, but it also holds a valued and important role in the preservation of cultural practices of the different ethnic groups as some of the examples here highlight.


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