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The Rice of Life
The Rice of Life

Rice is the dietary staple in Vietnam, consumed with each meal. The common practice is to prepare several dishes that are placed on a tray or on a table, with family members sitting around it. Everybody has a small bowl filled with rice, and take food from the serving trays, placing it in their bowl. Then such combination of rice and other foods is eaten from the bowls with chopsticks. Vietnamese often accompany these main dishes with leafy vegetables and small bowls of salty sauces in which they dip their food. Popular dishes include sauteed vegetables, tofu, a seafood-based broth with vegetables called canh, and a variety of pork, fish, or meat dishes. A common ingredient for cooked dishes and the dipping sauces is the salty fish sauce (nuoc mam).

Another practice is the serving of tea from a small tea pot with small cups to guests. Northern cuisine is known for its subtle flavors, central cuisine for its spiciness, and southern cuisine for its use of sugar and bean sprouts. Diet varies with wealth; the poor often have limited amounts of protein in their diets and usually eat mostly rice with a few leafy vegetables at every meal. The major cities feature restaurants offering Vietnamese and international cuisines, but for most Vietnamese, food consumed outside of the home is taken at street-side stalls or small shops that specialize in one dish. The most popular item is a noodle soup with a clear meat-based broth called pho. Many Vietnamese regard this as a national dish. Other foods commonly consumed at these sites include other varieties of rice or wheat noodle soups, steamed glutinous rice, rice porridge, sweet desserts, and "common people's food" (com binh dan), a selection of regular household dishes.