Vietnam 200 years ago: food habits

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By the natives of warm climates animal food is seldom ranked among articles of the first necessity, and is sparingly used. And though fish is the common sustenance of those who inhabit the sea-coasts; yet rice made more gustable by a little salt, a pod of capsicum or pepper, or a leaf of some of the acidulous maritime vegetables above-mentioned, furnishes a grateful meal to the great mass of Oriental nations.

All beyond this article and its accompaniments, even the areca nut and betel leaf, as well as opium and spirituous liquors, may be considered in the light of luxuries. Of rice, in Cochinchina, they are almost certain of two plentiful crops every year, one of which is reaped in April, the other in October.

Fruits of various kinds, as oranges, bananas, figs, pine apples, guavas, pomegranates, and others of inferior note, are abundantly produced in all parts of the country. They have fine yams and plenty of sweet potatoes. Their small breed of cattle does not appear to furnish them with much milk, but this article indeed, like the Chinese, they make but a very sparing use, not even as food for their young children. These little creatures are very numerous in Turon and appeared remarkably healthy; and till the age of seven or eight years were entirely naked. Their food seemed to consist chiefly of rice, sugar cane and watermelons.

The mass of people in Cochinchina, like the common Chinese, have but two meals in the day, one about nine or ten in the morning, the other about sunset; and these are usually taken, in the dry season, before the doors of their cottages, on mats spread in the open air. Where all fare alike, none feels ashamed to expose his humble meal.

Text: Sir John Barrow
Photo: illustration from the book, internet

Fragment from the book:
Barrow, John, Sir (1764-1848)
A voyage to Cochinchina in the years 1792 and 1793 : containing a general view of the valuable productions and the political importance of this flourishing kingdom; and also of such European settlements as were visited on the voyage : with sketches of the manners, character, and condition of their several inhabitants.
Publication date: 1806

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