HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Farewell, mom & pop

For years America has been lamenting the death of 'mom & pop' stores, i.e. small businesses run by a close-knit group of people who place customer service and loyalty ahead of shopping efficiency. The old days when everyone knew the owner of the local corner store or the clerk at their favorite bookshop have been replaced by the soulless experiences of big-box stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Borders (EDIT: A reader has reminded me that Borders no longer exists. Let's plug in Barnes & Noble). Chain restaurants and fast-food companies have done the same thing, obliterating greasy diners and rusty spoons all over the place. Something similar is now taking place in Vietnam.

While Vietnam doesn't have Wal-Mart yet, it has its own version: Korean-owned Lottemart (which is better than Wal-Mart for one reason: no white trash!). There are also huge electronics stores and massive bookstores like Fahasa that are killing small family-run shops that have been part of Vietnam for ages. Young Vietnamese are so obsessed with the latest and greatest from the West that they are completely shunning their own heritage. This is best seen in the world of food.

Back when I was teaching my students were always surprised to learn that I love eating Vietnamese food. They seemed unable to comprehend why I would want to eat banh xeo when I grew up in the glorious land of Big Macs. Their favorite restaurants were usually KFC or Lotteria, the latter of which is the Korean equivalent of McDonalds. Their favorite food? 'Fried chicken'. These chains, as well as upscale cafes like Paris Baguette and Tous le Jours (Both South Korean-owned. Sense a theme?), are always packed with Vietnamese teenagers and young adults doodling on iPads. The com tam stalls, where you can get lunch for less than a dollar, are being shunned for $4 meals from the Colonel. There is a perverse belief here that the more something costs the better it is, so by that logic KFC is better than street food, nevermind the fact that the chicken is garbage.

I'm not saying family-owned lunch stalls and shops are about to go the way of the dinosaurs here. They still get a lot of business. However, as the current young generation grows up, I think that may change. Young Vietnamese are so focused on status and 'looking cool' that they simply can't be seen eating at some roadside eatery where beer bottles and snail shells litter the ground. Whereas I (along with many other expats) have no such qualms, they need to maintain their image by dining at an air-conditioned, heartless chain. Obviously everyone is allowed to eat at a chain if they want to, but if they completely ignore local, family-owned shops and restaurants they are going to lose them, and that would be a great tragedy.

5 comments:

  1. It's not just in Vietnam. It's everywhere in Asia where there is new money. They have never seen that much money in their life and they always have yearn for the rich life of the western world. It's unfortunate, but some the kids that come of new money probably have worse manner than the kids with no education and money. Money doesn't really buy class.

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    1. I completely agree - the way some of the new rich here behave is disgusting.

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  2. Money never buys class. It only buys the appearance of class. Also, I'm curious how did you get this traveling job in the first place? I always wanted to do something close to it though I don't know where or how to start.

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    1. I don't actually have a traveling job. All of my work is in Saigon, I just travel for fun when I have time. Anyway I first moved here to teach and eventually got into writing instead. Moving somewhere to teach English is a good way to get your foot in the door in some places.

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  3. Blame it all on the EVIL western civilization and colonization of cultures to conform to what westerners think as "the way" to live.

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