— Ngoc Dinh
We had a talk with Duc Nguyen, Vietnamese vegetarian chef, writer and blogger, about his view on vegetarian eating and the vegetarian cuisine scene in Vietnam.
Duc Nguyen has been sharing his vegetarian recipes via the blog “Ducan Kitchen” for four years, hosting cooking classes both offline and on Vietnam’s national televisions, and publishing two vegetarian cookbooks. With a wide range of activities on vegetarian cooking, he aims at sharing these vegetarian recipes with more people.
In all of his products, books or blog posts, he not only focuses on giving cooking instructions (with beautiful photos and impressive plating) but also shares his knowledge on nutrition science and helps his readers filter biases and misleading beliefs to really start vegetarianism in the Vietnamese context.
The reason Duc switched to vegetarian eating is nothing grande.
“I don’t have a life-changing story like those on TV,” Duc shares with us. “It is simply a change of habit. Some people may see eating vegetarian as something grand, or even a sacrifice, but I think it is just a simple change.”
This simple change was initiated when Duc started moving out and started cooking on his own. Apart from getting uncomfortable with meaty ingredients, he adopted vegetarianism naturally first as a challenge for himself, then a fascinating opportunity to explore new cuisine techniques and ingredients that he would never experience otherwise.
To his eyes, four main reasons lead to this choice of diet in Vietnam.
One of the most prominent motivations for Vietnamese vegetarians stems from Buddhist belief which opposes animal killing. With 4,6 million documented followers in 2019 and many non-claimed ones, Buddhism has been an important influence on the choice of plant-based diets in this country. Generations of Vietnamese have been familiar with the ritual of eating vegetarian meals on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar calendar month.
People also opt for a plant-based diet following doctor’s advice; research has shown multiple health benefits of such a diet in maintaining a healthy life and lowering health risks. These vegetarians, whose concern mainly revolves around health and religion, are usually married people and middle-aged or elder people.
Duc lists concerns for the environment and animal rights as two major motivations for going vegetarian among younger generations. In addition, Duc also specifies the different approaches to vegetarianism among various demographic groups in Vietnam. “Religion and health are popular motivations among married people and working people, especially women.” Meanwhile, for the younger generations, it is more often because they are concerned about the environment, climate change and animal rights.
This 2020 article on 1,477 Vietnamese vegetarians explains Duc’s observation by stating that married and working groups often undergo stress and depression; plant-based diets act as moral supports and remedies for their spiritual lives. Men are also less prompted to adopt this type of diet due to a non-scientific stereotype that plant-based diets offer a lack of nutrition and reduce masculinity.
From a culinary perspective
Vietnam generally has a tradition of eating plant-based food, so this diet is neither strange nor contradicts Vietnamese food culture, according to Duc. People also see vegetarianism as a traditional cultural practice. “Every traditional dish has a vegetarian version. We have vegetarian nem (spring rolls), vegetarian sticky rice cake, sausages, Pho and so forth.”
“It might be a newer thing for Western countries, but it has been a tradition for Asian countries for hundreds of years, and probably that’s why there are a wide variety of vegetarian options in Asian countries.”
As an independent chef, he finds it convenient to buy ingredients for vegetarian dishes in Vietnam. Meanwhile, he is also fascinated to explore new recipes and ingredients, which he could not have done, had he not switched to vegetarianism.
While new vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam try to limit fake meat (which usually contains a lot of fat and additives) for health reasons, plant-based food served in old-schooled ones and even in Buddhist pagodas still include fake meat. Duc neither supports nor opposes this type of ingredient.
‘’Fake meat is easy to cook and has somewhat a familiar taste, which can be useful to help people switch to vegetarianism. But I would like to instruct people to eat more natural, less processed food.”
The future of vegetarianism and veganism in Vietnam
However, there remain some negative stereotypes towards a vegetarian diet, which are often shared among older generations. It is commonly believed that meat is essential to provide young people with sufficient energy to work and stay healthy.
Promoting veganism and vegetarianism in Vietnam specifically and the world, in general, remains a challenge. “Plant-based eating would become more popular, but it would probably always remain a minority in Vietnam. People might be aware of environmental or health problems, but they don’t act on it.”
Focus on what we do best
Duc believes that big impacts would be made possible first through governmental policies and efforts from NGOs or associations in the fields. Governments could issue policies to encourage or raise awareness about plant-based diets. NGOs and associations can take action, for example, by helping schools to build a plant-based menu for their students.
Duc also does not neglect the importance of individual roles. “In the end, it is an individual choice. People used to jokingly ask me if I would fall in love with a meat-eater,” he laughs. “But we can’t force people.”
In the meantime, he decides to focus on what he is best at: cooking vegetarian food, sharing his recipes and stories about vegetarianism.
‘’My goal is simple: to provide people with [informed] resources on vegetarian food,” said Duc. “If people want to switch to a vegetarian diet, they will need recipes to cook at home, especially in the pandemic time when restaurants are closed.”
“It might sound a bit powerless, but I can only do my job well,” Duc says the best thing is to do something consistently and continuously. “Maybe people can get more inspiration reading my blog”. He advises taking practical actions in the matter, starting from the simplest actions, for example asking friends to have a vegetarian meal once in a while.
“To my eyes, vegetarianism is probably always a minority, I accept that and will try to change the people around me.”
Duc Nguyen, known for his page named Ducan Kitchen, has published two vegetarian cookbooks namely “Khoi su an chay” (Starting to eat vegetarian) and “Ve nha an com” (Coming home for a meal). He currently runs Ducan Kitchen, a webpage to share his vegetarian recipes, food photos and information regarding vegetarian and vegan eating. He also organizes vegetarian cooking courses in several cities in Vietnam.
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2 thoughts on “Ducan Kitchen: Vegetarianism is simply a change of habit”
I’m a little fan girl of Ducan Kitchen and it’s so nice to see you had the opportunity to interview him and featured his work and social media. A very holistic article on vegetarianism!
Thank you so much @Lan for your kind feedback! 😉