Culture & Lifestyle Habits and Taboos

Eating habits

Meals in Vietnam – lunch or dinner – must include rice. Traditionally, Vietnamese meals are prepared by wives or mothers and the entire family is expected to partake. However, due to the demands of careers on Vietnamese women, the number of family-made meals has been decreasing. Households now may have a one meal a day at home, and it may not include the entire family.

Vietnam has three main styles of cuisine coming out of the country’s three regions – the North, the Central and the South. Tastes, cooking methods and the dishes are different among these three cuisines. While restaurants featuring southern food rarely appear in the northern and the central regions, the south has become a meeting point for all the different foods and dishes of Vietname, though they are often adapted to be more palatable to southern tastes.

Since Vietnam opened its doors to foreign investors, more and more foreigners have been staying and working in Vietnam. As a result, foreign cuisines have been brought to Vietnam, including Japanese, Korean and Italian. Foreign restaurants not only welcome foreigners but also Vietnamese.

In addition to traditional foods, Vietnamese people are becoming increasingly familiar with fast foods, especially in urban areas.


When households do not have time to prepare meals, they dine out. With a one hour break at noon, employees do not have time to return home for have lunch and must therefore have lunch somewhere nearby their work places. Moreover, Vietnamese people usually eat or drink with each other after work to maintain work relationships. Many common lunch shops and restaurants have opened to meet this demand.

More foreign restaurant chains have opened in Vietnam, especially in urban areas. Restaurants serving foreign cuisine have adapted their meals to be more agreeable to Vietnamese food preferences. For example, Korean restaurants have reduced their use of chillies, and Thai restaurants serve food that is less sour in order to be more in line with Vietnamese tastes. As a result of these adaptations, more Vietnamese eat at restaurants serving ‘foreign’ food.

Young people in Vietnam now like fast food outlets like Lotteria, Jollibee and KFC because of their convenience. These fast food companies have opened many more outlets in Vietnam in recent years. Faced with fast food coming from abroad, Vietnamese food producers have joined this market to share the profits. Vietnamese fast food chains have been established and more outlets have opened. The most successful Vietnamese fast food chain is Pho 24, which has many outlets in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and even in foreign countries. In recent years, there have been more Vietnamese fast food chains launched such as Bun Bo Hue 3A3, serving a type of Hue cuisine.

Smoking habits

Most Vietnamese smoke cigarettes rather than cigars or cigarillos. This is because cigarettes are much cheaper than cigars and cigarillos and are therefore more affordable to Vietnamese people.

The smoking rate in Vietnam has been being the highest in the world for years; most Vietnamese men smoke as a long-standing habit. To the Vietnamese, a man should smoke to be manlier or more artistic, and it is easier for people to improve their relationships by smoking together. As a result, around 67% of the male population are smokers, which accounts for more than 70% of Vietnamese smokers.

Traditionally, it has been unacceptable for women to smoke in Vietnam. However, in large and developed cities such as Ho Chi Minh ard Hanoi, and especially in tourist areas where there are lots of foreigners, some Vietnamese women, especially young women, have started to smoke. The number of female smokers has increased quickly. It is estimated that Vietnamese female smokers now accounts for around 25% total Vietnamese smokers and 8.6% of the total population.


Although all Vietnamese, including current smokers, know about the harm caused by smoking they continue to smoke. Some say that it is hard to stop because it has been a habit in the country for centuries; some, especially for those who live in rural areas, do not pay attention to the warnings about smoking. As a result, the smoking rate in Vietnam is unlikely to decrease over the coming years.

In recent years, smokers in Vietnam have tended to be younger. In addition to being impacted by western lifestyles, as seen in films or on TV, some Vietnamese parents pay too much attention to their work and not enough to their children. In some areas, it is very easy for minors to buy cigarettes. The proportion of young smokers in Vietnam has been increasing over time.

It is highly unlikely that the illicit trade of cigarettes in Vietnam can be stopped or reduced in the near future. Loose regulations, ineffective implementation and red-tape are the main reasons why cigarettes continue to be imported illegally.

Drinking habits

Drinking Habits

Vietnamese people may go out to drink at bars, pubs or restaurants on weekdays with their friends after work. Some of them invite their friends to drink at their homes with their families on weekends. However, there has been an increasing tendency of going out to drink because Vietnamese women are increasingly unwilling to clean up after everyone – if friends gather to drink in a home,, it is the women, not the men, who have to clean everything after the party.

In the past when the Vietnamese could not afford otherwise, they usually drank home-made alcohol such as ruou gao or ruou de. Once incomes began to rise, they started to drink beer, which was considered to be a luxury in the past. Now, they can not only drink beer but also imported wines.

Younger generations – including young women – are now more open about drinking. For them, it is just another way of socialising. Moreover, as they have become more independent and dynamic and have more money, so drinking alcoholic products has become common in their lives.


It is the Vietnamese tendency to go out to drink that has increased the number of restaurants, bars and pubs in recent years. Such places are very crowded on work days and at the weekend as well.

Vietnamese people know about the damage of drinking alcoholic products but they still drink. In fact, many of Vietnamese do not care much about their health. Therefore the alcohol market is an attractive one for producers

Cooking habits

Vietnamese prefer fresh foods, and will rarely choose ready-made or frozen food. Since Vietnam is an agricultural country, there are many kinds of vegetables and fruits available. Vietnam also has a long coastal line, which means that there are many kinds of sea food available.

Vietnamese households also prefer cooking and eating at home. As Vietnam is originally an agricultural country, its culture is a community one. Therefore a family may have many generations, and meals are family affairs. Although they may eat out with their friends after work to maintain those relationships, they still join their families’ meals later in the evening.


Supermarkets or other modern retail channels cannot replace Vietnamese traditional markets because the latter feature of fresh foods. Vietnamese people still go to the markets daily to buy fresh food for their families. As a result, Vietnam has a large number of markets in the country.

Meals at homes are very important to Vietnamese people, and play an important role in bettering and reinforcing relationships between parents and children or husbands and wives. Some feel that the busier society has resulted in families having fewer meals at home, which contributes to the rising divorce rate in Vietnam.

While Vietnamese people have fewer meals at home, they are eating out more to save time. The Vietnamese, especially in urban areas, now have less time to cook and eat at home and increasingly rely on ready-made meals or restaurants. As a result, the number of restaurants in Vietnam has increased and they are always crowded.

Going out

Going Out

More Vietnamese people spend their free time outside their homes at places such as cinemas, theatres or coffee shops. The number of places of entertainment has increased in big cities. Currently, there are many well-known cinema including Megastar, Diamond and Galaxy.

Alternatively, more young people use their free time to study because the low quality of national university programmes is leaving students without the necessary skills. For instance, full-time students are interested in also attending other clubs or centres for improving skills such as communication, presentation and team working.


Demand for entertainment has increased throughout Vietnam. Many cultural centres have organised different clubs and social courses, and the demand for locations and equipment has increased. In Ho Chi Minh City, the Youth Culture House, the Women Culture House and the Labour Culture House are well-known destinations for citizens when they have spare time.

Foreign cultures are introducing Vietnamese people to new types of entertainment. In some recent years, many entertainments have been imported into Vietnam such as bowling and 3D or 4D movies.

Common Taboo

  • Public displays of affection
  • Point with your finger/touch people’s head
  • Place chopsticks inside bowl
  • Give handkerchiefs/ chrysanthemums as a gift
  • Leave food unfinished
  • Borrow things on the 1st day of the New Year