A Vietnamese woman in a conical hat walks under a scorching sun to collect some snails. When she reaches home, she goes to her lush garden, picks some vegetables and cooks noodles in her kitchen. “Hung, come and have noodles with me,” she calls to her son after cooking.
Cuong cooks with a traditional stove using charcoal and firewood. Photo courtesy of “Am Thuc Me Lam.”
It is a video from YouTube channel “Am Thuc Me Lam” (Mother’s Cuisine).
The channel, having 723,000 subscribers, features Duong Thi Cuong, 55, a farmer in the northern province of Thai Nguyen, making traditional dishes like rice balls with roasted sesame, boiled snails and fried bananas.
Many Vietnamese and foreign viewers give the videos a thumbs up for portraying rural life, modest dishes and how to make them from scratch with a hard-working Vietnamese mother.
Recently, on October 11, it was one of two food channels from Vietnam joining YouTube FanFest, which gathered the biggest stars and celebrities on the video streaming platform to celebrate the creativity of artist communities around the world.
The other was “Helen’s Recipes” featuring Helen Le, or Le Ha Huyen, which has 556,000 subscribers. It is one of the most popular Vietnamese food channels on YouTube, and Huyen, a young urbanite, has reached global audiences with hundreds of recipes ranging from savory dishes like banh mi, pho and bun bo Hue to desserts like banh bo (steamed rice cake) and banh khoai mi (cassava cake).
Dong Van Hung, who started filming his mother Cuong while she was cooking daily meals without any idea that they would become famous, said: “I felt I could inspire foreigners and Vietnamese to know about Vietnamese cuisine.”
“Bep Tren Dinh Doi” (Kitchen on the Hill) is another channel that shows people how to make traditional foods from scratch. The channel, which has 207,000 subscribers, features Tam An and her life in mountainous Sapa.
“This beautiful video heals my heart,” a viewer commented under a video of An harvesting vegetables and cooking a curry.
Chef Vo Quoc opined: “Home cooks normally make their family’s favorite dishes and earn praise from viewers because they are easy to learn.”
Complicated dishes taught by professional chefs may not be as popular as those of home cooks, he said.
Other YouTubers, instead of cooking, show people the beauty of Vietnamese food by eating and commenting, or upload mukbang videos, a trend started in South Korea showing people eating large quantities of food while talking at viewers.
“Quynh Tran JP & Family” channel featuring Quynh Tran, a Vietnamese woman living with her family in Japan, has more than three millions subscribers. It has videos of Quynh eating a variety of dishes, including Vietnamese ones like fried cakes and banh mi.
Quynh Tran (R) has grilled chicken in a mukbang video. Photo courtesy of Quynh Tran.
The popularity of Vietnamese food videos on YouTube is gaining global attention, and many foreign YouTubers have begun to post videos of themselves trying Vietnamese dishes and their reactions to them.
“Using social networks to promote cuisine is an international trend because information goes quicker and wider on these networks,” Quoc said.
YouTube is the second most accessed site in Vietnam with 59 percent of the population using it, according to a 2018 report by U.K. research firm We Are Social. The country is one of the platform’s five biggest global markets.
Food is particularly popular internationally, YouTube reported, with viewers in many countries increasingly watching cuisine-related content in the last few years.
Especially during the pandemic, “viewers have increasingly sought out videos that help them create restaurant-style cuisine at home,” according to YouTube.
This provides Vietnamese YouTubers with readymade audiences, and many make subtitles in other languages like English and Korean.
Some even make videos in English. “Vuong Anh’s Cooking Journey”, by a Vietnamese student at the Australian hospitality and culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, shows off Vietnamese food and culture to the world with English videos in which Anh travels across Vietnam to cook using local ingredients.
“I do not only look for ingredients but also record the unique cultural features, natural scenes and tasty dishes,” she said.
Some experts say that Vietnam should take advantage of these YouTube channels to promote its cuisine and culture globally.
“They can have one channel with videos from popular Vietnamese food channels on YouTube, introducing them based on region and even old lost recipes,” Quoc said, adding history and cultural anecdotes could be added.
“Cuisine is a culture. When we cook food, we do cultural work.”