How is Vietnamese Food Different from Chinese?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “How is Vietnamese Food Different from Chinese?” and will discuss in what ways Chinese food is different from Vietnamese.

How is Vietnamese Food Different from Chinese? 

Vietnamese food is different from Chinese in several ways. Vietnamese cuisine is healthier, lighter, and uses more fresh herbs than Chinese cuisine. However, during the French colonization of Vietnam, new items were introduced to Vietnamese cuisines, such as potatoes, asparagus, and baguettes, which are not often seen in Chinese cuisine.

From 1990 to 2008, 8.7% of the foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S. (17,640 total outbreaks) were associated with three popular ethnic food categories (Italian, Mexican, and Asian). Asian foods represented approximately 20.6% of outbreaks (315 outbreaks) and 9.6% of cases (3,529 cases) of the totals associated with ethnic foods. The majority of outbreaks originated in restaurants/delicatessens (60%) and were of unknown etiologies (62.2%). Bacterial agents were the most prevalent of the known etiologies (77%), followed by viruses (18%) and then by chemicals and toxins (5%). Asian foods most frequently associated with illness were Asian-style cooked and fried rice (40%) and sushi (15%) (1).

What about Chinese and Vietnamese food?

In terms of ingredients, Vietnamese cuisine and Chinese food are quite different. The only similarities between them are the extensive usage of garlic (in both dishes) and ginger (in sauces). However, stir-frying is a common cooking method in both cuisines. One can always easily find shallots, which are barely used by the Chinese, in a Vietnamese kitchen as a base for garnishing and also for the cooking of many dishes. Vietnamese cooking is also easily recognized from the exclusive use of many fresh herbs such as cilantro, basil, dill, and fresh mints; as well as distinct condiments which are shallots, garlic, lemongrass, chillies, ginger, galangal, shrimp paste, turmeric, tamarind and lime juice (2).

However, compared to Vietnamese cuisine, Chinese food is much heavier, fattier, and more likely to be fried. A more succinct response is that the ingredients and tastes used in all Asian cuisines (the most well-known of which are those from Thailand, Korea, and China) have certain similarities.

  • Base with rice or noodles.
  • Fewer dairy products
  • ginger 
  • chili sauce

The 13th-century Mongolian invasion of Vietnam forged gastronomic ties between Vietnam and China. Soy sauce is widely used in Chinese cooking, while the fish sauce is widely used in Vietnamese cooking (2).

What can you expect to find on a menu of Vietnamese cuisine?

Many things that Vietnam is well known for in its cuisine are originally Chinese legacies such as chopsticks, bean curd, star anise, rice noodles and fermented soybeans, or the technique of mixing meat and shellfish in fillings. Furthermore, during the thirteenth century, the Mongolians brought in their traditional beef dishes, for instance the hot pot. Yet the Vietnamese people were able to invent their own unique flavors and cooking methods in a very much lighter and more delicate style compared to Chinese cooking, which delivers one of the finest, leanest and most healthful cuisines not only in Southeast Asian but also in the world (2).

Spring rolls, rice noodles, and fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, and basil are all staples in Vietnamese cuisine. However, because of the French influence in their cooking, they are well-known for their Bánh m sandwich, which comes with a range of meats and may be eaten warm or cold.

Vietnamese cuisine is also known for its fresher ingredients, lower fat content, and use of lighter items such as rice noodles, basil leaves, and mung bean sprouts. When you examine the French occupation of Vietnam, the major contrasts between Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines become apparent.

The arrival of French culture, which included French cuisine, altered Vietnamese cuisine permanently, resulting in the most pronounced contrasts between the two. Relations between France and Vietnam date back to the 17th century.

Catholic missionaries from France traveled to Vietnam at that time to spread the gospel. In 1887, France established colonies in Vietnam and Cambodia. Even though France just withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, after the Geneva Accord, they left an indelible mark on Vietnamese cuisine, introducing the following ingredients:

  • Baguettes
  • Asparagus 
  • Potatoes 

When comparing Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, how spicy is the former?

Some Chinese dishes are hot since they are made with fresh chili peppers, while most Vietnamese cuisine is not. Rather than as a culinary component, chili peppers in Vietnamese cuisine are usually offered as a garnish or condiment.

However, neither Vietnamese nor Chinese cuisine appeals to me because of the high levels of spice. In comparison to both of them, Thai cuisine is much spicier. The most common spices—chili, lime, ginger, garlic, shallot, and pepper— are all important sources of vitamins and minerals. There is a preference for sour tastes (for instance, the pulp of unripe tamarind), which are considered cooling and appropriate for the warm weather. Vietnamese food is not as hot as Thai food, and diners determine the level of spiciness by adding shredded fresh chili into their dishes or biting into one while eating (3).

What’s unique about Vietnamese cuisine is that saltier tastes are preferred in Northern Vietnam. In contrast, people favor sweeter tastes in the South. Northern Vietnamese cuisine is strongly inspired by Chinese cuisine, and as a result, there isn’t as much sugar or sweet sauce in it as in the south. Vietnamese salt consumption is high, estimated between 9 g and 22 g /day, more than double the WHO recommended intake (4).

Cambodian cuisine has a stronger impact on southern Vietnamese cuisine due to its location in what is now modern-day Cambodia. There were several dipping sauces and pickled vegetables because of these gastronomic influences. Again, a lot of the cuisine in China isn’t very spicy.

Culinary traditions of the Sichuan province of Sichuan include Szechwan cuisine (Sichuan, Szechuan), which is known for its spicy dishes that combine a lot of garlic with chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. However, compared to the neighboring Thai food, neither of these dishes is very spicy. These are the differences among Chinese regional cuisines. Northerners are fond of green onions and garlic; Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, and Sichuan people are fond of hot and spicy things; Cantonese are fond of bland foods; Jiangsu people are fond of sugar (5).

What’s better for you, Vietnamese or Chinese food?

In general, Vietnamese cuisine is healthier than Chinese fare. In comparison to Chinese cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine uses less breaded, fried, and oil-based products, as well as less salt and sugar. There are fried dishes in both cuisines, but Vietnamese food has a lighter texture and uses fresher ingredients like vegetables, herbs, and sprouts. Its sauces are also lighter.

Vietnamese cuisine, in contrast to Chinese cuisine, depends primarily on rice noodles rather than fried rice and wheat-based noodles.

According to the American Heart Association, Chinese cuisine, on the other hand, may contain dangerously high amounts of salt. What gives it its saltiness? The salt content of one tablespoon of soy sauce is staggering at 1,005 mg! However, recent studies showed that Vietnamese food contains high amounts of salt (4).

According to the American Heart Association, you should consume 1,500 mg of salt per day to be healthy. One tablespoon of soy sauce contains 1,005 calories, so it’s easy to see how a single Chinese cuisine meal may quickly and many times exceed your daily limit.

MSG(monosodium glutamate), another potentially lethal chemical often found in Chinese cuisine but not in Vietnamese (or Thai) cuisine, is conspicuously missing .

Like the naturally occurring molecule glutamate, MSG has been engineered to improve the taste. The Mayo Clinic reports that many individuals respond to MSG and have the following adverse effects as a result: 

  • Anxiety and worry
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • fluttering in the chest
  • Sweating

Monosodium glutamate can produce symptoms such as numbness, weakness, irritability, sweating, dizziness and headache. In addition, MSG may cause or exacerbate many conditions, including asthma, urticaria, atopic dermatitis, arrhythmias, neuropathy and abdominal discomfort. In animals, high doses of monosodium glutamate is neurotoxic because it destroys nerve cells in the hypothalamic nucleus through changes in the pituitary-adrenal axis. Moreover, excessive MSG administration may lead to liver and kidney damage (6).

In addition to Japan, Thailand, and India, CNN named Vietnamese cuisine as one of the ten healthiest ethnic cuisines. However, Chinese cuisine was notably absent from the menu. During their research, they discovered the following characteristics:

  • Herbs that have been freshly harvested
  • A lot of fruits and vegetables
  • Lots of fish and other marine life
  • Sauces with a lower fat content
  • Reduce the amount of frying.
  • Vietnamese noodle soup with “antioxidant-packed ingredients,” or Pho.


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “How is Vietnamese Food Different from Chinese?” and discussed in what ways Chinese food is different from Vietnamese.


  1. Matheus, Adriana, et al. A historical look at the prevalence of foodborne disease outbreaks associated with Asian foods in the United States. Food Protec Trends, 20167, 36, 108-115. 
  2. Dinh, Linh. The Taste Preferences of Finnish People Towards Southeast Asian Food: The Case of Vietnamese Food and Thai Food. 2013. University of VAMK, Finland.
  3. Avieli, Nir. Making sense of Vietnamese cuisine. Education About Asia, 2011, 16, 42-45.  
  4. Raneri, Jessica E., et al. Determining key research areas for healthier diets and sustainable food systems in Viet Nam. Vol. 1872. Intl Food Policy Res Inst, 2019.
  5. King, Michelle T. “What is Chinese” food? Historicizing the concept of culinary regionalism. Glob Food Hist, 2020, 6, 89-109.
  6. Helal, Eman GE, et al. Adverse effects of mono sodium glutamate, sodium benzoate and chlorophyllins on some physiological parameters in male albino rats. Egypt J Hos Med, 2019, 74, 1857-1864.