Vietnamese cuisine is a serendipitous co-mingling of age-old traditions, a French colonial past, and its agricultural present. And eating your way from north-to-south—perhaps passing through Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh—is a delightful way to experience this multifaceted cuisine. Whether you squat with locals at a street stall or dine in style at a white-tablecloth restaurant, you’ll find fresh herbs and pungent fish sauce, but also balance: yin and yang, sweet-sour-salty, fresh and fermented.
Food and cooking are very much ingrained into daily life in Vietnam; as is the amazing array of kitchen and home crafts, many sprung from customs and traditions dating back centuries. Whether in the metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City or the tiny hillside town of Sapa, you’ll find numerous crafts on display. Not just the lacquerware that Vietnamese artisans are famous for, but also hand-woven tribal textiles, bamboo kitchenware, hand-sculpted pottery, and practical kitchen tools.
And if you can’t eat your way around the country, picking up some colorful treasures and practical tools from Vietnam for your kitchen wherever you happen to be is the next-best thing. Here are six to look out for.
Vietnam is dotted with craft villages (the most famous being Bat Trang) where the art of pottery and ceramics has been passed down from generation to generation. In the atmospheric coastal town of Hoi An, a social enterprise called Reaching Out sells crafts with a cause. All products are handcrafted onsite by artisans of different abilities. Reaching Out pays their employees fair wages, and trains them in ancient skills and techniques using traditional materials and designs. At their gift store and teashop, they sell jewelry, home décor items, and an assortment of tea accessories, including this splendid ceramic teapot. Laced with bronze lotus flowers—a traditional Vietnamese motif–the crackle-glazed teapot is sure to be a conversation piece.
This unique cutting tool doubles as a knife and peeler, and looks super cool, especially in the hands of a skilled vendor at a wet market. You peel with the very sharp slit in the middle of the blade and cut with the edge. It’s my go-to for cutting green papaya or mango into strips, and makes slicing cabbage and banana blossoms into whisper-thin shreds so easy. But handle with care! Wok Shop
Water spinach, also called morning glory or kangkung, is a popular vegetable in Vietnamese cooking. The tender leaves are stir-fried or tossed into soups but the tough stems are not so palatable as-is. Enter this gadget. It splits the stems into thin, feathery strands that make a great addition to salads and noodle soups. It works with green onions too! Ebay
If you come across these colorful reusable bags at any of the local markets, nab one for yourself and another for your bestie. Woven from sturdy plastic, they make fantastic farmers’ market shopping bags. They not only come in a variety of hues, they’re also stylish and easy to clean: simply rinse and air-dry. Built With Integrity
Vietnamese lacquer art dates back thousands of years, but a new wave of contemporary lacquerware designers has given this ancient art form a facelift. Pascale Dang uses natural materials like bamboo, eggshell, and mother-of-pearl, but her wares are still handcrafted the traditional way with over 20 layers of locally-sourced tree resin. Tanmy Design
Symbolizing vitality, bamboo has long been integral to everyday life in Vietnam. This hardy and sustainable wood is turned into everything from furniture, to baskets and kitchen-and dining-ware. My choice to bring home? Hand-coiled bowls, left rustic, or color-backed in vibrant hues. Ten Thousand Villages