From baguette sandwiches to Roman Catholic architecture, the colonial legacy is everywhere in Vietnam

From baguette sandwiches to Roman Catholic architecture, the colonial legacy is everywhere in Vietnam

A place with a one-of-a-kind French flair, it was the first destination in my “Vengeance Journey” series

A place with a one-of-a-kind French flair, it was the first destination in my “Vengeance Journey” series

One of those indelible legacies the pandemic has given me—besides high levels of anxiety and borderline pathological clean-up obsessives—is a mild gluten intolerance. ” The Curse of an Itinerant Food and Travel Writer,” one might say. An emphasis.” no big deal“That’s why I know how to shoot it down these days. There are gluten-free alternatives to just about anything edible. Yes, even good old beer!”

But long before the culinary world looked for this bland alternative to cater to our gluten-deficient souls, the Vietnamese had an ace up their sleeves for a number of reasons. But more on that later.

I find myself in Vietnam these days. This is one of the first destinations in the “Vengeance Travel” series I’m planning for the next few months. A place with a unique French flair.

As we all know, from 1887 to the Geneva Accords of 1954, Vietnam was part of the French “Indochina”, a huge colonial stronghold that also included Laos and Cambodia. Even now, almost 70 years later, and despite some twists and turns, it’s easy to find French influence throughout the region.

Women cook and sell banh mi sandwiches on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. | Image credit: Getty Images

For example, my daily breakfast staple is a delicious toast sandwich. A mini baguette sandwich stuffed with an assortment of fancy French fillings and condiments, such as roast pork, pork patties and mayo, paired perfectly with typical Asian flavors like sweet chili sauce and fresh cilantro.

Breathable and porous

But it was the crusty baguette that made me appreciate it all better. At the beginning of colonial rule, regular-sized baguettes made with common wheat flour became mini gluten-free Vietnamese-style buns made with rice flour (a Southeast Asian staple) – giving the bread more flavor than ever before with an airy, porous texture .

There are French bakeries all over Vietnam offering not only bánh mi in various permutations, but also the much-loved French coffee. Another surprise from another tea-obsessed continent.

What sets it apart from its other immediate Southeast Asian neighbors is the modern Vietnamese script. This Roman script-based font was popularized by the French colonial authorities after it was created by the Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes.

The Notre-Dame Basilica of Saigon is architecturally based on the Holy Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Saigon is based on the building of the Holy Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. | Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Religion – more specifically Roman Catholic architecture – is also another relic of France’s past. With soaring arches, opera house-like balconies, and majestic columns, some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve found in the country’s capital, Hanoi, and the commercial capital, Ho Chi Minh City, are churches. From St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi to Notre-Dame Cathedral in Saigon, the buildings of both are based on the holy Notre-Dame in Paris.

But Catholicism was not the only organized form of religion the Vietnamese received from the French. I’m talking about perhaps the most unknown religion in the world. As I traveled south along this long and narrow country, I stumbled across something called Caodai.

Founded in southern Vietnam in 1926, Cao Dai is a monotheistic religion, a wonderful fusion of various philosophies. use” Cao” means “high” and ” wore“means “peace” and is based on a fusion of Eastern and Western secular and religious philosophies. Interestingly, its creed is also based on certain ciphers believed to have been delivered to the The founder of the religion, Ngo Van Chieu, revealed that he is the regional head of the French government in Vietnam.

Followers of a Cao Dai temple in South Vietnam's Tay Ninh province, known as the birthplace of Cao Dai religion.

Followers of a Cao Dai temple in South Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province, known as the birthplace of Cao Dai religion. | Image credit: Getty Images

There are said to be more than 4.4 million Cao Dais, the third largest religion in Vietnam after Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. The real novelty of Cao Da is that it incorporates elements from many of the world’s major religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Jainism!

historical figure

Another fascinating aspect of Caodai is that in its pantheon, historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Louis Pasteur (mostly French, no surprise!) are also well established. But the most distinguished and revered of them all was Victor Hugo, for he gave many teachings and some important prayers to the Caodai.

In fact, he is said to have even predicted that he would become the prophet of a new religion that would fuse European and Asian mysticism. The best philosophical vision, isn’t it?

The Mumbai-based author and restaurant critic is passionate about food, travel and luxury, but not necessarily in that order.

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