What is ‘local food?’ Dynamic culinary heritage in the world heritage site of hoi an, Vietnam

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Abstract

There are some 200 tourist-oriented restaurants in the UNESCO world heritage site of Hoi An (Central Vietnam), all of which regularly feature a ‘Local Specialties’ section on their menus. Some of these dishes listed under this heading, however, are not unique to Hoi An nor to Central Vietnam, while others are of non-Vietnamese origins. Furthermore, many of the town's tourist-oriented restaurants do not prepare these dishes at their kitchens but source them out, while others simplify the original recipes. Most importantly, the locals rarely eat these dishes, both at home and in professional food venues. Instead, they opt for other dishes and thus outline a different culinary heritage, which is beyond the reach of tourists. In this article, based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Hoi An since 1998, I address the idea of ‘invented culinary heritage’ in the context of modern tourism. I argue that the Hoianese are well aware of the invented nature of their culinary heritage, and therefore opt for other dishes, which are unapproachable to outsiders. In recent years, however, a renewed interest has emerged among members of certain social echelons in some of these local specialties. Concomitantly, some of the actual local favorites are discovered by tourists. I conclude by suggesting that the invention of culinary heritage is not merely a staged and superficial phenomenon, but actually a self-generating multi-directional process that influences and alters the local culinary scape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-132
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Heritage Tourism
Volume8
Issue number2-3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013

Keywords

  • Culinary heritage
  • Hoi An
  • Local food
  • Local specialties
  • Vietnam

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