From McDonald’s to Wrap ‘n Roll through to Dunkin’ Donuts. Chain restaurants are everywhere. But how much are they appreciated? Words by Matt Cowan
Vietnam and fast food don’t go together. Or do they? Vietnam is sold worldwide as a healthy street-food destination. And thanks to celebrity chefs like Luke Nguyen and Anthony Bourdain, they’ve only enhanced that reputation. So what a bunch of healthy eaters we are.
Wrong. Vietnam is on the verge of an obesity epidemic. The growing popularity in Vietnam of fast-food chain outlets selling high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt processed foods is, according to the International Diabetes Federation, driving up the instances of obesity-related health problems.
Already, 20 percent of children living in urban areas in Vietnam are obese. Doctors correlate much of this with the opening of fast-food chain outlets. According to a 2016 Decision Lab report based on a sample size of 16,000 Vietnamese respondents, health concerns don’t play a significant role when it comes to eating out. Only 5 percent of respondents indicated that they choose a restaurant because of health factors.
Decison Lab has also uncovered the birth of what they call ‘Cheesemania’ in Vietnam thanks to Korean popular culture and Western favourites such as pizzas and burgers. Fair enough you might say. Cheese tastes damn good. But a rock salt cheese milk tea, a new combination of cheese and bubble milk tea, is taking it just a little bit too far, don’t you think?
How about our readers then? How much have they embraced fast food? Where are they most likely to eat it and how often? And do they think fast food restaurants are good for Vietnam?
We asked 53 judges (response rate 100%) living in Ho Chi Minh City of different ages, backgrounds and nationalities their opinions. Here’s what they told us.
Do You Eat at Chain Restaurants?
How Often Do You Eat at Chain Restaurants?
1) Once a month: 45.3%
2) Once a fortnight: 15.0%
3) Once a week: 7.6%
4) 2 to 3 times a week: 3.8%
5) 4 to 5 times a week: 0%
6) Never: 28.3% (Really?)
Where Are You Most Likely to Eat?
A surprising statistic emerged — there are at least 17 different fast-food chain outlets in Ho Chi Minh City. Our judges were able to add another four to that list later on. No wonder we’re getting fat.
We asked our judges to choose their top five in no necessary order.
Helping us increase our skinfolds for the past 20 years has been local favourite Al Fresco’s. It was voted the most likely place our judges would eat with 18 votes. It’s not surprising. Take a look at their website. There’s something for all tastes and all budgets. And look at all that cheese.
But, sorry to burst your bubble Al Fresco’s. You don’t get to have this award all to yourself. You’ll have to share it with newcomers in Vietnam McDonald’s which also attracted 18 votes. How you lovin’ that?
A surprise in third place is Carl’s Jr. Apologies to Carl and their marketing department, but what’s with the name? Still, you can’t judge a burger by its... anyway, they attracted 13 votes. Charbroiled apparently never tasted so good.
Next came Popeye’s with local Vietnamese chain Wrap n Roll on 12 votes. Now, they sell the healthy stuff. As for the rest, we can tell you, but they’ll kill you.
We can’t wrap this award up without making mention of the comments we received. There’s nothing quite like the topic of fast food to rile the expat community. We’ve been able to divide comments into two distinct camps. Those who say fast food signals Vietnam’s arrival into modernity. And those who see its embrace as downright stupid.
But our favourite was this: “Who am I to deny the Vietnamese people the right to a bad cheeseburger?”