Indochine chic: Why is Vietnamese food so classy in Singapore? (Respond to this article at


  • Ashley Carruthers

    1. Lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra. From 2001–2003 he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore, during which time he had ample opportunity to sample the Indochinese food on offer on the island. He has published on the exoticization of Vietnamese food in Japan, and on mobilities and transnational dynamics in the Indochinese diasporas and homelands. His email is
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To someone from Sydney, Los Angeles, Paris or Vancouver there is something quite peculiar about the experience of eating Indochinese food in Singapore. In these former locations, it is largely present as an inexpensive ethnic cuisine whose high perceived authenticity and low cost are underwritten by communities of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Lao refugees and migrants. In Singapore, by contrast, Indochinese food is a chic, expensive, romantic, Frenchy, artsy, edgy haute-cuisine. Given that the nation is Vietnam's second largest foreign investor, and that Ho Chi Minh City is a mere eighty minute budget flight away, why should it be that Vietnamese food is so rare and exotic a commodity in Singapore's multicultural culinary market? On the basis of participant observation, interviews conducted with restaurateurs and patrons, and electronic materials such as restaurant reviews and blogs, this paper will attempt to answer the question of just why Indochinese food signifies the way it does in Singapore.