Bamboo is a species of plant widely seen in Vietnam from the early days of history. From folktales to everyday life, bamboo is abundant in Vietnam. Learn more about the uses of bamboo in Vietnam and its meaning in the local culture.
Habitat and Characteristics | Bamboo in Vietnam
Bamboo is planted mainly in rural areas throughout Vietnam’s territory. About 1000 species of bamboo worldwide, and nearly 300 bamboo species have been discovered in Vietnam, making up more than one-third of the world’s total.
A bamboo bush in a home garden
Bamboo in the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum’s complex
Bamboo is an evergreen flowering plant, but it is tough to see bamboo flowers because they only appear at the end of the bamboo plants’ lives. It takes a bamboo tree about 30 to 50 years to have flowers. The flowers of bamboo are light yellow and have a strong scent.
The height of each bamboo stem ranges from 1 meter up to 20 meters. The stem is hollow and joined by nodes; the distance between these nodes is about 40-60 centimeters. Its diameter is sometimes up to 25-30 centimeters. Bamboo is a flexible plant that can live in diverse climate conditions.
Uses of Bamboo in Vietnam
Bamboo in Vietnamese cuisines
Bamboo shoots have become a familiar food in Vietnamese meals for ages. They contain various nutrients and minerals, such as selenium and potassium. Besides, with low carbohydrate and sugar levels, bamboo shoots are ideal for preventing cardiovascular diseases. Bamboo shoots are also rich in fiber, which helps to eliminate bad cholesterol from the body.
Bamboo shoots can come in 2 forms: fresh bamboo shoots and dried bamboo shoots. The Vietnamese would use fresh bamboo as a vegetable in stir-fired dishes or soup. They are naturally bitter, so the preparation process is meticulous, including many steps of washing and boiling. The final product is a crunchy and aromatic food.
Bamboo shoots are usually dried for storage purposes and are soaked in water before being used for cooking. They have a similar use in cooking and are most prevalently seen in noodle soups or stews.
Noodles soup with dried bamboo shoots
Before modern cookery became popular in Vietnam, the Vietnamese would use bamboo nodes to cook and carry food. Nowadays, bamboo nodes can be seen in “com lam” (which is sticky rice cooked inside a bamboo node), or “cha oc” (meat paste with snails cooked inside bamboo nodes). Not only does it look inviting, but the aroma of the bamboo infused in the food is also irresistible.
Bamboo rice, which is glutinous rice cooked inside a bamboo internode
Bamboo in building structures
One of the most common uses of bamboo in Vietnam is for construction, from stagings to houses and bridges, because of its durability, lightweight, and elasticity. When concrete and metal were an extravagance, the Vietnamese made full use of bamboo to build their homes.
Model of a bamboo house
In the Southern region of Vietnam, specifically in the Mekong Delta, there is a very popular kind of bridge made from bamboo, called “Cau Khi” (Monkey Bridge).
The Monkey Bridge is cheap and easy to set up, corresponding to the intertwining river network in the Mekong Delta
Another type of bridge structure built from bamboo
Bamboo as furniture and everyday items
Traditional Vietnamese often prefer decorating their house with wood furniture, especially items made from bamboo. Bamboo can be made into many items, such as chopsticks, baskets, chairs, armchairs, beds, doors, windows, and tables.
Most of the time, bamboo is cut into thin, long stripes and then dried under the sun before turning into household items
A model of an old kitchen with appliances made from bamboo
Bamboo is a favorite material of many architects thanks to its advantages. Bamboo is an eco-friendly, strong, and durable material. It is also resistant to moisture and insects. A house with bamboo furniture usually has natural and rustic charms. In modern architecture, appliances made from bamboo are also utilized as an exciting highlight.
A basket weaved from bamboo
Bamboo as a musical instrument
The Vietnamese love music, especially those who reside in the countryside of Vietnam. So, they think of many ways to create interesting melodies. The instrument from bamboo is one of those ways. Many kinds of musical instruments in Vietnam can be made from bamboo, such as flutes, panpipes, drumsticks, castanets, monochords, etc.
The use of bamboo during the wars
During the wartorn years, Vietnam’s most fatal weakness was the lack of resources for weapons. Iron, steel, and explosive materials were scarce, so bamboo became a helpful material because of its strength, hardness, and versatility. It was often sharpened and made into traps to use against the enemy. In addition, the many bamboo clusters formed a substantial fence and bastion preventing penetration from invaders.
Uses of bamboo in the industry
Bamboo powder is a source of supply for the paper industry, meanwhile, bamboo charcoal is used to make diesel fuel. Active bamboo charcoal has a lot of uses, such as as a water filter and an antibacterial material.
Bamboo in agriculture
Bamboo has a positive effect on agriculture as it can prevent and reduce land erosion and runoff due to its widespread root system underground. Bamboo is also planted near the river to sustain the river’s banks. Bamboo stems are also used to make farming tools.
Some farmer’s tools are made from bamboo
Bamboo in Vietnam – A Meaningful Symbol
Besides the lotus symbol in Vietnam, bamboo is considered a symbol of Vietnamese people. Bamboo plants do not grow separately. They often grow in clusters. This feature symbolizes the union spirit of the Vietnamese. Besides, the bamboo tree always stands and dies in a straight position, representing Vietnamese people’s honesty, sincerity, and openness.
Throughout the course of history, both bamboo and the Vietnamese have to endure natural disasters, as well as all variations, hurricanes, and tragic history, to survive and develop.
In Feng Shui, bamboo is one of the potent symbols of longevity, and resilience to overcome all adversity. Not only that, bamboo is also a symbol of fortune, happiness, love, and prosperity.
Bamboo in Vietnam – A Literary Figure
Bamboo is a familiar material in Vietnamese folk literature. There is a variety of stories and poems mentioning bamboo.
The one-hundred-node bamboo
Since childhood, Vietnamese children have heard several folk stories about bamboo, such as the Hundred-node Bamboo Tree. A gentle, healthy young man named Khoai worked for a rich man. This rich man had promised that if Khoai worked hard for him for 3 years, he would let him marry his beautiful daughter.
However, three years later, the rich man returned his previous promise and asked Khoai to conduct an impossible mission: finding a bamboo tree with 100 nodes. The Buddha requested Khoai to collect 100 separate bamboo nodes and taught him four magic words: “Khac nhap, khac xuat”, which means “Join together immediately, fell apart immediately”.
Khoai returned to meet the rich man and showed him the bamboo tree with 100 nodes. The rich man was so curious that he touched the magic bamboo. Surprisingly, his hands stuck to the bamboo tree due to Buddha’s magic. His hands could not be released until the rich man agreed to let Khoai marry his daughter. Finally, Khoai could marry the beautiful girl he loved.
The Legend of “Thanh Giong”
Another famous legend related to bamboo is about the legendary Vietnamese hero, Thanh Giong. Giong was a strange boy who could not speak or stand, although he had reached three years old. But when he heard that invaders had invaded his land, he grew up quickly and immediately, to the surprise of his mom and neighbors. Then he got stronger, and bamboo became his weapon against the invaders.
Summary of Uses of Bamboo in Vietnam
Bamboo is easily found in Vietnam, so the Vietnamese have created many applications for bamboo in everyday life. Despite the growth of modern technology, the Vietnamese still appreciate bamboo crafts, such as crafts making, cooking, and landscaping.