Traditional Vietnamese cooking is a complex balance of five different tastes (bitter, sour, spicy, salty, and sweet) that are put together for a delicious finish. The main foci of this particular cuisine are food freshness, ingredient balance, and lovely presentations. Very little goes to waste in this culinary tradition. Therefore, ingredients Westerners would not typically eat have been known to find their way into soups and stews.
Another defining characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine is its use of inexpensive local ingredients such as herbs, spices, and vegetables. Soups are also common in most regions of the country. Meat was used sparingly in the past, if at all, but it has become a far more common inclusion of late. When utilized, meats are lightly cooked. Fermented fish sauce and soy sauce are both popular condiments in Vietnam and the former is eaten with just about everything.
Here some other Vietnamese dishes we enjoy.
Bún bò Huế
A traditional soup with beef and thin cylindrical pasta pieces, the dish otherwise known as Bun Bo has its origins in the cooking style of the imperial court. Beef bones or beef shanks are cooked with lemongrass in a broth to which fermented shrimp sauce, hot chili oil, and sugar are added. Chopped pieces of ox tail, pig’s knuckles, or the aforementioned beef shanks are served in the lemongrass flavored broth. Lime wedges, cilantro, onions, and a variety of herbs are common inclusions to this dish. Purple cabbage pieces or banana blossoms are commonly used as a garnish.
This crab soup is well-known in Vietnam. It features tomato paste, rice vermicelli, freshwater paddy crabs, and sometimes shrimp paste. After the crabs are cleaned, they are pounded into a paste and the juices strained off. Combined with tomato paste, the crab juice serves as the soup’s base and the leftover crab meat is often cooked into cakes. Tofu, rice vinegar, banana flowers, annatto seeds, pig’s blood, water spinach, spearmint, bean sprouts, perilla, and vegetarian sausages are all common add-ins to this soup dish.
Perhaps the most popular dish in all of Vietnam, the Pho soup is street food at its finest but it can also be found a variety of restaurants. This soup is quite often eaten for breakfast. It is a broth based noodle dish that is served with either meat or chicken. Common seasonings include cinnamon, star anise, ginger, clove, onion, cardamom, fennel, and coriander. The true origins of Pho are shrouded in mystery, but most people agree that it was made popular in Hanoi by roaming street vendors. Beef Pho came along in the 1920s and it was followed shortly by Chicken Pho. Garnishes began appearing about this time and some of the more common inclusions are bean sprouts, culantro, lime juice, cinnamon basil, and hoisin sauce. During later times when meat was scare, it also became traditional to dip rice cakes or bread into the Pho soup.
Spring and Summer Rolls
Prevalent in many Asian countries, the spring and summer rolls are tasty morsels that can be purchased from both street vendors and restaurants. The version found in Vietnam is called chả giò or gỏi cuốn. The name of the former translates as a “minced pork sausage”. Thus, the crunchy tidbits typically contain some variety of meat, ranging from the more common pork to snails and crab. Vegetarian versions may include tofu. Seasoned ground meat combined with mushrooms and finely sliced vegetables is the traditional recipe. The aforementioned vegetables may include bean sprouts, carrots, kohlrabi, and/or jicama. Gỏi cuốn consists of shrimp, pork, vegetables, and rice vermicelli. This dish is also known as a summer roll.
A fried roll called a “ram” is also available in Vietnam. It contains chopped shrimp and green onions as the main ingredients. These delicacies are all traditionally dipped in fish sauce, though visitors to the region may prefer theirs with soy sauce.
This coconut candy is popular near the Ben Tre province in Vietnam, but is also eaten throughout the country. The sweet is made with either coconut milk or coconut cream, freshly grated coconut meat, malt syrup, and sugar. The mixture is heated to high temperatures until it caramelizes. It is then spread out in molds and allowed to cool. The coconut candy is next cut into lozenge shaped pieces, before being wrapped in rice paper. Finally, the candies are wrapped again in inedible paper prior to being sold.
This is Vietnam’s answer to a smoothie. Tropical fruit is blended together with either yogurt or milk and sugar for a refreshing beverage that is an excellent way to beat the heat and humidity that are common throughout the region. Avocado is a common choice of fruit for this recipe but other fruits can be utilized for equally delicious results.
Is there any tasty Vietnamese food that you think we forgot to mention? Be sure to tell us about it in the comments.