It is the distinct flavors and perfect balance of sweet, sour, tangy, salty and hot flavors that enhances taste and aroma! Use of nuoc man (fermented fish sauce), kalamansi fruit juice, cane sugar, chili peppers, and tamarind that adds tantalizing flavors to their dishes. Plenty of fresh herbs and chili sauce also find a place on every table.
Despite varied landscapes of Vietnam, their cuisine is a brilliant balance of the best with the fish sauce being basic. As with all other Asian cuisines, Vietnamese cuisine is also about the perfect balance of yin and yang – sweet and salt – cool and warm – fresh and fermented.
The French Influence
French colonization is an integral part of Vietnamese food and culture, which began in the 18th century with the missionaries arriving and ended in 1954. It clearly had a lasting effect on the nation, its people, land, architecture, and flavors. The most obvious example is the popular dish Banh Mi, with a crusty French baguette foundation. However, the Vietnamese are an innovative race and they made this dish their very own with fish patties, grilled pork, cilantro, sardines, chili-spiked pickled carrots and such other fillings.
Pho, pronounced fuh, is another classic example of French colonial influence. Pho is a soup that combines Vietnamese rice noodles with French- minded meat broths.
Vietnamese Cuisine Basics
Rice and fish sauce are basic Vietnamese food. In fact, rice finds its place at all three major meals, including desserts. Rice noodles, rice porridge, rice paper wrappers (rolls), fried rice, sticky rice, puffed rice snacks, and the popular rice wine are a mainstay.
Vietnamese people wish each other by saying com muoi, meaning rice and salt, instead of their traditional greeting gesundheit. So, if you want to bless someone or wish them good health, just say, “rice and salt.”
The funky and salty fermented fish sauce, locally called nuoc mam, is the main source of salt intake. It is generously used in soup broths, marinades, salad dressings, spring roll dips, and almost every single dish. Nuoc Cham, the national condiment of Vietnam, is made of diluted fish sauce using limejuice, garlic, chilies, and sugar.
Locals say that the most prized fish sauces come from Phu Quoc, a small island near the Cambodian border. Phu Quoc waters are rich in plankton and seaweed, which keeps the local anchovy populace happy.
Fresh Herbs & Aromatics
Vietnamese cuisines use fresh herbs, aromatics, and spices extensively. You can find them in a steamy pot of pho, in banh xeo pancakes, and even wrapped into their spring rolls. The freshness of ingredients adds exotic flavors to the dishes. Some of the commonly used herbs and aromatics are:
- Mint: Vietnam grows a wide variety of mints – lemony, spearminty, spicy etc.
- Cilantro: Cilantro lends flavor to all Vietnamese dishes including soups, salads, spring rolls and much more. It is also used for garnishing.
- Fish Mint/Leaf: If you have not tried fish mint, you must! It is fishy, but a leafy herb with a pungent smell and taste.
- Lime Leaf: Bright green, shiny, and aromatic lime leaves lend an amazing aroma to the food.
There are many more herbs and spices that go into the rich Vietnamese cuisine. You must try it to believe it. Pho, Bun Bu Hue, Bun Mi and you name it. Paired with the right fresh herbs and the just perfect condiment of Fish Sauce, this cuisine is delicious, filling and takes you to flavor town in seconds. Find fresh Vietnamese food from restaurants and takeaways near you or get a takeaway and enjoy in your preferred setting.