The Food Of Vietnam

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Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most diverse and vibrant in the world. It uses an enchanting mix of food from colonial visitors, native ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. Many aspects of climate, trade, history and immigration has influenced the food of Vietnam we know today.

When we think about Vietnamese food, we imagine a cuisine that’s fresh, healthy and full of flavour! Vietnamese cooks use a mix of fresh and preserved ingredients varying in colour, texture and flavour. Commonly, not a lot of fat is used during cooking and a generous amount of herbs and vegetables accompany most dishes. The careful balance between select spices, herbs, meats and carbohydrates round out the excellent taste of Vietnamese meals.

Influences

So many nations have had a strong influence on Vietnamese food culture. The impact of Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire, the Japanese occupation and French colonial rulers can be seen all over the country. A perfect example of a Vietnamese dish that mixes historical cultural influences with the native cuisine is the iconic ‘Banh Mi’, a crusty baguette filled with pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, herbs, chilli, pate, mayonnaise and various proteins. The incredible flavours and textures of this delicious sandwich (combined with its low cost) make this a popular street food dish. Another classic is the adored ‘Pho’ which is found throughout Vietnam and all over the world. The fragrant, rich rice noodle soup typically made with beef or chicken is served with herbs, citrus, bean sprouts and chilli. Although a famous Vietnamese dish, it has Chinese and French influences in its use of spices and cooking methods.

Regional Cuisines

Vietnam is made up of three distinct areas: The North, the Central Highlands and the South. Each has their own climate, culture and food traditions. Generally speaking, the North is more influenced by neighbouring China and the food tends to embrace its colder climate. The South draws inspiration from tropical influences, its hotter climate means a greater emphasis on salads, seafood, fruit, grilled meats & coconut. Central Vietnam tends to have a blend of the two styles. The use of rice and noodles is prevalent through all regions.

Despite being a small country in Southeast Asia, the food from each region in Vietnam carries unique characteristics that reflect the varied geographical and living conditions. The traditional southern Vietnamese meal is composed of fresh ingredients that only the fertile Mekong Delta can provide. The southern Vietnamese style diet is very 'green', with vegetables, fish and tropical fruits as the main ingredients.

Central Vietnam is the region which food is prepared with the strongest, boldest flavours. This region is continuously under extreme weather conditions throughout the year. It doesn’t have the abundance of fresh produce available like in the north and south. Instead, the coastline around the central Vietnam area is known for its salt and fishing industries. Due to the drastic differences in climate and lifestyles throughout the three regions of Vietnam, the foods vary. Northern Vietnamese cooking is the least bold in flavour compared to the ones from central and southern Vietnam.

Ingredients

Vietnamese cooking has a distinct style all of its own and some key ingredients used are fish sauce, sugar and rice. Although very similar to its closest neighbours (Thailand and Cambodia), Vietnamese cuisine tends to be less spicy, lighter and more fragrant. A typical shared meal might include soup, rice, grilled or steamed meats, a vegetable side, fresh fruit and a salad, all placed on the table together.

Nước mắm (fish sauce) is the most commonly used and iconic condiment in Vietnamese cooking. It is made from fermented raw fish and is used in most Vietnamese dishes during cooking process or added afterwards as seasoning. Other basic pantry staples include:

  • Shrimp paste
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice & rice-based flour/noodles
  • Fresh herbs- mint, Vietnamese mint, coriander, sawtooth coriander, Thai basil, dill
  • Fruit & vegetables
  • Aromatics- ginger, chilli, lemongrass, spring onion, shallots, turmeric
  • Spices- cassia bark, star anis, clove, pepper

Vegetarian Options

Many Vietnamese enjoy a selection of vegetarian and vegan foods too. Often people are working where there is no refrigeration, so it is safer to keep meat free items such as nuts and seeds. It’s also a more cost-effective way of eating as meats can be much more expensive than vegetables.

Restaurants with the signage “chay” (vegetarian), indicate their dishes are generally served with tofu instead of meat. Nearly every soup, sandwich and street food item has a vegetarian correspondent. Sometimes you may see menu items like "phở chay", "bánh mì chay" (vegetarian lunch) or "cơm chay" (vegetarian rice).

The Food Of Vietnam
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