Increasingly famous worldwide with restaurants sprawled over the globe, yet no Vietnamese food abroad can equal in flavor or quality to that made in Vietnam itself. In brief, Vietnamese cuisine depends heavily on rice grown in water paddies throughout the country, with dishes varying from simple everyday meals to most complex dishes designed for the King. Reaching a balance between fresh herbs and meats; as well as a selective use of spices to reach a fine taste, Vietnamese food can be considered one of the healthiest yet most divine cuisines worldwide.
Spices and ingredients
Vietnam’s ingredients reflect its geography and climate. Rice (grown in water paddies throughout the country) is the main starch used in everyday meals, and is also made into different kind of cakes and noodles. Besides a number of Buddhist vegetarian dishes, most Vietnamese dishes or meals are a combination of a variety of vegetables, herbs and meats.
Common herbs may include lemon grass, lime or kaffir. Popular meats are pork, beef, chicken, prawn and various fish. Lamb, duck, birds, and even dog or other wild animals are also used but not widely. Fish sauce and soy sauce are used as both flavorings and dipping sauces for nearly every dish.
Peanuts are also used widely in Vietnamese cuisine.
Vegetarians and those with allergies should be careful and ask beforehand while enjoying Vietnamese cuisine.
Style of cooking
The Vietnamese cook their food in a variety of ways: deep fry, stir fry, boil, steam. Unlike the Chinese, the Vietnamese use a minimal amount of oil while cooking. Vietnamese cooks aim to preserve the freshness and natural taste of food as much as possible. Hence Vietnamese cuisine is often considered as one of the healthiest foods in the world.
Food of three regions
Like everything else, Vietnamese food also differs geographically from location to location. North Vietnam’s food uses soy sauce, fish sauce and prawn sauce and has many stir fried dishes.
With harsh weather and less developed agriculture than the South, North Vietnamese tend to use less meat, fish and vegetables; and black pepper (instead of chili) to create spice. The taste is strict and less sweet, but more salty than in other regions.
Central Vietnam is distinct in its extreme spices and color of food. Hue’s cuisine, affected by royal cuisine once created for kings and queens, emphasized on quality and quantity – A meal constitutes of many complex dishes served only at small proportions.
Southern Vietnamese are heavily affected by Cambodia, Thai and Chinese cuisines (due to trade and immigrants). Southerners prefer sweet tastes (created by adding sugar or coconut milk) and spicy tastes (created by chili peppers).
A variety of dried fish and sauces originate from the South. Southerners prefer seafood and use simple cooking methods with larger and less servings.
Influenced by the Chinese, chopsticks and spoons are used in Vietnam. Many foods (such as cakes) are wrapped in banana or coconut leaves. When eating with elders, younger Vietnamese always ask the elders to eat first.
A typical family meal
A typical Vietnamese meal (lunch or dinner) will include steamed rice; a soup dish to eat with rice, a meat or fish dish and a vegetarian dish (either stir fried or boiled).
Vietnamese do not eat in separate servings, but the food is placed in the middle. Each member of the family has a small bowl and chopsticks with which they take food from the table throughout the meal.
Vietnamese noodles and cakes
Besides the typical meal with rice, Vietnamese cuisine has many different types of noodles and cakes (mostly made from rice). To name a few: beef soup noodles (pho), crab noodle (bun rieu), spring rolls (nem), sticky rice cake (chung cake)…
Vietnam has a rich eating out tradition. Most of the dishes can be made at home, but many Vietnamese prefer to eat out. Restaurants are usually famous for one specialty. Many recipes have been passed down from generations to generations.
Restaurants themselves vary greatly. Some are just little stalls on the streets with a mini stove and plastic chairs. Some are prestigious family restaurants passed that have existed for centuries, operated by the whole family, with smoky walls and wooden chairs.
Some restaurants are brand new, serving traditional food blended with a European touch with glittering silver wear and modern background music.
Even though street stalls or small restaurants seem closer to tradition and excel in taste, tourists who are not used to Vietnamese food should watch out for their health and safety. Street stalls and cheaper restaurants also take less care in food safety and quality of ingredients.