If there is one word that perfectly summarizes Vietnamese food, that’s ‘flavorful’.
Vietnamese cuisine represents a perfect combination of sweet, savory, sour, and hot flavors, achieved by combining a plethora of fresh herbs & spices (Vietnamese mint, cilantro, lemongrass ginger, coriander, Saigon cinnamon, tamarind, chili, lime, and Thai basil leaves); sauces, especially fish sauce in generous amounts, followed by shrimp paste and soy sauce, as well as cane sugar.
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Nearby Asian cuisines like those of China, Thailand, and Cambodia have largely influenced Vietnamese food; thus, rice appears in all forms – steamed, sticky, noodles, porridge. Meat is also widely used, especially chicken, pork, beef, and seafood.
Traditional Vietnamese cooking is largely centered on fresh ingredients, giving primate to vegetables and tropical fruits like banana, rambutan, papaya, kalamansi citrus, and mango at the expense of oil and dairy products.
The balanced use of ingredients results in rich dishes that, besides great taste, also offer a wide array of nutrients. So, if you are looking for a change in your weekly dinner routine, we offer ten essential Vietnamese foods to inspire you.
Vietnamese cuisine offers a great variety of noodle soups which have developed distinct features depending on regional influences. However, most of these soups have one thing in common – rich broth.
As mentioned before, pho (pronounced ‘fur’) is the most popular representative in this category. This Vietnamese staple is composed of a light & clear broth made from boiling meat (usually chicken or beef) and spices (coriander and ginger are most commonly used). The broth is then combined with rice noodles and complemented with spring onions, meat slices and, optionally, fresh herbs.
Vietnamese rice dishes belong to the broad category called ‘com’. Com tam, which translates to ‘broken rice’ is one of the most popular Vietnamese street foods. Ingredients can vary but it is usually combined with grilled pork (sometimes beef, chicken, and prawns), pickled veggies, greens, steamed egg and, of course, fish sauce.
Banh Mi and Banh Xeo
Banh is the Vietnamese term for pastries. Many banh recipes require wrapping the pastries in plant leaves (banana, bamboo, or dong) before boiling or steaming.
Bahn mi is a dish that reflects French influences from the past – a baguette bread sandwich stuffed with various fillings, including pâté, omelet, Vietnamese mayonnaise, jalapeños, pickled carrot, pickled white radish, and cucumber slices. The sandwich can also contain ham, pork, tofu, cheese, and canned sardines. Banh mi sandwiches are usually seasoned with coriander leaves and black pepper, and accompanied by fresh greens. Bahn mi is well-loved in its homeland but it is also one of the most popular Vietnamese foods worldwide.
Banh xeo translates to ‘sizzling pancake’. It is a large, inexpensive savory flapjack made with pork, shrimp, egg, and bean sprouts. The pancake is fried and complemented with greens & a spicy sauce for dipping.
Spring rolls have a special place in Vietnamese cuisine. They appear in many different varieties and form a separate category of Vietnamese foods.
Goi cuon is also known as Vietnamese fresh rolls, summer rolls, or salad rolls. The dish consists of translucent rice paper packed with a combination of pork, crab, shrimp, greens, herbs, and rice vermicelli. These rolls are usually served with a bowl of lettuce and dipped in fish or peanut sauce.
Bo Luc Lac
There are so many delicious meat dishes in Vietnamese cuisine but our favorite is Bo Luc Lac. This French-influenced dish translates as ‘shaking beef’. To prevent you from imagining all sorts of explanations, the term merely describes the method of preparation which involves ‘shaking’, i.e. tossing of the beef in a wok pan after it’s seared. The meat can be served with a number of ingredients including lettuce, rice, and sautéed or pickled onions. Dipping sauces are also served along with the dish, most often soy sauce combined with lime, salt, and pepper.
The category of seafood dishes includes this pearl – prawn cake on a sugar cane! Chao tom is a traditional Vietnamese dish originating from the central regions. It is comprised of shrimp paste (surimi) which is prepared by grilling on a sugar cane stick. Chao tom is often prepared for special occasions like holidays and weddings.
Goi is a term that refers to salads. In Vietnamese cuisines, salads are made with less-than-usual greens like mango and papaya, combined with fresh veggies like cabbage, grated turnip, kohlrabi, and cucumber. Meat also finds its way into Vietnamese salad recipes, usually boiled or grated. The most commonly used meat types are beef, pork, and shrimp. Other ingredients and condiments include peanuts, herbs, spices, garlic, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.
In Vietnam, curry dishes are called cà ri. They contain chicken (sometimes beef, duck, or even oxtail are used!), potato, sweet potato, taro roots, coconut milk, and garnishes like green onion and cilantro. Vietnamese curry is somewhat more liquid than Indian curry and is often served with a baguette bread, steamed rice, or vermicelli. Vietnamese curry is especially popular in the central and south parts of the country due to Malay and Indian influences.
Banh Cam Dessert
Choosing one Vietnamese dessert is not an easy task. Besides fresh fruits, Vietnamese also make candied fruit and fruit preserves. Many sweet Vietnamese foods are influenced by the French cuisine. One such example is Banh flan, which is served with coffee sauce or caramel.
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However, we consider Banh cam to be one of the most authentic representatives of the Vietnamese sweet cuisine. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, these deep-fried glutinous balls are filled with a sweet mung bean paste and sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Have your Banh cam with a glass of authentic Vietnamese coffee! Cà phê đá is a traditional Vietnamese iced coffee recipe. The basic variety is made with hot water and dark-roast Vietnamese coffee using a special metal drip filter. The hot coffee is then poured into a glass filled with ice for serving.
More elaborate recipes call for an addition of 2-3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk. A specialty called “egg coffee” from Hanoi requires mixing the condensed milk with a raw egg!
Have you found your favorite Vietnamese food recipe?
I believe that food should not only taste good, but make you feel good as well and that is why I am so interested in exploring ingredients, preparing meals, and finding ways to make the whole cooking experience fun and exciting! Being a blogger for MyGreatRecipes unites my two passions – food and writing, and I am enjoying every second of it!