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Introduction To Vietnamese Cuisine - Main Ingredients And Recipes

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November 6, 2017 / Vietnamese / By
ETG - Food For Thought

The Buddhist philosophy is visibly reflected in the Vietnamese cuisine. The five-element credo associates a flavor (sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and salty) to a natural element (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) and every Vietnamese dish has to create harmony between the elements and this is why most Vietnamese dishes have textures that are contrasting – the chewy ingredients are mixed with the crunchy ones, the fleshy ones, the crispy ones and the soft ones to create the perfect culinary harmony. This balance means that most traditional Vietnamese dishes use a variety of herbs and spices to give a different taste to the main ingredients of the dish.

If you want to make authentic Vietnamese dishes at home, you have to stock your pantry with some basic Vietnamese ingredients.

Main Ingredients In Vietnamese Cuisine

Fish Sauce

Fish sauce, also known as nuoc mam in Vietnam, is a mandatory ingredient if you want to prepare Vietnamese dishes at home. Fish sauce is the Vietnamese equivalent of olive oil in Italian cuisine. This versatile condiment is used in meat dishes, in broths, and, diluted, in various dipping sauces.

Fish sauce is produced by pressing and fermenting anchovies and it is important to buy a good quality fish sauce (extra virgin and first-press) if you want to obtain the best Vietnamese dishes. Besides Vietnam, fish sauce is also highly used in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

Oyster Sauce

Another important condiment in Vietnamese cuisine is oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is mainly used to add sweetness to a dish and to tone down the bitterness of other ingredients such as leafy greens.

Oyster sauce is prepared by boiling oysters into a mixture of water, sugar, and cornstarch. The taste of oyster sauce is sweet but savory at the same time and it is amazing in beef dishes.  

Shrimp Paste

Shrimp paste is another ingredient you’ll need in our house if you want to start making Vietnamese recipes. This ingredient is not as commonly used as fish sauce or oyster sauce but it is good to have it in your pantry because some Vietnamese dishes require the pungent smell and bold flavors of shrimp paste. Most commonly, shrimp paste is used in a crab noodle soup but it can also be used in meat sauces or for pickling vegetables.

Jasmine Rice

During any meal of the day, rice rarely misses from the table in Vietnam. Jasmine rice is a type of rice that has a distinct jasmine flavor that is perfect for the rich Vietnamese sauces or broths. The texture of jasmine rice is also different from the typical white rice or the rice used for sushi, jasmine rice is drier and less glutinous.

Pickled Vegetables

Pickled vegetables are found in every Vietnamese household and they are usually served as side dishes to tone down the spiciness and saltiness of the main dishes. Vietnamese pickles are sweeter than the pickle vegetables from other parts of the world. If you cannot Vietnamese veggies at your local grocery store, you can make your own pickled vegetables at home. You can use carrots, cabbage or cauliflower mixed them with water, sugar, salt and distilled vinegar. Let the veggies in the water for approximately 5 days.   

Rock Sugar

Rock sugar is what Vietnamese cooks use instead in broths and traditional dishes like pho. The rock sugar is preferred because the flavor is different than the one of the granulated sugar. Rock sugar gives dishes a nutty sweetness that is distinctive and that creates a good harmony with the other flavors of Vietnamese dishes.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal oelek does for Vietnamese dishes what sriracha does for Thai dishes – gives dishes that extra spiciness and heat, however, sambal oelek has less vinegar and sugar than sriracha and therefore compliments the fish sauce and the other main ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine in a better way than any other spicy sauce.

Rice Noodles

When Vietnamese people do not eat rice with their main dishes, they eat noodles. There are two types of rice noodles that are used - Rice Vermicelli (very thin rice noodles) and regular rice noodles.  

Fried Shallots

Fried shallots are usually sprinkled on top of Vietnamese dishes to add an onion and nutty taste to the dish. You can purchase fried shallots but you can also make your own if you cannot find them at your local grocery store. In order to make fried shallots for Vietnamese dishes, all you have to do is to chop the shallots and to caramelize them into hot oil on low heat. The oil that remains in the pan after caramelizing the shallots can be used for cooking.

Limes

Vietnamese cooks love the taste of limes, onions, and cilantro together, therefore, this combination of ingredients can be found in numerous dishes. The mix of these ingredients makes the dishes well-rounded. However, the limes can also be squeezed on the traditional dishes without mixing them with cilantro and onions.

Fresh Herbs In Vietnamese Cuisine

The most popular combination of herbs in Vietnamese cuisine is – cilantro, Thai basil and green onion with mint as garnish so these are the staples that shouldn’t miss from your kitchen when making Vietnamese dishes, however, there are additional herb you’ll need for more complex dishes so here’s a list of them as well:

Bird’s Eye Chili

Bird’s eye chili is a type of chili pepper used in various dipping sauces or in shrimp paste. Bird’s eye chili is not something that you must have in our kitchen unless you love really spicy food

Vietnamese Cinnamon

The cinnamon produced in Vietnam is different than the Indonesian varieties that are usually exported worldwide. The Vietnamese cinnamon is spicier and sweeter than the Indonesian cinnamon and it is used soups and broths because it adds sweetness and flavor.

Vietnamese Peppercorns

The Vietnamese peppercorns are also different than the pepper used in other parts of the world. If you can find Vietnamese pepper, we recommend buying it but you can use regular pepper too if you are not able to find the Vietnamese variety.

Cardamom

Cardamom, alongside cinnamon, anise and clove, is part of the spices base used in numerous authentic Vietnamese soups including pho. Black cardamom has a strong and distinctive aroma but you can use green cardamom if you prefer a more delicate flavor.

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is the last ingredient we will talk about before sharing some of our favorite Vietnamese recipes. This herb is often used along bird’s eye chili, sugar and fish sauce for braising meats. The flavors of lemongrass are citrusy and fresh and they add something special to Vietnamese dishes.

Vietnamese Recipes

Vietnamese Pho Ga: Chicken Noodle Soup from Life She Lives

Vietnamese Pho Ga or Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup is a versatile dish that can be garnished in numerous ways. The broth has a distinctive flavor due to the peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, and star anise used for making it.

Mahi Mahi Banh Mi with Spicy Curried Mayo + Fried Eggs from HalfBaked Harvest

Mahi Mahi Banh Mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with mahi mahi, a type of tropical fish, and other delicious ingredients.

Che Chuoi - Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Pudding from Cooking The Globe

Che Chuoi or Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Pudding is the perfect snack for those who have a sweet tooth. Che Chuoi is made with coconut milk, mango, banana and tapioca pearls and it is a delicious exotic dessert that can be served warm or cold.

Vietnamese Restaurant-Style Grilled Lemongrass Pork from I Heart Umami

This Vietnamese restaurant-Style Grilled Lemongrass Pork is a recipe that emphasizes the importance of lemongrass in Vietnamese cuisine. The recipe is simple and easy to make but the taste is absolutely incredible and unique.

Vietnamese Beef Pho from Sainsbury’s Magazine

We shared a chicken pho recipe so we had to share a beef pho recipe too because this type of soup is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine and we couldn’t decide between beef and chicken.

Bún Thịt Nướng Recipe (Vietnamese Grilled Pork & Rice Noodles) from Hungry Huy

This Bún Thịt Nướng Recipe (Vietnamese Grilled Pork & Rice Noodles) incorporates so many traditional Vietnamese ingredients that we don’t know where to start. The thing is this dish is absolutely delicious and it has amazing flavors, textures, and aromas so you have to try it if you are a fan of Vietnamese cuisine.

Vietnamese Fried Rice from OMG Food

Last but by no mean least, Vietnamese Fried Rice is an amazing recipe to accompany your Vietnamese main dishes but this side dish is great for any type of meat dishes, not necessarily traditional Vietnamese main dishes.


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