Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, probably due to the fact that the country's cooks turn away from oil and towards the freshest ingredients.
North Vietnam cuisine is milder, due to the lack of spices available in the colder climate. Black pepper is used instead of chilli and, although tasty, dishes are not boldly sweet, bitter, spicy or sour. The spice-filled mountain regions of Central Vietnam provide cuisine that nods to the country's regal history, with decorative, spicy, sophisticated and colourful food. In South Vietnam, cooks use seafood from the vast shorelines and an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and livestock due to the warm weather. They also prefer sweeter flavours, adding sugar and coconut milk to their food.
In most Vietnamese kitchens, you’ll find the following ingredients:
• Fish sauce
• Fresh vegetables – bean sprouts, cabbage, Chinese broccoli
• Soy sauce
• Fresh herbs – coriander and mint
• Shrimp paste
• Rice vermicelli noodles
• Proteins – seafood, fish, prawns, pork, chicken and beef
Families in Vietnam love to sit down for a feed around a table laden with communal bowls of rice, broth, stir fry, steamed meats, salads, pickles and dipping sauces. They celebrate weddings, funerals and festivals with ‘Feast’, which usually consists of five dishes served in bowls (eg. Noodles, stew, meatballs) and five on plates (eg. Vietnamese sausage, stir fry, salad). At the end of Feast, guests offer gifts of sticky rice and Vietnamese rice wine to their ancestors.
Vietnamese people like their meals to benefit the body, so they apply the balanced properties of yin and yang to their meal preparation. This is why cold foods are balanced with warm and spicy is evened out with cool.
Here are a few of Vietnam’s most popular dishes:
• Pho: clear noodle broth served with spring onion and semi-cooked beef.
• Com tam: grilled pork shredded over rice with sauce, pickles and a prawn paste cake.
• Banh chung: rice, mung bean paste and pork wrapped in banana leaves, eaten during lunar new year.
• Banh bao: steamed bun dumpling
• Goi cuon: rice paper rolls stuffed with shrimp, vermicelli, pork and other fresh ingredients.
• Goi du du: papaya salad with a vinegar-based dressing.
• Cha lua: Vietnamese sausage made from ground pork and potato starch.
• Dua mon: pickle made from carrot, daikon and green papaya.