Vietnamese food is fast becoming well known throughout the world. There are several restaurants that serve up some delicious fare. But most travellers would tell you that if you want to taste authentic food of any culture, you need to go to the source. To enjoy the true flavours and versatility of Vietnamese food, you need to visit Vietnam.
But when you visit Vietnam, you realize that all Vietnamese dishes can’t easily be clubbed under a single banner. The cuisine is very eclectic that has evolved under the influence of several different cuisines.
Influences on the Cuisine
When you look at the map, you’ll find that Vietnam is a long, thin strip of land that’s almost sandwiched between Laos, Thailand and Cambodia to the west, China to the North, and the South China Sea to the East and South. If you look at the map, you can guess that the country has been influenced greatly by the different cuisines and countries surrounding it.
The country also has three different weather systems and that affects the type of cuisine in those particular regions. Because of this, the food is very diverse and you’ll find the primary ingredients and the style of cooking different in different regions.
As we’ve mentioned, the cuisine is diverse. But there are two things that you’d find universally in all of Vietnamese cooking: rice and fish sauce. Vietnamese people love rice and use it in every shape and form. They cook it as it is, make noodles from it, use rice-paper as rolls and wrappers, etc. The point is; you won’t really find many dishes that don’t contain rice in some form or the other.
Similarly, you’ll find fish sauce in almost everything you eat in Vietnam. They almost use it as a condiment to replace salt; it is that popular in the Vietnamese cuisine. Most of the dishes you taste would have some combination of rice and fish sauce in them.
This, again, is due to the geography of this region. The South China Sea offers a variety of healthy, fresh fish that are a very important part of the Vietnamese cuisine. The intensely salty, pungent, and fermented fish sauce is utilised in everything from dips to broths. The best fish sauce, according to the locals, is sourced from Phu Quioc in the South by the Cambodian border. The natural habitat of the fish here is extremely nourishing for the anchovies this sauce is made from.
As far as rice is concerned, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of it and that should tell you something. Considering the fact that rice is consumed by the Vietnamese people in almost every meal, for them to be the second largest exporter of rice tells you something about the production. Most of the rice comes from the Mekong Delta.
The Spices and Herbs Used
Most Asian countries love their spices and that’s no less true for Vietnam. You’ll find a great variety of herbs and spices used by the Vietnamese people in everyday food. Dishes here are often a mixture of heat, herby aroma, the pungency of fish sauce, and some sweet and sour flavours including:
- Basil, more specifically Holy Basil
- Lime Leaves
- Garlic chives
- Fish mint
- Perilla Leaf
- Green Onions
- Saigon Cinnamon
Vegetable and Fruits
The Vietnamese people have a tendency to use raw fruits in their salads and dishes. For example, you might find an odd shredded raw papaya in your broth, or a salad made from banana flower. Raw bananas are also used in a variety of forms. While these can be bitter and strange in some cases, they work well when they’re combined with spices, herbs, and of course, fish sauce. However, not all fruits are consumed unripe. You’ll find the best ripened fruits in the local markets as well.
Dishes to Taste
When you visit Vietnam, there are some dishes that you absolutely need to taste. Here’s a list of them and where you’ll find them.
There are hundreds of different kinds of soups available in Vietnam, and Pho is just one of them. Pho refers to the rice noodles in the broth and not the soup itself. However, it’s one of the most well-known dishes coming out of Vietnam. This is the dish you’ll find on the streets of Hanoi, with people having it for breakfast. The broth usually contains meat products like beef or chicken.
This is the one dish that showcases the influence of French colonization. The dish is essentially made from baguettes that are filled with ingredients like meatballs, pork belly, etc. They also add pickled daikon, carrots, and chillies.
Canh is essentially a soup and there are too many to count, as we mentioned before. However, the southern region’s Canh Chua, a sour soup category, is certainly noteworthy. It contains ingredients like tamarind paste, tomatoes, and pineapples. Usually, meat and vegetables are added to this soup to enhance the flavour.
We mentioned dill in the herbs and spice list above, but it’s not really used in all of Vietnam. The Cha Ca Hanoi is a dish that contains well cooked white fish and dill and is usually found in, you guessed it, Hanoi. Dill is primarily found in the North and you won’t find it as much in the South.
Canh is a blanket name for all soups in Vietnam and Goi is a similar term for salads. You won’t find any familiar salad greens in this dish. Salads here consist of raw papayas, raw mangoes, cabbages, lotus roots, banana flowers, etc.
As we said before, it’s a good idea to explore this cuisine. It will take some time, some courage, but i’ll certainly make your golf trip more memorable.
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