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Vietnamese Food

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Vietnamese food appears to be similar to Chinese, but there are subtle differences.  Vietnamese foods tend to be spiced differently with fresh vegetables and herbs enhancing the flavor.  With plentiful seafood to be found, such as lobster, crabs, shrimp and fish, it's no surprise that nuoc mam (a fish sauce) is a staple in Vietnamese food, whereas soy sauce is liberally used in other Asian countries.

Usually a bowl of soup (pho) is consumed in the morning, but is also eaten at lunch and dinner time.  A meal usually consists of several courses served concurrently: meat or seafood, rice, noodles, egg dishes, vegetables, etc. Green tea is the beverage of choice and is available pretty much all the time.  

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Cooking techniques

  • Chin: fried dishes.
  • Xo: Stir fry, sauting.
  • Kho:Stew, braised dishes.
    • Kho kh:Literally dried stew (until the sauce thickens).
  • Hầm: boiling with spices or other ingredients over a long period of time.
  • Rim: Simmering.
  • Luộc: boiling with water, usually applied to fresh vegetables and pork.
  • Hấp:steamed dishes.
  • Om:Clay pot cooking of Northern style.
  • Gỏi:Salad dishes.
  • Nướng:Grilled dishes.
    • Nướng xin: Skewered dishes.
  • Bằm:Sauteed mixed of chopped ingredients.
  • Cho:congee dishes.
  • R ti: Roasting meat then bring to a simmer.
  • Quay: Roasted dishes.
  • Lẩu: hot pot dishes.

Typical Vietnamese family meals

A typical meal for the average Vietnamese family would include:

  • Individual bowls of rice
  • Meat, fish or seafood (grilled, boiled, steamed, stewed or stir fried with vegetables)
  • Stir-fried, raw, pickled or steamed vegetables
  • Canh (a clear broth with vegetables and often meat or seafood) or other Vietnamese-style soup
  • Prepared fish sauce and/or soy sauce for dipping, to which garlic, chili, ginger or lime juice are sometimes added according to taste.

All dishes apart from the individual bowls of rice are communal and to be shared.

Popularity

Outside of Vietnam, Vietnamese cuisine is widely available in countries with strong Vietnamese immigrant communities, such as Australia, the United States, Canada, and France. Vietnamese cuisine is also popular in Japan, Korea, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Russia, and in areas with dense Asian populations.

In recent years, Vietnamese cuisine has become popular in other Southeast Asian countries such as Laos, and Thailand.

Dishes that have become trademarks of Vietnamese cuisine are phở, gỏi cuốn (spring/summer rolls), bn, and bnh m (Vietnamese baguette).

Television shows featuring Vietnamese food have increased its publicity. On The Great Food Truck Race, a vietnamese sandwich truck called Nom Nom Truck received the most money in the first five episodes. Anthony Bourdain wrote for the Financial Times in 2005, A year from now, I plan to live here. I will move to a small fishing village in a coastal area of Vietnam near Hoi An. I have no idea what I'm going to do there, other than write about the experience. I plan only on being a visual curiosity, the lone westerner in a Vietnamese community; to rent a house, move in with few, if any, expectations and let the experience wash over me. Whatever happens, happens.

 Philosophical influences on Vietnamese cuisine

Yin Yang balance

The principle of yin and yang is applied in selecting the ingredients of a dish and the dishes of a meal, in matching dishes with seasonal or climatic conditions, with the prevalent environment and with the current physical well-being of the diners.

Some examples are:

  • Duck meat is considered as "cool" so is served in summer, which is hot, and with ginger fish sauce which is "warm", while chicken which is "warm" and pork which is "hot" are used in cold winters.
  • Seafood ranging from "cool" to "cold" are suitable to use with ginger ("warm").
  • Spicy, which is extremely yang, must be harmonized by sour, which is extremely yin.
  • Balut ("cold") must be combined with Vietnamese mint ("hot").
  • Cold and flu patients must drink ginger water ("hot").

Five element correspondence

Vietnamese cuisine is influenced by the Asian principle of five elements and Mahābhūta.

Many Vietnamese dishes include five spices (Vietnamese: ngũ vị): spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (Earth), corresponding to: five organs (Vietnamese: ngũ tạng): gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach and urinary bladder.

Vietnamese dishes also include five types of nutrients (Vietnamese: ngũ chất): powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein and fat.

Vietnamese cooks try to have five colours (Vietnamese: ngũ sắc): white (metal), green (wood), yellow (Earth), red (fire) and black (water) in their dishes.

Dishes in Vietnam appeal to gastronomes via five senses (Vietnamese: năm gic quan): food arrangement attracts eyes, sounds come from crisp ingredients, five spices detected on the tongue, aromatic ingredients coming mainly from herbs stimulate the nose and some meals, especially finger food, can be perceived by touching.

Cultural importance

Cooking and eating play an extremely important role in Vietnamese culture. The word ăn (eat) is included in a great number of proverbs and has a large range of semantic extensions. Salt is used as the connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Bnh phu th is used to remind new couples of perfection and harmony at their weddings. Food is often placed at the ancestral altar as an offering to the dead.

Popular Vietnamese dishes

When Vietnamese dishes are referred to in English, it is generally by the Vietnamese name with the diacritics left off. Some dishes have gained descriptive English names as well.

Popular Vietnamese dishes include:

 Noodle dishes

Cao lầu

Bn B Huế

Chicken Pho

 
Name Description
Bnh hỏi An extremely thin noodle that is woven into intricate bundles. Often topped with spring onion and a complementary meat dish, such as thịt heo quay (roasted pork, often eaten at weddings).
Bn thịt nướng A thin rice vermicelli served cold with grilled marinated pork chops and nước chấm (fish sauce, served with julienned daikon and carrot). A similar Northern version is bn chả with grilled pork meatballs in place of grilled pork chops.
Bn chả A simple and popular dish, basically a combination vermicelli plate. Grilled pork (often ground) and vermicelli noodles are served over a bed of greens (salad and sliced cucumber), herbs and bean sprouts. Often includes a few chopped-up egg rolls, spring onions, and shrimp. Served with roasted peanuts on top and a small bowl of nước chấm.
Bn chả gi it is similar to the above dish except deep-fried spring rolls are substituted for the meats.
Cao lầu A Hội An dish, made of specially "burnt-flavoured" egg noodles topped with meats.
M Quảng A popular and extremely complicated noodle dish, originating from Quang Nam. Mi Quang varies in its preparation but features sharply contrasting flavors and textures in a shallow bowl of broth, noodles, herbs, vegetables, and roasted rice chips (bnh đa).
M xo dn A dish of crispy deep-fried egg noodles, topped with a wide array of seafood, vegetables and shrimp in a gravy sauce. This is a dish of Chinese origin.
Bnh tằm c ri A Ca Mau specialty, made of special rice noodles and very spicy chicken curry.

Noodle soups

Vietnamese cuisine boasts a huge variety of noodle soups, each with distinct influences, origins and flavours. A common characteristic of many of these soups is a rich broth.

Name Description
Bn b Huế Spicy beef noodle soup originated from the royal city of Huế in Central Vietnam. Beef bones, fermented shrimp paste, lemongrass, and dried chilies give the broth its distinctive flavors. Often served with mint leaves, bean sprouts, lime wedges, shredded banana blossoms and shredded rau muống. Blood cakes and pig's feet are also common ingredients at some restaurants in the United States and possibly elsewhere.
Bn măng vịt Bamboo shoots and duck noodle soup.
Bn Ốc Vermicelli with snails (sea snails similar to the snails in French cuisine).
Bnh canh A thick udon-widthed rice noodle soup with a simple broth. Often includes pork, crab, chicken, shrimp, spring onions and freshly sauted onions sprinkled on top.
Bn riu A noodle soup made of thin rice noodles and topped with crab and shrimp paste, served in a tomato-based broth and garnished with bean sprouts, prawn paste, herb leaves, water spinach, and chunks of tomato.
M b vin A Chinese-influenced egg noodle soup with beef meatballs and raw steak
Phở A noodle soup with a rich, clear broth made from a long boiling of meat and spices. There are many varieties of phở made with different meats (most commonly beef or chicken) along with beef meatballs. Phở is typically served in bowls with spring onion, (in phở tai) slices of semi-cooked beef (to be cooked by the boiling hot broth), and broth. In the South, vegetables and various herbs are also added.
Hủ Tiếu

A noodle soup with many varied styles including a 'dry' (non-soup but with sauce) version, brought to Vietnam by way of Chinese (Teochew) immigrants. The noodles are usually egg noodles or rice noodles, however, many other types may be used. The soup base is made of pork bones.

 

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