Cuisine in Vietnam is quite varied with many foreign influences having affected its development over the years. In the north of Vietnam, heavy Chinese influence has led to the more heavy use of stir fries and wok based or slow cooked meals, often with noodles and vegetables. In the south where the growing climate is more conducive to a variety of herbs and crops, dishes are typically grilled or eaten raw with more sweet and salty elements added in. The French occupation during the colonial period also is largely rumored to be responsible for the popularity of pho,
of one of Vietnam's staple soups.
Across the long skinny country however, a few things do remain consistent. Most every meals includes rice, that all important staple in Vietnam. This may include rice in an alternate form such as noodles, rice paper, rice porridge, rice wine, etc. Rice is served at almost every meal (even desserts) and is used in most every dish. Another staple condiment for the Vietnamese is their ever popular fish sauce (or Nuoc Mam
). Made from fermented anchovies laid out over six months in wooden barrels and salt, this fermented and condensed flavoring in a bottle is used in cooking and as a condiment on the table for after the meal is prepared. Many families mix it with garlic, lime, sugar and chilies as well to give it more flavor for the topping. It is as common as table salt is in the west.
Herbs used in cooking vary depending on the region of Vietnam you find yourself. Those in the north tend to be more on the salty side of things, while those in the south might hold more of a savory element to them. Herbs used commonly include cilantro, lemon grass, basil, dill, mint, green onions, scallions, garlic, lime leaf, ginger, tamarind pulp, cinnamon, and fish leaf. Chilies are also often mixed in to a dish to give it added flavor.
Dairy products such as milk, creams, and cheese are rarely found or used in Vietnamese cooking. What is found however, is the common use of sweetened condensed milk. This sweet form of dairy is often added to coffee (or more correctly by the quantities – coffee is added to the milk) making it an incredibly strong and sweet drink. Beyond this, dairy of any sort is rarely used.
Meats and fish are also commonly used in all Vietnamese cooking. Dishes often contain at least form of meat or fish, if even just a few prawns (bone in sometimes). See below a few more common and popular dishes in Vietnam:
Pho – (pronounced “fu” with a short u sound)
Rumored to have been created thanks in large part to the French thirst for meat and steak, the frugal Vietnamese used the scraps and leftover meats in a broth with noodles and sometimes vegetables to not waste the meat. This common soup has become popular world-wide.
Cha Ca La Vong –
A popular fish dish with rice noodles.
Spring Rolls –
Sometimes fried, sometimes wrapped in fresh rice paper, these rolls are a staple at many meals as well and are often stuffed with vegetables and shrimp and some herbs.
Bun Cha –
Rice noodle dish with grilled marinated pork
One last culinary habit that is worth noting, The ethnic Khmer living in Vietnam people are one of the world's most well known insects eaters. Whether it be crickets, bee larvae, silk worms, tarantulas, scorpions. If you have the opportunity to explore a Khmer village on market day, you will surely see plates of fried bugs for sale.