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The supper club is held in my home in London Fields, Hackney. It is like a dinner party in the tradition of a Vietnamese feast with homemade Vietnamese food.



Vietnamese food is about the balance of flavours, of sweet, salty and sour – there is no measuring device that can ever match your own taste buds.

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Hot & Cold, Ying & Yang

By Leluu

My brother and I have been eating cereal for dessert since 1981. We arrived from Vietnam late that evening and the government placed my family in a little bed & breakfast in Highbury. My father bought a box of Frosties and a bottle of milk, saying, you’re going to love this. It was our first “English” meal. We did indeed love it so much – even though I was only 5 at the time, I still remember my first bite. Every time I see Frosties, I think of him. If I eat Frosties, I am five again.

I have been telling everyone who comes to the Vietnamese Cooking Classes I hold at home in my little kitchen about the Vietnamese diet and how healthy it is for you  because Vietnamese people follow some philosophies with what they eat and make it their way of life.

The two main philosophy of Vietnamese food is the balance of flavour – between hot, sour, sweet, salty and umani and also the balance of hot and cold foods – not the temperature of food but of the hot and cold elements and energy of foods. The flavour and the hot & cold elements are both like the ying and the yang, there is a balance to everything, like both sides of a coin. What goes up must go down. The cook has to combine the right combination to make the perfect tasty dish for good spirits, good health and well-being.

Sweet, Sour, Salty Flavours / Hot & Cold Elements

In the Western world, there is not much understanding of hot and cold foods but in many cultures of the Eastern world, this is essential to daily life and its a second nature, a second language and most people have a relationship with what they eat and their body – understanding how you physically feel and being aware of the consequences, the cause and effects of what you eat. Everyone is different. There is a conscious decision of what is eaten and a purposeful balance of it. People tend to judge the hot and cold balance of their bodies by the condition of skin, hair, inner feeling of your gut, your nerves and temperament.

Hot Chicken, Cold Choi Sum
Hot Tofu, Hot Mushrooms, Cold Asparagus

For example:
Hot food is chicken, ginger, potatoes, bread, chocolate, mango, meat, milk, carrots
Cold food is green leaves, courgettes, herbs, watermelon, melon, cucumber, seaweed, most fruits and vegetables.

Ying & Yang elements in cooking ingredients for one meal

Almost everybody will know what is hot and what is cold from their mothers/ family from birth. When someone is feeling a bit ill, they will always refer to what they have been eating lately, “I’ve been eating too many fried chicken wings,” says a boy crouching on his Honda,”thats why I’ve got all these spots and a cough, gotta go and get some Pennyswort Juice to cool my body down.”

“I am coughing because I have been eating too many mangos,” says one old lady in April, “its the mango season, I get this every year because I have a tree growing full of them in the back yard, I have to eat them all before they rot, I can’t sell enough of them. Sometimes I swap one with the Dragon Fruit woman. She needs to warm up and I need to cool down.”

“I’ve got a cold, I was caught in the rain,” says my cousin,”lets go and get some chicken noodle soup with ginger to warm up my body.”

Bun Bo Hue from Central Vietnam
Hu Tieu Nam Vang

In the mornings, people normally eat a steaming hot noodle soup like Pho, rich in hot spices, beef or chicken because it wakes up the senses.  Your body has been laying cold all night, what a way to warm it up – Eating something cold like cereal for breakfast is unheard of, (that was why my father gave it to us in the evening). For lunch, cold noodle salads or summer rolls are eaten. For the evening, you can have the combination of both.

Saigon Summer Rolls

How you feel and your relationship with what you eat is the key to your happiness in Vietnam. In London, I see many of my friends have difficulties with food and what to eat to stay slim, be healthy and feel well inside and out but all they seem to do is crave chocolate and burgers, (in colder climates, we do crave hotter foods) instead of knowing how their bodies are reacting because they do not know/ understand about the hot and the cold or what their bodies are saying.

There is nothing wrong with having a burger, but you’ve got to know that you need to balance out the burger which is essentially making your body hot, anxious, and heavy. You can’t eat it all the time, you’ve got to balance it out with plenty of cold vegetables or fruit juices. I have often said that I am not a fan of burgers, nor my brother or anyone I have met in Vietnam because I don’t like the feeling of being weighed down and irritable more than I love the taste of a burger.

In colder climates, we need more hot food such as meat but in warmer climates we need more cold foods. There is not one rule, but many, of which we all learn with time and experience. For most, its about placing importance in what you put in your body.

Fast food chains are opening up like weeds in Saigon and people do go and eat there but I always hear comments like, “I can’t eat that everyday, I feel as  heavy as an ox, I need to drink something refreshing, to get rid of the fat in those french fries. I swear I am going to break out in spots overnight – lets go get something cooling to eat.”

Regular meal at lunch or dinner

However, eating just cold foods, lots of vegetables doesn’t mean you’ll be better off. Everything must be in moderation and in good balance.

If your body is cold, for instance, you have a cold and you intake lots of cold things like orange juice, its counterproductive. You must warm up your body and things like ginger really helps. Get your Vitamin C from steamed vegetables instead. Have a chicken soup with ginger, carrots and potatoes.

If you have a sore throat for instance, cool it down with orange juice or a basil seed drink.

Not frog’s spawn, its a delicious basil seed drink

This is a simple but also a complex subject but since there is no health care system in Vietnam and going to the doctor means you have to have money, people have always used food as medicine. Food is for everything and eating well keeps you from needing the doctor in the first place. Eating the right things when you are unwell is paramount to your recovery.

Congee with Chicken & Coriander

My mother always tells me that I must eat things like congee, something very light so that my body is not overworking trying to digest instead of healing. Congee with chicken, ginger and coriander always makes ill days bearable.

Will find out more when I am in Vietnam. This is such an exciting but complex subject.

Get Well Soon Soup
  • I loved this post! You’ve explained it so well, and it’s true, a lot of western culture doesn’t understand the concept of hot/cold foods. I sort of understand it, but I don’t always like it… for example when I’m sick I always crave watermelon but am never allowed it hahaha… but yeah, congee fixes ALL!

  • Awesome post – loved your explanation of the Asian concept of heating/cooling properties of food!

    Whenever I’ve had a little too much fried food, I do find myself craving things like pear and melon…

    Liked that basil seed drink a lot – very refreshing!

  • Such an interesting post on a subject I knew nothing about. But it really makes sense!

  • Beautifully written. Now I’m homesick for a place I’ve yet to visit, and also v. homesick for my momma’s canh chua and chao ga.:)

    How was your first experience of cheese? Did you like it? Or did it have to grow on you?

    I think you are off to VN this week. Safe travels. Looking forward to your blog posts and photos from the homeland.


  • Great post. I would love to know more about this. I understand the concept but don’t know enough to make the right choices. You should teach a class 😉

    I went looking for basil seeds last weekend…didn’t find them, will look again as I absolutely loved the drink.

  • @catty thanks so much! I am still trying to understand it – its quite complex but here are the basics, I want to tell everyone I know – it just seems to be a good way to follow – is to listen to your body.

    @Yeebot yeah – I think your body craves it without you knowing why – I do too, if I have a steak or soemthing, I need my veg to fresh it out. Love the basil seed.

    Really? So many people do not know about this yet so many people eat eastern food – its good to get the basics out there. Will post more of my discoveries.

    @dimsumdelicious I was already introduced to The Laughing Cow in Vietnam as a child and loved it – one of my favourite things but I always had it with banana – don’t know why – its one of those great flavour combination.

    You must go to Vietnam, its your homeland, you will find out so many things about yourself and will see things in such a richer way. I will do lots of research and discoveries to post during my travels x

    @Tiffany time and experience will teach you how to make the right choices -(I sound like some old woman) I need to learn more myself. Always weigh out something hot with something cold. You can get the seeds in Longdan in Hackney Road, the Vietnamese is ‘HAT E’ xxx

  • This is a fascinating blog post, and it does make sense to in me in that achieving balance in your life (and diet is a major part of this) definitely promotes good health – mental and physical. I had never got as far as analysing food like this though. And I would never have had mangoes and carrots down as a hot food. Very interesting indeed.I would love to find out more.

  • This is how I like to eat as well, balance hot/cold or yin/yang. If you feel unwell or under the weather, it is an imbalance of the elements. Eastern medicine has been using the diagnosis of imbalance to treat all sorts of ailments too. Very interesting and needs to be shared with our western friends.

  • This was such an interesting post! I’d never thought of food in this way, but I’m vaguely familiar with Ayurveda (which I think assigns you food based on the type of person you are physically).

    There is an instinct in me, though, to balance light food with heavy. I’d rather have steamed veg with a steak than chips, and I avoid certain types of food/eat them at certain times because they make me feel a certain way. And that’s unusual among people I know from my background, because Caribbean people never met a meat and starch-based meal they didn’t like! We do, however, share a tendency to use food as medicine – rum really does cure all ills (a spoonful of that, steeped in black pimientos, soothes a bad tummy)!

  • Great post Uyen. I’d love to know more about the hot/cold food concept. It’s definitely not something widely thought about in the UK. However we do have some sympathy with it. We definitely adapt our diet according to the weather (eating more “hot” foods in the winter and more “cold” foods such as salads and veggies when the weather turns nicer). My husband loves it when the days get dark as it means cottage pie is back on the menu. We also eat more broths and fruits when we’re feeling under the weather. Sometimes when I’ve eaten a lot of meat I crave vegetables harder than any chocolate craving!!

    Ps. When I was travelling in Vietnam we would have banana and laughing cow sandwiches for breakfast if we were up early to move towns. Amazing combo!

  • Frosties as an English meal – how low have we sunk?! Loved this post about the balance of foods and all your terrific pics.

  • wonderful post my darling! I think I am unconsciously eating a good balance of hot and cold, this philosophy makes so much sense.
    I have to say though that I am struggling reading this here from Wales, I really would like to have some pho now or fresh summer rolls…

  • @TheGrubWorm Yes, this is so interesting. Its been engraved in me since birth. Like @Catty says, sometimes some fruits aren’t helpful, like watermelon when you are ill – its so interesting. If only Western medicine and culture would take this more into consideration. Its always something we would say that the Westerners would not understand and collectively kept it a secret from you guys ha ha.

    @Slow Food Kitchen
    Yes – lets share with our Western friends. They need to understand it more, why their bodies are saying something and what it is it is saying. I have a little desire to study Eastern medicine based on this philosophy now.

    @Ruby A – its funny how we all do have the instinct for this, hopefully now we can learn what our instincts are saying.

    @Becci I know what your husband means, I love a cottage pie in Autumn. Westerners all know it, under our skins – we need to practice it. Perhaps you can bring up your baby on these principles.

    Banana and Laughing Cow is ridiculously good – I am so glad you agree with me! he! think I will have some tomorrow.

    Also salt with watermelon and pineapple to bring out the sweetness.

    @Sally – My Custard Pie
    Thank you Sally!
    I loved the Frosties. The only other English meals I got were fish fingers and spam fritter all from school dinners.

    @Ute- Hungry In London
    If you would send me your goddam address, you could get some food parcels. Now you’ll have to wait til May! x

  • Brilliant post. I love this philosophy and have been much more attentive to my body these recent years. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” May I ask the recipe for the mushroom-tofu-asparagus dish?

  • @Grace
    Thanks a lot – this is something we can live by the whole of our lives. The mushroom thing – hot pan, garlic, throw in everything and fry with a good oyster sauce. Thats it! x