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In the second of her series of blog posts on how to cook Vietnamese food, guest blogger Uyen Luu explains how some of the key ingredients are used.
Vietnamese food is full of flavour, bursting with tangy freshness, sweet tastiness and umani spiciness! When cooking a Vietnamese dish, most of the work is within the prep and little on the stove.
All of the work is fine tuning every taste bud on the tongue to make sure that there is a balance of sweet, sour and salty. It is also important to combine and balance ingredients that pair well with each other and people remain loyal to combinations.
The Vietnamese use herbs in abundance. They don’t just sprinkle a little on here and there, they use them like salad leaves. Full of perfume, flavour and health benefits, herbs are used in almost every savoury dish. Coriander, sweet basil and mint are the most readily available, so if you can’t find the required herbs, use those.
Rice is essential in Vietnamese cuisine, providing most of the carbohydrates one would need and it is also the base of most noodles, buns, crepes, dumplings, rice paper etc. Rice is neutral and is neither warming or cooling for your body so it can be eaten as much as desired. This makes for an easy gluten free diet.
In Southern Vietnamese cooking, a lot of garlic is used for an appetising aroma; sugar for sweetness and vinegar for acidity. Combine this with a good fish sauce to make many wonderful dishes, sauces, dressings and flavours. It can be varied by adding water or lemongrass, peanuts, ginger, lime and so on.
Fish sauce is the staple of Vietnamese cuisine and is often used instead of salt to season dishes. Fish sauce was invented when someone had left a bucket of fish in sea water in the sun for too long. It rotted and fermented but gave us this wonderful pungent sauce that is now used daily by every cook in Vietnam.
Investing in a good premium fish sauce is imperative and makes a huge difference to the taste of dishes. The fish sauce that is usually stocked in supermarkets are cheap and have not matured enough for a good taste. Use any fish sauce that is over £3. All fish sauces vary in flavour, some (mainly from the Northern regions) are saltier so less should be used.
Being one of the most fertile countries in the world, the Vietnamese use all the great vegetation vastly available on the land. Meat and fish are usually luxuries. One fish per family of five instead of one per person.
Therefore, herbs, fruits and vegetables such as morning glory, taro root, lotus roots, watercress, pineapple, tomatoes and cucumbers fill out a delicious meal, making a Vietnamese diet quite a healthy one.