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In the first of her series of blog posts on how to cook Vietnamese food, guest blogger Uyen Luu shares the basic principles behind Vietnamese cooking.
There is a certain solitary quietness when bent over a steaming hot bowl of phó, slurping away and sucking at noodles. The broth is laced with the fragrant spices of star anise, coriander seeds, cinnamon and cloves, with top notes of fresh spring onions, coriander, basil, saw tooth herbs and lemon.
Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most flavoursome in the world, with many of its basic principles based on satisfying every taste bud. Preparing and cooking Vietnamese food is about fine tuning tasting skills to balance and master sweet, sour, salty, umani, bitter and hot flavours. It is about combining perfect textures, such as silky meat or fish with crunchy vegetables or herbs to satisfy the bite.
Vietnamese food is about accomplishing a perfect balance in taste, in texture and the lightness of being. Many people naturally follow the yin and yang principles in combining ingredients, for example, a soup with hearty ginger to warm up the body is contrasted with refreshing, cool leaves like pak choi to harmonise the feeling in your body. Eating in balance is a major factor in keeping healthy and many believe that food is medicine.
To maintain an equilibrium, plenty of refreshing shakes, like avocado, papaya, pennyswort and watermelon, are drank as snacks, especially in the evenings to freshen the body before bedtime.
Vietnam has taken much inspiration from its occupiers, especially the French. The streets are buzzing with food and its aromas, from barbecued meat-filled baguettes (bánh mì), hot pork pastries, crunchy carrot salads and beef steaks with French fries.
The famous noodle soup, phó, was influenced by French casserole pot-au-feu (pot of fire) – and you find many Vietnamese words reflect French, like pâté, pho –(feu), Bò bít têt (beef steak), pâté so (pâté chaud) or cà rôt (carrot).
Vietnamese people love eating so much that they have a term called “an choi”, which means to eat playfully, or snack. There are many small and light street food portions that you can pick up, eat and go, throughout the day. Sometimes they are even referred to as gifts to the mouth.
There isn’t a starter, main and dessert – there are snacks, meals in one dish and family meals with many plates all served at once. Vietnamese food is all about the love of food, flavour and eating. Or in other words, how food is love.
If you want to try cooking Vietnamese food at home, have a go at Uyen Luu’s Saigon summer rolls.