I started going to Vietnamese restaurants here in the U.S. at about the same time that I starting sampling
Thai food. It was easy to notice the similarities of Vietnamese cooking to Chinese and Thai, yet appreciate the
differences. The use of bowls for serving meals plus ingredients like rice, soy sauce, bean curd, noodles, garlic,
onions, fresh ginger root, chilies and sugar is common to all three cuisines. Yet Vietnamese food is noticeably
sweeter than Chinese and often not as spicy as Thai cooking.
Like other Asian styles, traditional Vietnamese cooking is known for the use of fresh and healthy ingredients.
Beef, pork, chicken, fish, and various kinds of seafood are all used, yet there is a strong vegetarian tradition that
comes from Buddhist and Chinese values. Herbs and other flavorings include lemongrass, mint, cilantro and basil
From China, Vietnamese recipes borrow steamed and fried dumplings, fried rice and noodle dishes. French
influence is found in baguettes, potatoes and asparagus. Indian curries are also an influence.
Soy sauce is used almost exclusively in areas very close to China, being mostly replaced by fish sauce
(nuoc mam.) This is perhaps the most important ingredient in Vietnamese cooking as it is for Thai cooks as well.
It is made from salted fish fermented in barrels and is served so widely, including table-side as a condiment, that I
think of it as kind of an Asian ketchup.
Like with its neighbors, rice is a main ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. It is served alongside many main
dishes, and rice flour is used instead of egg and wheat in making noodles. My recipe for the French influenced
Vietnamese crepe, stuffed with fresh vegetables, is made with rice flour.
Grilled meats are featured often in Vietnamese cooking, and my recipe for Vietnamese marinade is a good
introduction to this cuisine. It is amazing to me how just a little bit of this marinade flavors the small cuts of meat
so thoroughly. Great for barbecuing!
I have also included my recipe for Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc mam cham.) This recipe will duplicate
the best dipping sauces that I have been served in Vietnamese restaurants. Use it with everything, from
dumplings to spring rolls, crepes and grilled meats and vegetables.