This content is also available in: Vietnamese
It is without question that the sensual gratification of Vietnamese food is the most acclaimed gem of the country’s culture. The way they are cooked to achieve a yin-yang balance makes the food simple in appearance but rich in flavours. The importance of establishing a keen tongue for the art of seasoning is firmly ingrained in Vietnamese culture and customs.
Vietnamese cuisine introduces five taste elements: spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet. With each dish radiating distinctive flavours to reflect one or more of these elements, it also appeals to gastronomes via five senses: food arrangements to attract the eyes, the sound of crispy ingredients for the ears, a range of spices dancing on the tongue, aromatic ingredients to stimulate the nose, and the way the herbs and some finger foods are topped, tossed and rolled into each dish to enhance the touch.
Here is a list of essential herbs, with their culinary usages and medicinal benefits.
Perilla /Shiso Leaf
Tasting notes: Earthy, bold and musky, mint/basil combination flavour.
Culinary usage: Eaten raw in a variety of soups, salads and fresh roll dishes.
Medicinal usage: Used in tea for soothing properties and in steam baths for better skin.
Spearmint Herb/Green Mint
Tasting notes: Spearminty and limey flavour.
Culinary usage: Found in most common salad plates, eaten with a variety of soups.
Medicinal usage: Used in tea as treatment for stomach ache, colds and flu and promotes digestion.
Tasting notes: sweet, spicy, licorice flavour.
Culinary usage: Most commonly eaten with Phở and a variety of soups.
Medicinal usage: Possesses antibacterial qualities; leaves are crushed into a paste to treat small cuts.
Tasting notes: Spicy and peppery flavour.
Culinary usage: Commonly eaten raw in salads, in fowl dishes.
Medicinal usage: Used to treat indigestion, stomach aches, ulcers, wounds and swelling; believed to have ingredients that hinder fertility.
Tasting notes: Bitter, strong flavour.
Culinary usage: Consumed cooked or raw in soups and sautéed dishes.
Medicinal usage: Rich in vitamin B.
Understanding the selective herbs that go with each dish is the skillful art of seasoning that one must master in the Vietnamese culture to be considered a great chef. As Vietnamese dishes tend to look rather simple, the complexity of the different seasoning is what makes a dish memorable.
Here is a list of essential spices commonly used for seasoning.
Culinary usage: Most popular spice, often used for broth, stir-fry, grilling, sautéeing, stews, salad dishes.
Medicinal usage: A powerful boost of the immune system, contains anti-inflammatory substance and can protect against arthritis.
Tasting notes: Aromatic, pungent and spicy flavour.
Culinary usage: In stir-fries, sauces, and many seafood and vegetable dishes.
Medicinal usage: Can alleviate symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
Tasting notes: Woody, earthy, aromatic flavour.
Culinary usage: Used mainly for broths, such as the famous Phở.
Medicinal usage: Helps lower blood sugar levels.
Culinary usage: Stir fry or crushed in sauces, such as fish sauce.
Medicinal usage: Boosts immune system to combat sickness.
Culinary usage: Used to add the last touch to stir-fried/braised dishes, a marinating seasoning.
Medicinal usage: A good source of many antioxidant vitamins.
To be surrounded by great food in Vietnam represents a significant part of social interactions. Each dish serves to form relationships, re-affirm them and to bring people closer. However, the most heartfelt ingredient of it all is the amount of love that goes in each dish. Let it serve as a reminder that food brings and friends together, no matter what triumphs or challenges we face and will overcome.