As a little part of our informative Hanoi’s food tours, the following blog post prepares our visitors with a brief introduction to the Vietnamese cuisine.
The Background of Vietnamese Cuisine
Vietnam is a rice growing country with tropical monsoon climate and diverse topography, it’s divided into North, Central and the South with distinctive characters that reflect the living conditions of the people there.
The country is home to 54 ethnic groups, and each of them have their own cooking traditionswhile sharing historical influences from the Chinese, Khmer, and the French.
The geography and ethnology background allows fresh food to be produced all year around, and that forms the variety and diversity of the Vietnamese cuisine!
A Typical Vietnamese Home Meal
Based on rice, which Vietnamese people eat three times a day. The Vietnamese cuisine is aboutthe cooking of the green vegetable, fresh meat or fish using fresh herbs and spices to makedelicious dishes to eat with the steamed rice.
A typical home meal often includes rice with a stir-fried vegetable with garlic, pork stew with ginger, and a tomato sour fish soup. For lunch, the rice may go with 3 dishes, and for dinner, 4 – 8 dishes. To enhance the taste when eating, there is usually a diluted version of dipping fish sauce for each dish.
When eating together, friends and relatives drink rice liquor, sometime traditionally medicinal herbs infused liquor, Appetizer is usually fresh fruit, such as orange or banana.
After years of wars and destitute subsidy period, vendors have been striving to make their living by serving food and tea on the sidewalk. And, for a change and the convinience, people eat and drink on the street. Over the year, eating on the street is now a big part of the Vietnamese culture.
Local dinners would go to a busy family run restaurants that serve only dish over the years, as it takes long time to cook a rich stock, like over 8 hours for a good Pho noodle soup. Hence, restaurants serving only that soup will do a much better job.
Wet Markets Throughout The Country
For the convience, freshness, and good prices, wet markets selling daily food exist in every community in the city. They open from 6h00am till 7h00pm, but most locals get up early each day to go to the market, and to many, showing up later in the market mean that the best iterms were taken by others.
Base on rice and noodle, the most commonly used herbs are spring onions, cilantro, mint and basil. The most common vegetables are morning glory, varieties of cabbage, pumpkin and melons. The most common meats are pork, beef, chicken and fresh water fishes.
In the last decade, vegetarian foods are getting more attentions in the big cities. But, it’s only popular among religious people and small groups of eating healthy advocates. Their foods are commonly vegetable, mushrooms, eggplant and tofu.
Though modern convenient stores are appearing everywhere, people who take cooking seriously still go to wet markets everyday to buy everything they may need for their family meal, from herbs to meat to rice.
Northern Vietnamese Cuisine
With the yearly four seasons, northern Vietnamese cuisine is moderating, but not bold, in the use of the 5 basic tastes; sour, spicy, salty, sweet, and bitter. Therefore, most northern foods feature light and balanced flavors, that result from subtle combinations of many flavoring ingredients.
Famous northern Vietnam dishes are Bún chả (rice noodle with grilled marinated pork), Phở gà (chicken soup with rice noodles), chả cá Lã Vọng (rice noodle with grilled fish), and Bún riêu (fresh water crable noodle soup). Their main flavoring ingredients are fish sauce, chilly, rice vinegar, and lime.
Central Vietnamese Cuisine
The abundance of chilli peppers and shrimp pastes produced by Central Vietnam make this region’s foods spicier and saltier, with more intense flavors, than the other two regions of Vietnam where the foods are mostly not spicy.
The biggest city down there, Hue, used to be the capital of the last dynasty of Vietnam, so thecentral Vietnam’s foods reflecte the influence of ancient Vietnamese royal cuisine with more decorations in red and yellow colors. Famous central Vietnamese foods includes Bánh xèo (pancake), Bún bò Huế (Hue’s beef noodle soup), and Cơm hến (baby basket clams with rice).
Southern Vietnamese Cuisine
If northern cuisine is known to be delicate, the central region is famous for intense flavors, then southern cuisine features its own simplicity and liberal character. The fertile soil and a system of interlaced rivers favor the southern region with variety of rich and diverse products, hence a phrase; “there are fish in the river, vegetables on the bank”.
The southern Vietnamese cuisine use more of sugar and coconut milk than in the other regions,so the food down there is sweeter. Famous southern Vietnamese dishes includes Hủ tiếu (pork and shrimp noodle soup), Cá lóc nướng (grilled snakehead fish), Lẩu mắm (fermented fish hotpot).
Also, because of the warm weather, southerners use more fresh herbs-like bean sprouts and Thai basils-as a side dish on every meal.