Vietnamese serve many uncooked vegetables, often in the form
of salads, and pickles. We use many fresh herbs and spices, including basil,
mint, coriander (parsley), ginger, chili peppers, and garlic, which give
Vietnamese food its distinctive flavor and add color to many dishes. Lemongrass,
a tropical grass is commonly used to give food a lemony tang.
Mam, A Fish Sauce
Fish and seafood are popular, especially in the Center and South due to
the surrounding ocean and the web of rivers in the country. Because people
fish daily, we have fresh seafood every day in the market. Some of Vietnam's
fish is used to make nuoc mam, a fish sauce that is made by combining
fish and salt in large barrels and letting it ferment for several months.
Nuoc mam is used as a flavoring ingredient much like the Chinese
use soy sauce and the Westerners use salt. Despite
its name and rather strong scent, fish sauce has a subtle taste that combines
beautifully with other ingredients.
Cuisine of Vietnam Varies From Region to Region
The Vietnamese cooking methods include braising, simmering, steaming,
grilling, and stir-frying. We use little or no oil in cooking even for
stir-fried dishes. The cuisine of Vietnam varies from region to region:
in the North, less fresh produce and herbs are available due to
the cooler climate. In this region, black pepper is the main seasoning.
Stir-fried dishes are very popular, due probably to the Chinese influence.
Very hot and spicy food is found in the Center. Southern Vietnam's
cooking includes a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and spices, and
sugar is a common ingredient in many dishes. The influence of India is
apparent in the South, as curry dishes are very popular in this region.
Also, French influence can be found throughout Vietnam, but particularly
in the South, where white potatoes, asparagus, and even French baguette
are often-used reminders of France's long presence in Vietnam. Despite
influences from other countries, Vietnamese food is unique.