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10 Secrets That Make Vietnamese Cuisine So Good

Vietnamese cuisine contains some of the world’s most popular and beloved dishes—and for good reason!

Those who have already tried Vietnamese food would be familiar with the fresh balance each bite brings, not to mention the vast servings of vegetables and herbs and light cooking methods that make the cuisine hugely popular for health enthusiasts.

Just what exactly makes Vietnamese cuisine so great? Here’s a spoiler — it’s not only the beautiful simplicity these dishes have. The secrets lie in Vietnam’s geography, culture, and history, too!

Interested about all the fanfare surrounding Vietnamese food? Read on to learn the top 10 secrets for why Vietnamese cuisine is a treat your taste buds will never regret. Let’s jump right in!

1. The Availability of Superb Ingredients

Whether you’re up in the mountains or out at sea, Vietnam boasts the right combination of terrain, climate, and natural resources for the best quality ingredients.

The country is blessed with abundant fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices wherever you look. A quick trip to the market would also give you access to the freshest meat and seafood available!

There’s really no better dish to illustrate this marriage between the land and the sea than Vietnamese Pancake (Bánh Xèo)

A staple in Vietnamese cuisine, a Vietnamese Pancake is a crispy treat made from rice flour, pork, shrimp, and even bean sprouts. Turmeric powder and coconut milk are classic ingredients that heighten this crepe’s flavor profile, so it’s no surprise that it’s a popular snack among locals and tourists alike.

Into food that showcases Vietnam’s fresh and superb ingredients? Dishes like banana blossom salad (Nộm Hoa Chuối), spring roll (Gỏi Cuốn), steamed rice roll (Bánh Cuốn), or La Vong grilled fish (Chả Cá Lã Vọng) give you front-row seats to the nation’s rich land and waters!

2. The Multicultural Influence

Explore Vietnam’s street food or restaurant scene, and you’ll quickly realize that the local cuisine sports badges of influence from its colonial history. Whether it’s your staple Vietnamese Phở or filling Bánh Mì, each bite is a glimpse into Vietnam’s past!

Quick history lesson! Both the Chinese and the French have ruled over Vietnam, leaving behind influences not only in the nation’s culture but also in its cuisine.

Neighbors such as Cambodia, India, and Malaysia have also left distinct marks on the culinary scene, creating a mosaic of multicultural influences in modern-day Vietnamese dishes.

Of course, that’s not to say that Vietnamese cuisine passively incorporates these influences! The locals have adapted them into dishes that bear the true blue Vietnamese trademark.

For example, Bánh Mì was born when the Vietnamese transformed the French baguette into a sandwich filled to the brim with fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, meat slices, cilantro, and a generous serving of chili sauce.

Phở is also the perfect blend of rice noodles (a Chinese staple) and French-inspired broth, but the Vietnamese have added their own touch with local herbs and spices you won’t find in French cuisine.

Other dishes that demonstrate a Vietnamese twist are Mì Vằn Thắn (wonton noodle soup), pate chaud (savory puff pastry), Cà Ri Gà (chicken curry), and more!

How Vietnamese cuisine blends influences from other countries is truly unique. This is one of many reasons Vietnamese dishes have such a delicious and distinctive flavor that cannot be found anywhere else.

3. The Pairing of Textures And Flavors

While the use of ingredients and flavor is a huge part of a recipe’s appeal, many people fail to consider that the texture and mouthfeel of food also make or break a dish. 

When it comes to Vietnamese food, the texture can often be just as incredible as the flavors!

The combination of textures and flavors in Vietnamese cuisine is another aspect that makes the dishes so delicious.

For example, Cơm Tấm’s risotto-like texture and Vietnamese glass noodles’ chewy texture make for a unique and thoroughly enjoyable eating experience.

You also can’t go wrong with a hearty bowl of Bún Bò Nam Bộ (Southern-style beef noodles), the ultimate treat of textures and flavors combining soft beef, fresh and leafy herbs, chewy noodles, and crispy nuts and sprouts. Yum!

Hardly any other cuisine can beat the full range of textures and flavors that Vietnamese food offers. It’s simply a unique dining experience you have to try for yourself!

4. The Mastery of Combining Ingredients

If you’ve seen how authentic Vietnamese cuisine is prepared, you will surely notice some things. First, the food rests on a principle of balance and follows five fundamental flavors — sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and spicy.

And your stomach isn’t the only thing appreciating the experience. Your eyes are in for an aesthetic treat with Vietnamese food’s combination of five principal colors of white, green, yellow, black, and red.

Balance is a major theme in Vietnamese cuisine, and it can only be achieved by mastering the combination of ingredients.

It’s what turns simple dishes into well-rounded, memorable ones that leave you filled and don’t put you off with any sharp or harsh flavors that disturb the palate!

The next time you enjoy a plate of Bột Chiên ( fried rice flour cake) on the streets of Saigon or hearty servings of Cơm Rang (fried rice), pay more attention to how all the flavors and colors blend into one seamless, tasty experience. Appreciate the balance and skill necessary to get there!

5. The Healthiness

Jumping off from the principle of balance, Vietnamese cuisine’s next big secret for its appeal is just how healthy it is!

The traditional Vietnamese meal offers large quantities of vegetables that are often boiled and steamed rather than deep-fried, preserving not only the ingredients’ freshness but also their health benefits.

Although meat is also a common sight, seafood and fish are just as popular. These options create a diverse pool of choices that prevents you from focusing too heavily on a single food group.

Generous touches of fresh herbs also contribute to Vietnamese cuisine’s overall low-calorie dishes. The local food is also rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, nourishing the body while avoiding excesses.

The Vietnamese tradition of balance ensures that every dish builds the body rather than harms it, and you can see that in foods like fresh spring rolls, clear broths, and steamed dishes.

6. The Abundance of Herbs

By this point, we’ve mentioned the emphasis of Vietnamese cuisine on fresh herbs, so it’s high time to talk about it!

Rau Thơm, or herbs, are a crucial part of Vietnamese cooking and is one of the cuisine’s most distinctive features. Order Vietnamese food and expect large quantities of cilantro, basil, mint, Chinese chives, coriander, and more.

While herbs are often added during the cooking process, they’re also served as garnishes that heighten not only the fresh flavors but also the overall aesthetics of the dish.

You’ll see this clearly when slurping up pho or bun chay, nibbling on banh mi, enjoying grilled bun cha, and more! It’s not a stretch to say that herbs are the heart and soul of Vietnamese cuisine, so give it more credit the next time you’re going for Vietnamese food.

7. The simplicity

If you’ve had your fair share of Vietnamese food, we won’t blame you if you’ve considered them as difficult to prepare. The relative simplicity and beauty of the presentation are surely deceptive, right?

You can’t be further from the truth! Despite its looks, Vietnamese food is actually very easy to prepare. You can even make most dishes right from the comfort of your kitchen.

This simplicity boils down to the flexibility of the ingredients. Vietnamese food rests on staple choices present in virtually every dish, such as rice, noodles, sprouts, fish sauce, fresh herbs and spices, lemongrass, and more!

For example, Phở and Bánh Xèo share many similarities, such as sprouts and herbs, allowing you to create distinctive dishes from the same basic ingredients! You can also swap ingredients, such as the meat filling, for Gỏi Cuốn, which can be anything from pork or chicken to shrimp.

Not only that, but Vietnamese dishes are also extremely straightforward and don’t require fancy-schmancy techniques to get them right.

Some dishes, like grilled pork with rice vermicelli (Bún Chả) or grilled chicken, mostly just need assembling ingredients, while others, like spring rolls, are a little more involved. Still, you don’t have to be a master chef just to enjoy the richness of Vietnamese cuisine!

These foods are beginner-friendly and very accessible, so anyone with any skill level can try their hand at making them.

8. The Use of Dipping Sauces

Similar to fresh herbs, nước chấm or dipping sauces are a huge part of Vietnamese cuisine. These dipping sauces often have a base of nước mắm or fish sauce, which can then be altered by adding various ingredients.

Through this method, a wide range of different dipping sauces is possible to best complement the dish you’re enjoying.

For sour dipping sauces, common ingredients include lime, tamarind, or vinegar, but this still depends on the region or the recipe. There are also other options like palm sugar, brown sugar, or honey for a sweet taste and chilis or peppers for a spicy kick.

Although fish sauce is a usual sight, soy sauce can also come in handy if you’re looking for a vegan dipping sauce.

Like herbs, these dipping sauces are an absolutely essential part of many dishes — most notably spring rolls — as they build on the flavor profile for a taste that’s so unique.

In other words, dipping sauces allows you to customize your Vietnamese dishes as you eat! Different sauces with every meal are a sure way to create a fun and interesting dining experience that won’t go stale.

9. The Light Cooking Technique

When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, you are far more likely to see food cooked with lighter cooking techniques such as boiling, steaming, and stir-frying as opposed to heavier techniques like deep frying or roasting.

These lighter cooking techniques help retain the natural flavors of the ingredients. They don’t overpower or mask the fresh tastes that these ingredients provide, especially if you’re preparing fresh vegetables!

Aside from preserving the natural flavor of the food, light cooking techniques also preserve the nutritional value of the ingredients. Less cooking oil also means that the food is lighter and healthier, which is why Vietnamese food is hailed for being incredibly healthy and low in fat.

And it’s not just nutritional benefits, too! Light cooking techniques help make Vietnamese food generally easier to cook as it’s much faster to boil, steam, or stir-fry food compared to other slow-cooking methods.

10. The Customized Flavors

As mentioned, many Vietnamese dishes will come with herbs, spices, and dipping sauces.

One thing that you may notice when you order Pho is that you will often be presented with a small dish of sauces, chilis, lemon, and a range of other ingredients!

The same is also true for a variety of other traditional Vietnamese dishes, such as spring rolls and fresh noodle dishes.

This practice is common in Vietnamese cuisine, as it allows you to customize the flavors of your food.

Nobody knows how you like your food better than you do, so being able to add certain herbs and sauces allows you to season your food to suit your own personal tastes and preferences!

Aside from creating a truly unique flavor profile that suits your taste, adding your own herbs and toppings is a fun and engaging way of getting to know Vietnamese cuisine. It makes you feel more involved in the preparation process!

This is another factor that makes the experience of eating Vietnamese food feel like an immersive and thoroughly enjoyable event, something rarely seen in other cuisines.

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