Vietnam’s cuisine has been shaped over generations by a rich tapestry of cultural influences. French colonialism introduced baguettes, leading to dishes like banh mi sandwiches; Vietnamese spring rolls are made with Chinese-style rice paper; and Indian and Thai influences are showcased via the widespread use of spices like star anise and curry powder.
With its long coastline, lush deltas, fertile plains and mountains, Vietnam’s landscape has also played a pivotal role in shaping the culinary scene. Coastal regions such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offer an abundance of seafood dishes, whereas the Mekong Delta, known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, provides vast amounts of the grain along with fruits and vegetables. Key ingredients include fish sauce, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and chilli peppers, and the art of Vietnamese cooking lies in carefully balancing sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami and spicy flavours.
Meals in Vietnam are typically communal affairs, consisting of several dishes shared with family and friends. Then there are the do-it-yourself dishes such as banh xeo (crispy pancakes) and goi cuon (summer rolls), which can be assembled and eaten at the table. Both styles offer a delicious dining experience.
Street food culture is an integral part of the culinary landscape, with roadside stalls and markets offering tantalising treats like bun cha (grilled pork with vermicelli rice noodles). The atmosphere and aromas of bustling marketplaces showcase the heart and soul of Vietnam’s vibrant food scene.
Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city, and a particularly great place to experience Vietnamese street food. The bun thit nuong (pork skewers) served there have to be the most moreish thing I’ve ever eaten. There are also all the classics, from banh xeo to pho, the impossibly delicate and hearty broth that Vietnam runs on.
Vietnamese Made Easy: Simple, Modern Recipes for Every Day, by Thuy Diem Pham is published by Hardie Grant, £22.
1. Bun Rieu This popular soup from northern Vietnam is known for its rich blend of flavours. The red-hued broth is made with crab, tomatoes, tofu and aromatic spices and is served with noodles, fresh herbs and bean sprouts. It’s rich and hearty, yet also wonderfully fresh.
2. Banh Xeo One of my favourite dishes, this savoury pancake is filled with shrimp, pork, vegetables and herbs. The name translates as ‘sizzling cake’ due to the sound it makes when cooking. Served wrapped in lettuce leaves and dipped in a tangy fish sauce, it offers a burst of flavours and textures.
3. Bo Kho A flavourful Vietnamese beef stew beloved for its rich broth. Tender beef chunks are simmered with lemongrass, star anise and other spices, creating a tantalising aroma. Served with
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