Vietnamese cuisine: food for thoughts

Nothing seems more wonderful than beginning a new day with a hot steaming bowl of Pho (aka Vietnam’s noodle soup). The favored chicken or beef Pho can be served anywhere, at any time in Vietnam. People here enjoy their Pho indoors, at strait corners or even on the street, among the soundtrack of car honks and scooters. No matter how modernized and bustling the country has become, the breakfast habit apparently remains unchanged. Considered a symbol of Vietnamese kitchen, but Pho is also obsessed by millions of people in other countries, including the USA. When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, this signature dish may be the very first thing that foreigners think about.

A hot bowl of Pho is the great way to start a new day

However, there’s much more for food lovers to discover since an unending variety of authentic Vietnamese dishes are available all the time. Obviously, the universe cannot only spin around flat rice noodles and broth. Soupaholics can choose themselves a favorite among fish soup, beef soup, and even different types of porridge. For those who prefer a combination of fried egg, grilled meat, sauce and vegetables, a delectable loaf of banh mi is always ready to be grabbed. Speaking of combinations, it is a deficiency if you miss your chance to taste Goi cuon (aka Nem ran), which are translucent spring rolls packed with salad greens, herbs, a slither of seafood or pork and rice. If you’re looking for streetside snack, a heaven full of Bot chien, Banh xeo, Banh ran, Nem lui… and countless kinds of Che ( sweet dessert soup) are waiting for you in Hanoi’s and Hoian’s old quarters. Even vegetarians find no difficulty in capturing their favorite dishes, which are mainly made from common ingredients in Vietnam: tofu, mushroom, corn and so on.

Vietnamese crepes with a dipping sauce and herbs

Rice and fish sauce are considered two universal themes in Vietnamese diet. Rice appears at breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and even beverage. It comes in various forms such as noodles, rice paper wrappers, sticky rice, rice porridge, puffed rice snacks, and last but not least, rice wine. “An com chua?”, which means “Have you eaten yet?” is a common greeting in Vietnam. It is equivalent to “Hello” or “How do you do?” in English and the meaning has long been understood as a wish of fullness and prosperity. Whereas, it sounds hard to mention a dish where fish sauce is not used. Formulated by fermenting fish with salt for several months, the sauce seems to contain the smell of the sea and enhance the bold of every dish. Since it loses its fishy odor once mixed with other ingredients, people tend to add a splash of lime juice, sugar, chilies and garlic before using it to dip other kinds of food. The two elements have become an integral part of life in Vietnam, like wheat and cheese in the Europe.

What makes Vietnamese food so special? Perhaps it is the balance, like the yin and yang or the Earth and sky in Asian culture. The sweet, the salty, the spicy and the sour perfectly blend with each other. One dish can be both vibrant and frugal, fresh and intense, classic and contemporary at the same taste. Vietnamese people may encounter a little bit of China, France and even America in their traditional food. Certainly, colonization is an undeniable part of Vietnam’s history. But even in the darkest time, Vietnamese still tried to make the best out of bad things. Influenced by foreign food, they have kept the original spirit of their own dishes, refined and creatively Vietnamize Western and Chinese cuisine. It is believed that the flavors of Vietnam can satisfy many appetites because they bring about unique feelings and remind people of their hometowns.