Looking for a quick lunch of soup, salad or a sandwich? Maybe you ought to think Vietnamese. Perhaps an exquisite vegetarian meal? Well, then, why not think Vietnamese? Or is tonight time for multiple dishes, contrasting flavors, varied textures and exotic ingredients? Once again, it's a good time to think Vietnamese. Or perhaps something healthy and "lite?" Guess what: think Vietnamese.
While Vietnamese food has long been appreciated in France, the former colonial power, U.S. residents are only beginning to discover its many fine features. Vietnamese chefs like to refer to their cooking as "the nouvelle cuisine of Asia." And indeed, with the heavy reliance on rice, wheat and legumes, abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables, minimal use of oil, and treatment of meat as a condiment rather than a main course, Vietnamese food has to be among the healthiest on the planet.
Com (boiled rice)
In Vietnam, com is eaten at the main meals of the day (lunch and dinner). Rice is eaten together with a variety of different dishes and is made from different kinds of rice. Typically fragrant rice is used, such as Tam Thom and Nang Huong. An ordinary meal may consist of boiled rice and the following:
Mon an kho (meal without soup) consists of dishes of pork, fish, shrimp, and vegetable cooked in oil, as well as vegetables, pickles, etc.
Mon canh (meal with soup) consists of a soup made with pork or spare-ribs, crab meat, and fish.
In the past several years, people in urban centers have begun to go out for lunch at the food stalls on the street. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of temporary food stalls along many sidewalks and public spaces in the cities. Some stalls are open until early in the morning to cater to regular customers. Around noon, owners can be seen arranging tables and benches along the pavement to form makeshift shop floors. After two or three hours, when there are no more customers, they begin to remove all of their wooden furniture, so that the place resumes its former appearance. A well served lunch for one is very inexpensive.
Pho - Noodles
Pho is the most popular food among the Vietnamese population. Pho is commonly eaten for breakfast, although many people will have it for their lunch or dinner. Anyone feeling hungry in the small hours of the morning can also enjoy a bowl of hot and spicy pho to fill their empty stomachs.
Like hot green tea which has its particular fragrance, pho also has its special taste and smell. Preparations may vary, but when the dish is served, its smell and taste is indispensable. The grated rice noodle is made of the best variety of fragrant rice called Gao Te. The broth for Pho Bo (Pho with beef) is made by stewing the bones of cows and pigs in a large pot for a long time. Pieces of fillet mignon together with several slices of ginger are reserved for Pho Bo Tai (rare fillet). Slices of well done meat are offered to those less keen on eating rare fillets.
The soup for Pho Ga (pho with chicken meat) is made by stewing chicken and pig bones together. The white chicken meat that is usually served with Pho Ga is boneless and cut into thin slices. You could consider Pho Bo and Pho Ga Vietnam's special soups. Pho also has the added advantage of being convenient to prepare and healthy to eat.
Com Rang (Grilled rice)
Grilled rice is mostly served in the fall. After collecting the rice from the fields, several steps have to be performed to obtain excellent com. After removing the grains from their hulks, the rice is wrapped in lotus leaves to keep it from drying and to allow it to absorb the lotus flavor.
Grilled rice can be found everywhere in Vietnam, but the best com is found in Vong village, 5 km from Hanoi. People in this village still use traditional secret recipes. People eat grilled rice with eggs, bananas, or sapodillas.
Cha Ca (grilled minced fish)
Grilled minced fish has been served in Vietnam for more than 100 years. The Doan family of Cha Ca Street in Hanoi first invented this dish.
A wide variety of fish can be used in this dish including sturgeon and tuna. Tuna is low in fat, has an exquisite flavour, and few bones. The bones are separated from the meat and put into saffron water to be later used in a sauce. The fish is marinated in salt before being grilled.
What is interesting about this dish is that people can add their favourite condiments: coriander, mint, dill, shallots, and more.
Bun (rice vermicelli)
Vietnamese vermicelli is a luxurious as well as a popular dish. There are different varieties of vermicelli depending on their shape: bun roi or stirred vermicelli, bun mam or twisted vermicelli, bun la or vermicelli paper, and bun dem tram or shreded vermicelli.
Different ingredients can be served with vermicelli: grilled pork meat, fried rice cakes, snails, fried eggs, lean meat pie, chicken, and crab soup, to name a few.
Each region and locality, even each restaurant, has its own vermicelli dishes with their own recipes.
This dish is a combination of a variety of fresh vegetables, usually used in salads in Western countries. The make-up of Nom, however, is slightly different.
The main ingredients of Nom include grated pieces of turnip, cabbage, or papaya, and slices of cucumber with grated, boiled, lean pork. Other auxiliary ingredients include grated carrot, slices of hot chilly, and roasted ground nuts. These are used to make the dish more colourful. All are mixed thoroughly before being soaked in vinegar, sugar, garlic, hot chilly, and seasoned with salt.
The presentation of the dish is also very meticulous. The mixture of ingredients is put into a dish before being covered with vegetables.
To try a mouthful of Nom is to enjoy a combination of all the tastes life has to offer, including sour, hot, sweet, salty, and fragrant tastes. The dish helps with digestion at meals and parties. It can become an addictive aid to assist the real connoisseur enjoy more food.
Hue Beef Noodle Soup
One must have years of experience to cook excellent Hue beef noodle soup. This recipe mainly consists of shredded meat and rice noodles. Most restaurants and merchants in Hue do not make the rice noodles themselves; they buy them in Van Cu and Bao Vinh, two villages located near Hue.
Learning how to make a clear broth from bone and meat is also a difficult task, but cooks have the satisfaction of seeing customers enjoying a good meal. The secret of this recipe resides in the meat–this is why it must be bought directly from the slaughterhouse early in the morning. The meat is then shredded, boiled, and taken out of the water to obtain a delicious clear broth.
The amount of salt put in the recipe varies depending on the season; during summer, Hue beef noodle soup is served with soy bean, mint, and different kinds of lettuce; in the winter, the recipe is saltier and lemongrass and fish sauce are added.