Vietnam is the cradle of wet rice civilization, with the geographical and climatic diversity of the various regions forming a treasure of culinary culture. People in different regions of the country have different diet preferences, therefore contributing to the richness and variety of Vietnamese cuisine.
Dishes of the North tend to be delicate, tasteful, diverse but well balanced, slightly sour, and not too garish, which, with their attractiveness and delicacy, evoke an air of poetry when enjoyed by the Northern inhabitants, who are endowed with a humanistic nature and an ardent love for their homeland. (Photo credit: amthucvietnam.com)
Not as diverse as the Northern one, cuisine in Central Viet Nam, with its own depth, comprises tasteful and pungent dishes, representing the elegant and gentle nature of this region. (Photo credit: amthucvietnam.com)
Meanwhile, in the Southern region, the dishes, like many rivers in the region, are characteristic of wildness and generosity. Simple and modest ingredients can make a difference in the cuisine of this region. The southern cuisine is usually sweet, and it is unique in that it is made from the flavor of the land where there are immense gardens and rivers. (Photo credit: amthucvietnam.com)
The royal cuisine of the former Royal Capital of Hue with its refined, sophisticated, elegant, tasteful and attractive characteristics is the best type of Vietnamese cuisine. All the dishes are prepared and displayed in a meticulously careful and refined manner like an art. In addition to a good appearance and rich and attractive fragrance, nutrition is also an important part, which helps improve one’s health and harmonize one’s vitality. As opposed to the luxuries in other imperial courts, Vietnamese royal dishes, though with strict requirements, are prepared with raw materials that are simple and not so different from the simple rustic ingredients. (Photo credit: visithue.com)
In a normal Vietnamese family meal, all members eat together. Seen on the dining table are a tray, some plates and bowls, representing unity in the family and mutual love among members, and a willingness to share all of life’s bitterness and sweetness. Simple dishes, with the concept of “seasonal food”, are brought to the table to be enjoyed together. Respect, hospitality, caring and respect for guests and elderly people are shown through the practice of inviting them to enjoy the dishes first. (Photo credit: amthucvietnam.com)
Frequently noticed in Vietnamese streets are small and simple food stalls with a shoulder pole and baskets along with some plastic chairs, but always crowded with customers. Street food stalls often have no specific addresses and are attractive to customers merely due to their feelings of being familiar with the stalls owners’ faces, the flavors and tastes of the foods.
Only at these street food stalls can the visitors find the most unique and special dishes for the common people. “Ăn bệt” culture or “ẩm thực vỉa hè” (street food) is a special feature of Vietnamese culture. Furthermore, the Vietnamese believe that food is more delicious if it is served and enjoyed on the street.
Street food stalls are places not only for eating and keeping the living while enjoying the food specialties, but also for relaxing, watching life go by, or meeting friends and relatives. Also, there are the most popular meeting places where sincere and casual conversations occur between people regardless of their status or social position. (Photo credit: prettywildworld.com)
Pho: CNNGo emphasized that America has mobile food stalls, but Vietnam is the real “food paradise”. The capital, Hanoi, is placed among the top 10 Asian cities said to have the best street food. Among the delicious street food, pho in Hanoi has been placed at No. 20 among the world’s best 500 culinary experiences by the Lonely Planet travel guide. Pho has become a standard of Hanoi’s culinary elite, which is a great combination of broth, meat, spices, herbs and banh pho (the rice noodle). (Photo credit: amthucvietnam.com)
Fried spring rolls: Crispy fried spring rolls are not only a traditional favorite of Vietnamese but also listed in the top 10 best dishes on CNN travel. The dish is called nem ran in the North, cha ram in the central region and cha gio in the South. The main ingredients of the dish slightly differ from one region to another, but usually consist of minced pork, ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, vermicelli, egg, onion, carrot, kohlrabi, pepper, salt and seasoning, which are mixed well and then wrapped in rice paper. The dipping sauce for fried spring rolls varies from one place to another. In central and southern Vietnam, the dish is served with sweet and sour fish sauce with chopped garlic and chili while northerners prefer to add pickled carrot and kohlrabi. The filling of spring rolls can have prawns or crab for seafood lovers or can exclude pork and include tofu to serve vegetarians. After rolling the filling in rice paper sheets, deep fry the rolls until the rice paper turns crispy and golden brown. Put fried rolls on a plate with some fresh herbs. Mix sugar, fish sauce and lemon with some water and add fresh chopped garlic and chili to have a tasty dipping sauce for the spring rolls. Fried spring rolls are not only a favorite on Vietnamese daily menus but also an indispensable dish on every family’s food tray offered to ancestors on the Lunar New Year’s (Tet) Eve.
THE CULTURAL FEATURES IN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Yin-yang philosophy with the five elements: The Yin-Yang system includes, among other things, five elements, namely Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth that represent the five alternatively changing states of the universe. Each element is inherent in s specific food and may go with another element to make a pair. If the two elements are properly combined in a pair there will complement each other; if not, they will restrain each other. This concept is also applied in cooking. Vietnamese people are very careful and selective in making the right pairs of ingredients and spices in order to give the cooked dish the best flavors and nutritional value.
Yin-Yang equilibrium in the makeup of the dishes: From the five-element concept mentioned above, food is associated with a specific element, which then leads to the differentiation of five types of food in yin yang terms. Thus, a food must belong to one of the following types, namely Hàn (cold, much Yin, water), Nhiệt (hot, much Yang, Fire), Ôn (warm, less Yang, Wood), Bình (temperate, Earth). It is believed that the equilibrium of the elements is essential for the creation of delicious and healthy dishes. So, Yin and Yang are necessary companions in the makeups of good dishes. For instance, fish and lettuce (caramelized fish, lettuce soup) are Cold foods, so they should be prepared with ginger which is a Hot food (Yang), in order to make a delicious dish and at the same time a good medicine.
Yin-yang equilibrium in the human body: The Vietnamese believe that dysfunctions are caused by the loss of balance of Yin and Yang in the human body and that Cold and Hot foods may be used as effective medicines to regain the Yin-Yang balance and then normal bodily functions. As such, people suffering from a disease caused by excessive Yin should eat Yang foods (e.g., those with stomachache and a bad cold should drink ginger juice), while those suffering from a disease caused by excessive Yang should eat Yin foods (e.g., those with dysentery should eat fried eggs with skunk vines).
Yin-Yang equilibrium between people and nature: The Vietnamese often choose to adjust their meal compositions in different climatic regions and in different seasons of the year. For example, in the hot summer (Hot-Fire), they tend to eat cool, fresh (Cold) foods with water (Yin-Water) and a sour taste (Yin), which are considered to be easily eaten, good for digestion and heat-relieving. In the cold winter (Cold-Yang), they tend to eat dry and more fattening (Yang) dishes made by sautéing, frying and slow cooking on low heat, etc./.