Vietnamese cuisine is a celebration of exotic tastes, aromas and flavours. Tamarind, fish sauce and shrimp paste are just a few amazing ingredients that go into Vietnamese cooking. Fill your pantry with these traditional Vietnamese ingredients to discover the secret to authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
An amber-coloured liquid extracted from the fermentation of anchovies, sea salt and water, fish sauce is essential for Vietnamese dipping sauces and dressings. Use this pungent seasoning sparingly to begin with, such as in this Vietnamese rice vermicelli salad.
Rice vinegar is naturally fermented from rice, resulting in a clear or slightly yellow vinegar. It is called dam gao in Vietnam, and has a sour taste with a slightly intense smell. It’s bright acidity works a treat in coleslaws, pickles, sweet and sour sauces, soup and hotpots.
Lemongrass is native to India, Southeast Asia and Oceania. The stems have a delicate citrus flavour and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. It is used in soups, curries, salads and stir-fries, such as this lemongrass beef recipe. Or, use the stems as skewers for barbecued prawns. Lemongrass tea, too, is a very popular brew in this part of the world, praised for its cleansing and detoxifying properties.
Typical Vietnamese meals feature an array of fresh herbs, including peppery Vietnamese mint, anise-scented Thai basil, regular coriander, sawtooth coriander, perilla (shiso), fish mint, betel leaves, dill and rice paddy herb. Visit your local Asian grocer to find out what’s in season.
In Vietnamese cuisine, hoisin sauce is a popular condiment for Southern-style pho noodle soup. The sauce can be directly added into a bowl of pho at the table, or can be used as a side dip for the slices of beef. It’s not typically served with pho in the north. Hoisin sauce is also used to make a dipping sauce for Vietnamese rice paper rolls.
Another ingredient that provides a natural sour taste for dishes is tamarind pulp. It is dissolved with hot water and added to the broths or soups to add a fruity tang. It is used in dishes like sweet and sour soup, or stir-fried seafood with tamarind.
Inspired by the nearby countries of Cambodia, Thailand and India, coconut has become a must-have in Vietnamese cuisine. This versatile ingredient is used in many forms, including coconut water, coconut milk and grated coconut to add richness, creaminess and a gentle sweetness to savoury dishes, drinks and desserts.
This salty, pungent paste, made from dried shrimps, is sold as pink or brown coloured blocks. It has an intense flavour and aroma, and generally needs to be roasted before use. Shrimp paste is added into bun bo Hue broth, and can be used as sauce in stir-fried pork belly or sauteed seafood.
Other must-have spices for your arsenal include chilli (fresh, dried and sauces), garlic, pepper, salt, sugar and ginger, plus fresh limes for a citrus hit.
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