Because of its warm climate, Vietnam produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables. These fresh ingredients are the mainstays of their cuisine. Easy vietnamese recipes are served with many uncooked vegetables and fruits.
Steaming bowls of rice are on the table at all vietnamese meals, no matter how simple or light. More than ten varieties of rice are available in Vietnam, and products made from rice range from flour and noodles to vinegar and wine. Purchasing rice, usually from a local grocer or dealer, is an important transaction for vietnamese cooks, and wasting rice for any reason is definitely in bad taste.
Nuoc cham is almost as important to the vietnamese diet as rice and is just as common on the vietnamese table. Made from a base of nuoc mam, a strong fish sauce, nuoc cham is used alone for dipping and also as an ingredient in cooking.
Tea is also a central part of vietnamese culture. Not all diners drink tea with meals, but no social gathering would be complete without it, and it is enjoyed throughout the day, alone or with snacks. The vietnamese drink both green and black teas, and tea flavored with flowers such as jasmine or lotus is especially popular.
Soup is included with almost every vietnamese meal, often served over rice and garnished with coriander. Pho, a noodle soup that has many variations, is almost a national dish in Vietnam and is especially popular as a hearty breakfast dish. The wide variety of different vietnamese soups, some thin and delicate, others hearty and thick, presents diners with delicious choices.
Salads are another important and unique part of the vietnamese cuisine. The vietnamese treasure fresh, crunchy vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots, and seasonal specialties. Simple but tasty dressings enhance the flavors of each ingredient, and salads are often garnished with fresh mint leaves or fresh coriander. Meat, seafood, or noodles may be added as well, making a salad as light or as substantial as the cook desires.
The vietnamese enjoy stir-fried dishes because this efficient quick-cooking method produces crunchy vegetables and tender, flavorful meat. Before stir-frying, be sure to have all of your ingredients prepared and within reach. Fried treats such as spring rolls are also a favorite snack or appetizer. Vietnamese cooks usually use woks for stir-frying and frying, but french influence has made the use of ordinary skillets quite common, too.
Grilling is another important vietnamese cooking method. In vietnamese homes, food is grilled over a fire on the kitchen floor and then brought to the table. Outside, street vendors with small grills often sell treats to hungry passersby. With the help of an experienced cook, you can use a charcoal or gas grill for the grilled dishes in this book. Your broiler will also work just fine.
Braising is the most popular cooking method for meat in Vietnam. This slow-cooking method produces tender meat in savory sauces. It is an especially good method for cooking tougher cuts of meats.
Simmered dishes are cooked slowly at a temperature just below boiling. Flavors have a chance to mingle, and dishes are always moist. In Vietnam, braising and simmering are usually done over charcoal, but the top of your stove will work just as well.
The vietnamese menu also includes many dishes that are steamed or cooked over boiling water. This method keeps food tasting fresh and looking attractive and also helps food retain most of its nutrients. If you don't have a metal steamer, set a heat-resistant bowl containing the food to be steamed into a flat pan. Pour about 1/2 cup of boiling water into the pan. Cover the bowl, and place the pan and the dish in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for the amount of time specified in the recipe.
Eating is always an enjoyable event in Vietnam, but during festivals and special occasions, food takes on added importance. Cooks prepare their most prized recipes, whether their own creations or traditional favorites. They pay close attention to make sure that everything looks as wonderful as it tastes.
As always, family meals are a special time during the holidays. More people at the table only make the occasion more joyful, as relatives and friends may have traveled from far away to be together for the celebration. Serving a large holiday meal or a banquet may be extra work. But most vietnamese cooks take pride in their art and enjoy making their best dishes at home rather than buying foods already prepared. On a festival day, or any day, carrying on the cooking traditions of past generations is a fun part of celebrating vietnamese culture and cuisine.