You might not think too much about Vietnamese food as a concept when you’re biting into the flaky, savory goodness of a fresh Bánh mì sandwich, or savoring the final slurp of a steaming bowl of Phở; the flavors tend to hijack your thought processes. Bold yet nuanced, precariously balanced, and totally addictive: Vietnamese food is a taste you can’t un-acquire, once you’ve caught the fever.
Let’s take a few minutes to delve deeper into the world of Vietnamese cuisine. It’s actually quite an interesting subject.
Are You Gettin’ Fresh?
One of the most noticeable elements of most quality Vietnamese cuisine is the wealth of fresh ingredients. A single meal can contain a panoply of colorful veggies. Much of the flavor in the typical Vietnamese dish is derived from fresh herbs. Vietnamese food generally uses little oil, and is one of the healthiest national cuisines in the world.
I Smell Something Fishy
No discussion of Vietnamese food would be complete without mentioning fish sauce. This salty, pungent, and wildly popular sauce is used in a plethora of recipes, from dips to soups to marinades.
Food With a Philosophy
Some might think of sour, bitter, spicy, sweet and salty as mere flavors, but to a Vietnamese chef, each of these taste sensations is inextricably linked with a color, a sense, a nutrient, and a bodily organ.
Vietnamese meals are designed to offer an equilibrium between these elements, and an appropriate balance between cooling “Yin” foods (e.g. cucumber, tofu, chicken eggs, mung beans), and heating “Yang” foods (such as onion, pumpkin, butter, prawns, and basil).
Yin and Yang
It is believed that a dietary imbalance between Yin and Yang foods can cause sickness of the body or mind, and that those who suffer from Yin diseases can be cured by Yang foods, and vice-versa.
A successful Vietnamese meal must also be in Yin-Yang balance with the environment. During cold seasons, it is appropriate to eat very Yang dishes to keep the body warm and active. Vietnam, being tropical, tends to have plenty of warm days, and that is why there is such a preponderance of Yin dishes represented in its national cuisine.
In order for a Vietnamese meal to be considered truly “good,” it must be enjoyed with close friends and family, and be eaten in pleasant surroundings.